Roxy aftershow, 1997

Last week I listened to an aftershow from 1997 released by Sabotage records. This was part of a two disc set which presented me with some problems. The first disc has the Denver show, while the second disc covers the Roxy show, and two extra tracks. These two extra tracks caused me to scratch my head, the databank listing them as from an unknown concert, while Prince vault had the listed as part of the Denver aftershow. I chose to run with the good folks at prince vault, and listened to these two tracks as part of the first disc.

The show covered on the second disc also presents some unknowns. This concert is also heavy on cover versions, there are only four Prince songs – two of them unreleased, which leads us into unfamiliar territory and offers a unique listen. With Marva King and Doug E. Fresh taking on the bulk of the vocal duties, Princes main contribution is his playing, meaning I have to at times listen carefully to hear his input – especially given that it is an audience recording.

11th August 1997(am) Roxy, Houston,Texas

Marva King sings the first three songs starting with the Prince penned, and unreleased, “Playtime.” It has a firmness to it, a solid warmth, that despite the audience recording still manages to sound weighty and carries an inner intensity. The band dwell on the song as an opener and, as long as it is, I still feel like I could listen to it longer. It is a good introduction to the quality of the recording, the audience  vocal, but the bass well rounded and without distortion.

The audience are heard more on the following “Sweet Thing.” Marva King does a commendable job of the vocals, although the song is well known and the audience add their own vocal flourishes. A bootleg snob would be disappointed at this point, but as a fan I simply wallow in the live feeling of it all.

“Lovin’ You” is so short that by the time I realized it has started, it is already half over. It’s too quiet, and the recording does it no favours at all, it disappears into the crowd and general background noise. It is disappointing to me, because when I do listen carefully I can hear that Marva is singing beautifully.

Databank wrote disparagingly of Doug E. Fresh, and the first minutes of “Flash Light” I can perhaps understand why as he engages the audience in chanting. I do find myself warming to it however, and Doug E. Fresh comes across as a perfectly likable bloke – before I know it I am chanting along with him here at home. What sounds best on the recording though, and what I really dig, is the bassline. It has a life of its own as it bounces and runs up and down the funky stairs, I find myself moving to it and temporarily forgetting Mr Fresh and his enthusiastic calls to get things moving.

Prince can be heard playing some lead guitar as the song morphs into “Jam Of The Year’ and for the first time in the recording I can safely assert “yes, that is Prince.” The song is a instrumental jam, barely distinguishable for “Flash Light” that preceded it, and as Prince chants “Turn This Mother Out” it becomes apparent that this is just a long medley of funk tunes and chants. The bass stays with its hypnotic loop, but with Prince on the microphone there is much more to pay attention to as Prince shifts and shapes the music into different forms.

The recording suffers somewhat as Prince carves into “Johnny.” The mix is murky and Prince isn’t as prominent as one might expect. However the rest of the band is sounding excellent, in particular Kat Dyson who delivers a weeping solo that stretches across the latter part of the song. Doug E. Fresh and his “Do It On Film” can’t match her, and the contrast between his over worked rap and Kats light guitar break is like night and day.

Morris Hayes opens “Cissy Strut” with plenty of power, but it is the Mike Scott guitar break that grabs all the headlines here. The rest of the band become yesterdays news as Mike weeps and wails, dips and dives, writing an array of emotion with his finger tips. Its only short, but it is a fitting digest of all he does well.

“Hotel Blues” is another unreleased song written by Prince and sung by Marva King. As its only live appearance, it should command attention. However, it doesn’t initially grab me, there is no rush of intensity and it is a laid back jam that offers no deep groove, or fiery statement of intent. It isn’t unpleasant on the ear though, and I do find Prince’s piano playing worthy of a closer listen – if only the mix was slightly better and more balanced.

There is no surprises with “Kiss,” it could have been lifted from any show in the 1990’s. The performance is mostly positive, but there are a couple of negatives. There is rather too much shouting and chanting for my liking, and the moments in between when the song is playing the audience are again very vocal on the recording. They aren’t really negatives, indeed they are a big part of the live experience, so I can’t complain about them being on the bootleg. These shows are after all for those in the room at the time, not us listening on a bootleg years later. The concert ends in this way, with Doug E. Fresh chanting and singing with the crowd, entirely representative of the show in general.

A very short concert, I can understand why Sabotage chose to pair it with the Denver gig. Of the two shows, the first disc easily out shines this one. This recording is poorer quality, Prince is largely absent from vocal duties, and while I greatly enjoy Marva King, I can’ say the same about Doug E. Fresh. If it wasn’t part of a two concert set I wouldn’t listen to this at all, but as a completest I am pleased it exists, especially for the performance of the two unreleased songs. A curiosity, but far from a good listen.

until next week, take care
-Hamish

The Church, Denver 1997 am

The Prince of 1997 is not the Prince that I grew up with. At this time a lot of the magic and excitement of being a Prince fan had dissipated for me. There is no doubting that Prince was still playing as well as ever, but for me the songs, the very heart of the matter, were missing. Aftershows still retained some thrill, a measure of excitement provided by guest appearances and cover versions. The gig I am listening to today has both and is all the better for it. The guest is Chaka Khan, both vocally and playing drums(!) and the setlist is chock full of cover versions, only the odd Prince song breaking up the run. It is an audience recording, and a scratchy one at that, but there is no distortion which about all I ask for out of a recording nowadays.

6th October 1997(am), The Church,Denver

Ignore the opening introduction as the announcer tries to flog off some t-shirts to the crowd, the real fun begins immediately as Chaka Khan emerges from the crackle of the recording playing the drums through the opening “Instrumental.” It isn’t a song that kicks sand in your face and laughs, with a kindlier gentler sound it is a gentle stroll into the show rather than an aggressive rampage. I would love to see footage of this moment, and this audio recording is a poor representation of what must have been a cool introduction.

It is Marva King who provides the entertainment for the next number, with a deep rendition of “Playtime.” Marva brings plenty of firepower to the performance, and she is ably matched by some equally insistent horn lines, and a dark organ swirl. The thin recording doesn’t do the song justice and it is up to the listener to fill out the sound in their mind. However, it does sound like a stonking version and we can only listen in envy of those that were there.

I’m not so fussed by “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” It’s not this perfoamce that I have a problem with, its just that I have heard it so many times from Prince and this rendition doesn’t add anything new that I haven’t heard before. Coupled with the quality of the recording,  it becomes a flat spot on the bootleg. Prince can be heard defiantly working his guitar and to his credit it does sound like it’s building to something, but we never get to fully appreciate the fruit of his labors as the recording saps the energy from his performance.

I am far more interested in “777-9311” and “Ain’t No Fun To Me” that come next. It is the bass line of “777-9311” the serves as the introduction, before “Ain’t No Fun To Me” comes snapping hard on its heels. It is only short, but Prince manages to evoke the spirit of the song with his impassioned delivery and the heavy wheeze of the organ that anchors the song. There is one point of the song where an audience member can be heard saying “He’s a genius, man, a genius!” and sitting here at home 20 years later, I am inclined to agree with him.

There is a “Colorado” chant that carries the first minutes of “Days Of Wild” before its crushing groove arrives proper and suffocates the recording with its thick funk. Even the thin recording is no match for “Days Of Wild,” it is just as wild as always, and even if it doesn’t stretch out for days it still sprawls itself across the recording for seven unequaled minutes. This wildness is personified by the hectic Tony Morris saxophone solo that bursts into flame in the final minutes of the song, making for a fitting end to what is a highlight on the recording.

Tony Morris is again present for the following Chaka Khan “Tell Me Something Good,” sung by the legendary Chaka herself. My feelings are mixed, I love the song and the performance, but I find the quality of the recording to be intrusive and several times I am taken out of the moment. However, it is a fantastic song and on a soundboard recording I would be positively raving about it.

The show has a warmth to it as Marva King displays her considerable chops on a cover of the Staples Singers “I’ll Take You There.” Even though Prince is barely noticeable, he doesn’t sing and there is no blinding guitar break, the song still has its place in the setlist, with its nostalgic charm and warm glow. This isn’t the first song I gravitated towards in the setlist, but I find it just as rewarding as anything else played.

“I Got The Feelin” is a cover of a James Brown song, but it lacks the drive and power that we would normally expect from a James Brown cover. The horns can be heard with their vigorous turn around’s, and after hearing them I can say that again it is the recording that is sucking the life from the song. There is no doubt that the band is playing an authoritative rendition, and their hard work is only undone by the shallow recording.

Prince goes even further back for a cover of “The Way You Do The Things You Do” This has me re-enthused for the bootleg, mostly because this is one of my favorite songs, and I am immediately transported away as Prince and the band play the song with plenty of sunshine and energy. It’s only a few minutes, but they cram a lot into the song, with the organ, the vocals, and the horns all vying for attention.

Prince goes even further back in time for an even bigger surprise – a short, sharp rendition of “Shout.” Forget the quality of the recording for a minute, if this doesn’t bring a smile to your face, then I don’t know what will. It has the crowd engrossed, and it’s easy to see why with its upbeat call and response and the undercurrent of swirling energy that never quite settles.

Ignore the next minutes as the announcer again reminds the crowd to buy T-shirts. The music returns with a slow building jam built around a lone drum sound provided by Chaka Khan. It doesn’t do much, it stays low and never gains any real intensity or intent, but it does pave the way for the next few songs.

The band is running at full power for an energized performance of “(Eye Like) Funky Music.” One of the few Prince songs to be played at this show, it gains even more respect in my book by being a song that was very rarely played live. Hearing it here, it sounds fresh and bright to my ears, and the chanting of the chorus is fun even if it is me alone a home. This is not a song I would play someone to demonstrate the genius of Prince, but as a fun song to hear on a bootleg it is right on the money.

We have another call and response jam next with “Denver Rock The Party”. As a horn lead instrumental it has the temperature rising on the recording, and this is made even better with Princes guitar break that he bestows upon it. It never blows out to a guitar jam though, and it is the horns and chanting that make up most of the song. I would like to say more about the guitar, but it is a little low in the mix, no doubt at the show itself it was louder, stronger, and altogether better.

There comes a slow down with the steady swagger of “Johnny” filling the air with its roguish grin. The lyrics make me smile, a smile made even bigger as Prince tells the audience that he and Chaka had said a prayer before the show, a prayer that the show would be funky. Well, that prayer has been answered, and the show is funky throughout, even if the recording can’t match the concert. “Johnny” maybe slower, but it is just as funky as anything else played, and is another highlight as the music curls and bends around the listener.

“I’m A Woman (I’m A Backbone) is a song with purpose and direction. It may be Chaka’s name and vocals that give the song early impetus, but later it is the saxophone of Tony Morris that drives the song into the ground. The saxophone stabs the carcass of the song with incisive cuts and wild slashes, leaving the music twitching and foaming with every attack, making for a wild and unhinged performance that tears though the skin of soft funk that has so far covered most of the evening.

I have often thought, and indeed written, that Prince and Hendrix aren’t the great mix that many imagine. The performance of “Little Wing” at this concert has me not just eating my words, but positively choking on them, the lump in my throat palpable from the opening seconds as Prince serves up a delicious treat of chords stacked on top of each other. It’s not just about Prince though, Chaka and the saxophone of Tony Morris bring their own flavours and tastes to the song, making for a balanced and well rounded dish.  Chaka is out in front, while Tony garnishes her performance with soft touches and a drizzle of sax as required. Prince displays another side of his playing, while known for playing the type of solos that would raze a forest, here his playing scatters seedlings that bloom and grow into a varied fruit as the song progresses. It is a thoughtful performance, with a trace of wistfulness that is never quite resolved. The song isn’t perfect though, the recording is too poor for that, and as effusive as I have been so far I must admit it is a song that requires close listening as for the most part it is distant and exists on the fringe of listenable.

Putting aside the sound quality for a second, this performance is a 10/10. I don’t say that lightly. The setlist gives no hint to how great the actual performance is, and having Chaka on board makes for a real treat. The songs swallow the room in there immersive brooding, punctuated by the electric fury of the guitar or the relentlessly vivid saxophone. Unfortunately, the bootleg is not a 10/10, the sound is too poor, and it took a close listen on headphones to really unearth the treasures buried in this release. For die hard fans this is another must listen, casual fans I would say approach with caution.

Thanks for joining me,
see you next week
-Hamish

Buenos Aires 1991

Anyone who regularly follows this blog will know that I like things to have a symmetry, and I am a completest. So with that in mind, this week I will take a listen to this festival performance from 1991. I have previously covered the Rio concert from a few days previous, and Sabotage have paired that concert with this show from the Rock & Pop festival, Buenos Aires, Argentina. This concert is for the most part the same run through of material, the only difference being that this show is fifteen minutes shorter and is missing a couple of songs from the setlist. I feel that this works in its favor as Prince and the band rush headlong through a setlist that I would otherwise find uninspiring.

21 January, 1991. Buenos Aires, Argentina

I would like to hear a lot more of “Something Funky (This House Comes).”  It’s fun, funky and is an energizing opening for the concert. It is also a good chance for the band to be introduced to the audience as each of their individual talents is highlighted. Prince often used long jams to introduce his bands, especially in later aftershows, and here it is most refreshing to see him us one of his own, upbeat and short songs to achieve the same thing. It doesn’t matter that he is hardly on the mic, Tony M and Rosie Gaines sound strong and enthused, even if the recording is less than pristine.

It is entirely predictable to hear “Let’s Go Crazy” next. It is one of his most well known hits, and not only does it bring the crowd on board, it also maintains the momentum created by the previous “Something Funky (This House Comes). That momentum is temporarily lost for the break down, and the show derails for a moment with this misstep. However “Kiss” restores the balance,  Prince and the band back to the fore as the funk of “Kiss” puts the stamp of authority on the concert, this is now beginning to sound a lot more like a Prince show.

One of the problems I have of shows from this period is the pacing and unevenness of the setlists. “Kiss” was everything you could want from a Prince concert, but again the show hits a brick wall with the “Pink Panther” interlude and Tony M sucking all the energy out of the recording. I like Prince in that he challenges me and my expectations, but sometimes he seems to shoot himself in the foot with these oddities thrown in, and in this case the show almost loses me during these couple of minutes

“Purple Rain” moves this further from a festival show and closer to a Prince concert with its appearance. With the audience joining from the beginning, it has the classic slow build, before Prince cuts through the emotion and music hanging in the air with some highly focused and powerful lead guitar. It stops the song from wallowing in self indulgence, and adds purpose and direction to the opening minutes that threaten to meander. It is his guitar wail that closes out the song, this time coming in a unbridled frenzy that contrasts to the highly structured show, the highlight for me being when the notes comes so fast and furious that they bleed into each other, creating a torrent of noise and raw passion.

“Take Me With U” is a nostalgic opening to what will become a medley of Prince’s upbeat, crowd pleasing songs. The sound isn’t great to be honest, but the song can be heard driving along in the background, still doing what it always does. “Alphabet St.” sounds better on the recording, perhaps because it is sparser, with just Michael B and his drum and Prince’s guitar propelling the song forward. With less clutter, the song is better captured by the recording, however that can’t be said for the rest of the medley. Prince’s rap is fun, but it becomes hard to catch his words as the music speeds up. Likewise, Rosie sounds good, but who knows what exactly what words she is singing as she burns through “It Takes 2.” The chanting can be heard fine, but that isn’t why I listen to bootlegs.  What saves the moment for me through is some very sharp guitar work midsong. Its not intense, or loud, but a fast and intricate sound that highlights the guitar itself as much as the music that is playing.

There is a thinness to “Shake” that is the complete opposite of how I expect it to sound. On record it is full and plumb, here it is malnourished and only a shadow of its former self. I presume the performance itself isn’t to blame and its the recording that is to blame.  Prince himself sounds enthusiastic as he encourages the crowd, and one can only assume that the crowd is fully engaged with the performance.

The concert again slows as Rosie sings “Dr Feelgood” and its hard not to fall in love with her a small bit as she sings. Like a flower in bloom, she opens up as the song progresses, becoming more radiant by the minute. Prince adds some spikiness to the performance with his guitar, but the moment belongs to Rosie as she seizes the microphone and the spotlight.This is the song where I temporarily forget the sound quality as I lose myself in Rosie’s voice.

The piano medley is brief, and again the thinness of the recording is to the fore as the piano sounds tinny and distant. This should be one of the best moments on the bootleg as Prince plays “Venus De Milo,” “Condition Of The Heart,” and “The Question Of U,” but instead it falls in step with what has been previously been heard at the concert.

The fullness returns for “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and the next few minutes are glorious as Prince delivers an inspiring performance. He draws me in with his heartfelt lyrics before the punch of the band hits me at the end of every stanza, making for a memorable rendition that delivers lingers for some minutes afterwards.

There is doubt that the end of the concert is near as “Baby I’m A Star,” struts into view, pimped out and arrogant from the start. Beneath the veneer of cockiness, the song has a youthful and naive energy that makes it the perfect song for this portion of the show. The song does spiral away from the original as the Gamboyz take centre stage and the original song slips further to the fringes as Rosie sings “Respect.” As good as it is, it isn’t quite what I signed up for, and I wait for something familiar from the Prince canon to cling onto.

The music slips easily into a laid back version of “We Can Funk” that is so low key it practically disappears into the carpet as it sinks lower and lower in the mix. “Thieves In The Temple” stays with the funk, but rises out of the floor as Prince delivers a hard hitting and incisive version that drives the show for the next few minutes, giving an added impetus that will carry us through to the end of the concert.

The show ends with “Jughead,” and “Rock The House,” but it isn’t the anti-climatic finish that it sounds like. The band are in fine form as it becomes an easy jam that carries the crowd for sometime. I am no great fan of either song, but there is no denying the energy of them, and they do serve the purpose of ending the concert with the crowd on their feet and dancing. It may not be the greatest bootleg moment, but it is a good record of what Prince and the band were doing at the time.

This is not one of the great bootlegs. The only reason I took the time to give it a listen is because of its pairing with the Rio recording, making for a nice “South American Festivals” package. The concert has no great faults, but it never once reaches any great heights. The recording is average but not bad, the setlist is OK, the performance fine, each part of the release dong just enough to keep me listening to the end. As a completest I am extremely happy to have this, but as a music fan I could happily pass on it. This is Prince treading water, and the average bootleg does nothing to help that feeling. Its listenable, but there’s not a lot of fun to be found here.

Thanks again
Hamish

Glam Slam 27th June 1994

The years 1994 and 1995 are already well covered in this blog, some might go so far as to say they are over represented. With many of the setlists being similar, one may question why these concerts get so much coverage. It is true that the same music is heard again and again, but Prince and the band are discovering new sounds and textures, and with each song played as an extended version there is plenty of scope for surprising jams to be heard. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the performance on June 26th 1994. While researching the concert I read the Databank’s assessment that the show on the 27th was even better, and one of the best bootlegs of the era circulating. Which brings me to where I am today, headphones on, 4DF’s ‘Acknowledge Me’ in the player and I am all set to take a closer listen to what the Databank calls “one of the best of 1994”

27th June, 1994. Glam Slam Los Angeles

“The Star Spangled Banner” is the first song of the night, with its strong and forceful guitar tone Prince is making a clear signal of intent, the guitar will dominant early on. “The Ride” backs this up as it goes from it steady opening into a blazing solo that captures the listeners imagination even 20 years after the fact. Sometimes I find “The Ride” to be a plod, here it is anything but as the band turn it into a stonking celebration of Prince and his guitar abilities. As an opening number it slaps the faces of the audience, immediately snapping them into life.

Likewise, “The Jam” has a extra sense of energy and thrill to it. The recording is good at this stage, and the audience noise that is heard adds to the sense of the moment rather than detract from it. It all adds up to a version that I find I enjoy immensely, often I find I am waiting for “The Jam” to finish so we can get on to the other music, in this case I enjoy it just as much as anything else on the bootleg.

The first few songs have been good, but it is the following “Shhh” that makes this bootleg what it is. It is a sublime performance of a one of Prince most intense songs, the following minutes transport me to another world altogether. Princes vocals are spellbinding, and the guitar break is both haunting and incessantly angry at the same time. These eight minutes are the best of the recording and enough for me to recommend it to anyone.

I don’t think I have ever heard a bad version of “Days Of Wild”, and the performance here doesn’t break that winning streak. It is in its full head bobbing, heavy funk glory. However, it is the guitar break of Prince that has me grinning from ear to ear – it is sharp and forceful, cutting through the wild jungle of “Days Of Wild” like a flashing machete. The appendage of “Hair” is unnecessary in this performance, Prince has plenty of his own funk without having to dip his pen in someone else’s ink well. This is further highlighted when the bassline of “777-9311” suddenly appears, Princes own funk obliterating any memory of “Hair”

“Now” runs at a lengthy 13 minutes, turning into a long easy groove and jam. The second half is much more enjoyable, the band has a smooth way to them and the song flows easily from the speakers. Its is an easy groove that could go for hours, and even though not a lot seems to be happening it is still worth the listen. Especially catching is the chant of “Clap you hands somebody, somebody clap your hands”, which will be rattling around in my head for the rest of the day.

The next song is a live rarity. “Ripopgodazippa” was only played twice live, this performance is the second and last time. It doesn’t do anything more than is heard on the studio version, but it doesn’t have to as its seductive groove makes it another outstanding moment at this concert. Smoky and sexy, the late night groove fits perfectly in the setlist, and I can only wish that Prince had of played it more often. Again, it heightens the desirability of this bootleg and is another must listen.

Equally of the era is “Acknowledge Me”, from the opening notes it takes us directly back to 1994. The is a lively performance that stands up well to the other songs that have already appeared at the show, it doesn’t outshine anything else, but neither does it fade into the background. It’s a highly enjoyable moment that sets the baseline standard for the concert.

The following two songs are from the “Come” album and work as a nice pairing together. “Papa” is noisier than expected, it loses some of its message, but the music is undeniably good and carries the day. “Race” is a steady performance of a steady song.  It never catches fire at the concert, or on the recording, and although these run of songs are very good, this part of the show plateaus.

“The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” restores the crowd’s enthusiasm and Prince’s performance gets a welcome cheer. The song is faultless and injects pop into a show that is otherwise a succession of funk jams. Its appearance is bright and the recording becomes energized again.

I would love to see the band get wild for “Get Wild”. It does sound like they are going all out,and even listening at home I can visualize what is happening on stage. The long jam keeps me interested, the bass and guitar parts hold me enraptured between the chanting and singing. My favorite moment though belongs to Tommy Barbarella who plays a fast and furious solo that bucks like a wild horse under his command. Every member makes an impression, and this is one of my favorite versions of “Get Wild” in circulation. This bootleg is rapidly approaching a 10/10.

That sentiment carries over to “Santana Medley” that comes next. I thought everything else so far had been great, but Prince finds a way to take the concert through the stratosphere with an epic rendition of the “Santana Medley” This is the moment where the recording almost spontaneously bursts into flames as Prince plays a soulful, yet furious guitar break. It continues to evolve and a couple of times Prince slips back into the shadows before reemerging with another solo that could strip paint from the walls. I listen intently as it spirals and turns, the world rotating around Prince for the minutes that he plays.

“Billy Jack Bitch” is a direct statement and one of the least veiled songs Prince has ever written. Prince takes on the media head on in a none too subtle attack on those that write about him. The live performance is not as venomous as the studio recording and some of Prince’s anger is dissipated by the music, in particular the swirling keyboards that provide a depth and backdrop to Prince’s sharp lyrics. It lives up to some of the other funkier moments in the concert and the final horn stabs drive the point home with a timeless funk sound.

The last song of the show is “Johnny”. Princes rap is much more relaxed, perhaps due to the recording, or perhaps reflecting his mood at this concert. The lyrics may be dated and nowhere as funny as they were at the time, yet the song still stands on its own two feet – especially as Prince’s guitar emerges from the groove with a snake charming solo that has me hanging on every note. The keyboard solo later in the song is every bit its equal and its easy to disappear into the groove and music at this point.  It is entirely fitting that the show ends with the crowd chanting “NPG” – this is very much a band performance and this final song sees them at their very finest.

This is a great release, in a year that is well covered by bootlegs, this one stands out. The quality of the recording is outstanding for an audience recording, but it is the show itself that garners the most praise. These songs are familiar to all Prince fans, and have been heard plenty of times over the years, yet here they are infused with an extra sparkle and energy. I can’t account for why that might be, all I know is that the show sounds fantastic and this is exactly the sort of bootlegs that ignites my passion. 10/10

 

Glam Slam West 1994

I have already covered a few shows from 1994, yet I still find myself drawn to the year again and again. With Prince playing with a looseness and freshness, the concerts of this era always sound lively when listening, even if the setlists are often very similar. The concert I am listening to today comes from a recommendation from someone who was there. It was apparently quite a night and even though the setlist doesn’t reveal anything too surprising, the performance is outstanding: there is a guest appearance by Stevie Wonder and Mavis Staples that makes the recording compulsory listening. Both add soul and link Prince back to the past, cementing his place on Mt Olympics with the other music gods. With plenty of twists and turns in the music, there is plenty to appreciate with a closer listen, but like everyone, it’s these guest appearances that are the real reason I want to hear this.

26th June 1994, Glam Slam, Los Angeles

I am immediately surprised by the opening “The Jam”. A song that I often find pedestrian and overly long, in this case it is upbeat and captures my attention from the start. This is helped in large part by Morris Haynes who is first to play and gives us a solo in his typical style. The song moves quickly, no one person plays too long, and with a Michael Bland drum solo appearing midsong I find the recording has an early momentum to it. The final Sonny T bass solo isn’t anything I haven’t heard before, but it does bring the song to a stomping finish.

I have heard “I Believe In You” across a variety of concerts and the version played at this concert is one of the more memorable versions I have heard. The opening minutes don’t offer much, it is once Prince turns his guitar up that the song becomes something much more muscular and forceful. He plays with finesse rather than a fury, something that demonstrates his ability far more than a flurry of notes would. Without overworking the guitar, Prince’s break elevates the song and adds a backbone to a song that was previously meandering.

As “Interactive” begins I am transported back to 1994 and the Interactive video game in an instant. Such is the power of music to bring back memories. The version at this show doesn’t begin strongly, it is the second part of the song where all the thrills and excitement await. Prince’s guitar leads the way, with a minute of incisive and sharp playing that leaves me dizzy. It may be only a minute, but it is a thrilling ride showing Prince at his best.

“Days Of Wild” is a 13 minute jam the encapsulates all that was good and great about Prince and the NPG in 1994. The band jam easily across the song, the insistent funk staying to the fore as they throw a variety of sounds over the top of it. The heavy squelch holds the bottom, something that I usually enjoy most, but in this case there is so much else happening I find I hardly notice it. Prince is in fine form, joking with the band as he runs them through their paces. The bass playing late in the song is the definite highlight – firstly a light solo that has me swooning here at home, then switching to “777-9311”, at which point I almost faint in child-like excitement. The song is a 10 in my book, and by the time the guitar comes with waves of bluster and bravado I am considering scoring it an 11.

As an album track “Now” is neither here nor there. Live, however, it is another great moment, and like the preceding “Days Of Wild”, it gets a 13 minute jam. As an all-in performance the song becomes a glorious live celebration, the crowd can be heard chanting a whooping in appreciation throughout. I particularly like the breakdown midsong, as the music slows and the long groove of Morris Hayes carries the song for some minutes. The song continues as a laid back groove for quite sometime, even with Prince on the microphone and guitar it still doesn’t ignite back into a song again until well past the ten minute mark. As Prince sings “Superstitious” the music stays low, his lone guitar signalling the end of the song.

Prince’s guitar stays the main focus with “Mary Don’t You Weep”. He plays a sparkling opening before the lyrics begin, and then as the music changes he returns with a further cascade of guitar. The crowd contribute their part as Prince leads then through a chorus, before the keyboards come on board with a solo from Tommy that is easy on the ear. The response from Prince is great, some mellow and melodic guitar work that displays an intricacy and emotional core. It is his guitar that carries the song to its natural conclusion, flowing easily until it dries up.

“The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” is mature in it’s sound, it lacks some sparkle of the single release, yet this mustang mix is far more rewarding and holds up well on repeated listening. It is a complete performance, Prince is playing well within the band and to my ears it is more complete and well rounded. The song is marinated in a funky adult rhythm that hints to the growth of Prince at this time and new directions he is pursuing. The is no doubt though that the real highlight comes in the final minutes as Prince calls for Stevie Wonder to come to the stage, preparing us for what comes next.

There is some mutual love between the two as Stevie Wonder opens up on the microphone about the influence of Prince and all those that came before, thus providing context where Prince’s music fits into the big picture. The following song is anything that you might expect or wish for. There is plenty of Stevie’s singing as they play “Maybe Your baby”, plenty of funky keyboards, and plenty of Prince’s hot guitar playing. He doesn’t mess around with a smoldering solo here, it is all furnace and fire as he puts an exclamation point on all that Stevie provides. This moment of the bootleg promised the world, and boy did it deliver.

The high standard is maintained for the following “I’ll Take You There” with Mavis Staples leading from the front. As far as I’m concerned, this is the definitive version with Mavis’s vocals, Princes guitar and the bass of Sonny T playing up a storm together. Mavis stands head and shoulders above all else though, and her contribution can’t be underestimated. I thought the appearance of Stevie was mind blowing, Mavis comes a very close second and almost upstages him.

“Dark” comes as a smooth ride after this, it would be a let down if it wasn’t just so easy and enjoyable to listen to.  Prince again becomes the main focus of the show as the music swirls and stabs around him, not quite concrete enough to latch onto yet the stabs providing a sharpness that gives the song some shape. It may not as monumental as some of the other performances on the recording, but I find it just as satisfying.

The song does become an upbeat instrumental which, although four minutes long, serves as an introduction for “Get Wild”. It does flicker and flame for sometime before Prince calls for Mayte and “Get Wild” kicks off in high gear. It’s not terribly interesting musically, as is his way Prince uses most of the song to engage with the audience, encouraging them to sing the chorus and get wild themselves. It sounds like a lot of fun, but on the bootleg it is a flat spot.

The show ends with a raw “Peach”, introduced by the comment “This is a cover version of a song by someone called Prince”.  Its fast, full and frenzied. Prince’s guitar is wonderfully dirty and leaves very little space for anything else in the song, exactly as it should be. Peach can get repetitive, but this performance is one of the better ones and it is a bright ending to what has been an excellent concert.

This recording delivered everything it promised. As to be expected, the guest appearances were phenomenal and the rest of the show was just as spirited. There are plenty of great bootlegs from the 1994 concerts, this one would be very high on my recommendations list. I am thankful that it was recommended to me and I would happily recommend it to anyone else.

 

Thanks again
Hamish

1993 New York – 26th March

Sometime ago I took a listen to a concert from the Act 1 tour; 24th March in New York to be precise. Now here I am a couple years later taking a look at the recently surfaced footage from the same venue just a couple of days later. The show is exactly the same, but the new footage is very well shot, especially considering it is audience filmed. Although I am well versed in the performance Prince put on throughout the Act 1 tour, this new video has me again enthused and the quality of the filming makes it a rewarding couple of hours. I cannot speak highly enough of this new footage, the years rewound as I watched it and the concert tour seems only yesterday in my mind. It’s hard to believe it is almost 25 years ago.

26th March, 1993 Radio City Music Hall, New York.

It is an aggressive looking (and sounding ) Prince who takes the stage for the opening number. 24 years on, his outfit looks slightly ridiculous, yet he owns the look and comes across as a strong character rather than a figure of ridicule. “My Name Is Prince” carries this strong image and aggression, the lyrics spit hard and the music is forceful. Tony M is a good fit in this context and I find I warm to his rap and with a guitar solo from Levi Seacer the song is forceful and bold. Add the outstanding footage to the mix and we are off to a great start.

With “Sexy M.F.” the concert slows, yet it retains an intensity. This time it is Tommy Barbarella who provides a focus, his solo is long enough to be interesting without derailing the song. Levi also provides a solo, in this case he does ‘fly’ under Princes command, the notes taking flight from his guitar as he has his moment.

“Damn U”, now we’re talking. It may not have the momentum and push of the first two songs, but it stands strong in it’s own right with Prince lounging against the piano as he sings it provides plenty of memorable images early on. Later, Prince takes centre stage as he provides a smooth lyrical delivery that is well served by the recording.

Prince puts the piano to good use for “The Max”. The music regains some intensity, and with Prince banging on the piano there is plenty of energy in the performance. However, the final few minutes are giving over to Prince and Mayte posing and preening, and the music, while staying focus, loses some of it’s drive and energy. It’s hard to complain about this though, especially as it looks so great.

One of my favorite songs from the Symbol album has always been “The Morning Papers” and I find the performance of it here delivers all I want from it. With Prince singing and playing at the piano the song builds, before Prince takes to his guitar to add some extra expression and colour to the song. The guitar never reaches the expected heights, but Prince makes up for it in the following “Peach”. Prince serves up a guitar onslaught, complete with plenty of posing and preening, that makes the next few minutes a highly enjoyable and entertaining watch. These two songs leave me, and I am sure more than a few in the audience, with a big stupid grin on my face.

“Blue Light” is as warm as a summers breeze, it never ignites into anything but it is nice come down after the guitar filled “Peach”. It is “The Continental” that has me again sitting up and taking notice, with it’s insistent guitar line and Prince’s forceful vocals, the song becomes an embodiment of the whole performance and evening, all that is good and great about the Symbol album is right here. And it’s not just Prince and his guitar that shines, Mayte takes her turn as the music slows and she provides some easy lines. This mellow vibe stays with us for sometime as Prince pulls dancers on stage, normally I would find this unsatisfying on a recording, but the visual are clean and easy to look at and I find its an equally enjoying part of the show.

The concert continues on quickly at this point, “The Flow” comes and goes, it is fresh and Prince engaging with the band, before this slow for yet another personal favorite “Johnny”. As much as I love the lyrics, I find it is the solo by Levi that captures my attention. He provides a sharpness to the mellow groove and stops the song from meandering as Prince talks to the audience and the dancers. He does take his place at the piano for the final minute and this heralds in the next section of the show.

Seated at the piano, Prince presents a gentle “Sweet Baby” before offering up his pièce de résistance of the concert – “When God Created Women/3 Chains Of Gold” I still find it extraordinary every time I see it, even if it is overworked and outside anything else Prince has ever done. It takes itself very seriously, and perhaps this is why Prince gets away with it, he is truly believing in what he is playing and presenting.

Prince gets to take a break as Mayte takes centre stage for her sword dance. It may not make for the greatest of musical moments, but it is suitably weird and typical of Prince to provide something unexpected. There is no surprise as “7” follows this. Upbeat and infectious, it is strangely out of place compared to some of the other more demanding music presented at the concert. It does provide a lighter moment and Mayte on roller skates seems a completely normal event.

“Lets Go Crazy” is equally out of place, yet it elicits squeals of delight from the crowd as it begins. I find it jarring when songs like this appear when Prince is musically in another place, but one can understand why it must be in the setlist. Prince plays a shorten version and as provides only the briefest of guitar breaks before moving onto “Kiss”. This works better as it has another new arrangement (no surprise there) and it takes it place easily among the other music Prince is promoting at the time. With the dancers fully utilized it again becomes a visual experience and one captured well by the taper. There is a completely natural segue into “Irresistible Bitch” that  jumps off from the guitar line. Prince’s funk tunes work best for this show, this song highlights the point as well as anything that has come previously.

The show becomes a whole lot more serious as Prince again picks up his guitar for a great rendition of “She’s Always In My Hair”. Of course, I am a huge admirer of this song, so any version rocks my world. This one does have an extra kick to Princes guitar playing and I can’t take my eyes from the screen as he plays. There isn’t much to the vocals, the guitar is the main focus, and rightly so when it is at this level. The song is short but serves as a punch in the face, the concert intensifying with this performance.

“When You Were Mine” sees Prince staying with his guitar jam. The song may have it’s nostalgic sound, but Princes look is anything but and he plays with a fierceness throughout. With the previous song, these are the most straight forward moments of the show and they work as the crowded stage gives way to something simpler, Prince and his guitar playing rock music.

Next comes the obvious pairing of “Insatiable” and “Scandalous”. With Prince at the piano, the show again regains a basic format, the only embellishments coming from the appearance of Mayte again on her roller skates! That’s not quite the only nod to a stage show, strings of diamonds lower from above, no doubt being recycled from the Diamond and Pearls tour. Of the two songs, I prefer “Scandalous”, but that is neither here nor there, they are both seductive and spellbinding. As Prince falls to the floor shrieking, I am completely mesmerized, this is one bootleg I will be coming back to again and again.

“Gett Off” doesn’t quite reach these same heights, nevertheless it is still fascinating to watch. There is plenty of Prince and Mayte dancing together, but the best moments come every time Princes fingers flash across the fret board. The guitar riff is hypnotic, and I am well and truly caught up in the song by the time it finishes. “Gett Off (Housestyle)” is a lot of fun, and although I can’t see the crowd, I am sure they are all on their feet. The song is ended in darkness as the band take it to a slow groove for “Goldnigga” Not normally something I listen to, it this case it’s only half a minute, and with Princes creamy vocals singing the lines it does have its merits.

There is quite the sing-a-long before Prince takes the microphone for the opening lines of Purple Rain. The rendition here, although not unexpected, is surprisingly good. I have heard this thousands of times, yet Prince still holds me enraptured as he sings his signature song. It is a full version that is played and Princes gives a sincere and focused vocal performance before he resorts to his guitar. Once again I feel fully engaged with his performance and despite my ambivalent feelings about Purple Rain, I am still swept up by the moment and spectacle of it.

With pimp cane in hand, Prince rips through the encore of “Partyman”, he promises to tear it up and indeed for the next few minutes he does. It is fast and furious, a lot of the subtlety of the song is lost under the heavy and quick groove. With chants of “Party up”, Prince’s intentions for this song are abundantly clear, and the party rolls on through a wild sounding “Loose” that he tacks on to it.

The band storm through “1999”, Prince is relentless as he and the music stay in constant motion, bringing the end of the show to a frenetic finish. Prince dances, sings, and plays guitar in a flurry of activity that makes me feel tired just watching. As the song evolves in “Baby I’m A Star” this momentum is maintained,Prince slows down but the band and music stay focused and forceful.

“Push” is the final song of the night, although for the most part it is an instrumental jam. Prince is an integral part, he plays the purple axxe through the song and it is a lot of fun to watch. With Prince interacting with the band, playing with them individually, there is plenty to hold the eye. Tony M has his moment, but this song is all about groove rather than lyrics and vocals. The show closes with a quick rap from Prince, before he and the band dance off the stage, bringing to a close what has been a phenomenal show.

A lot of great recordings have surfaced over the last 12 months since Prince passed away. Of the ones I have stumbled across, this is the best. Previous footage from the Act 1 shows has been circulating for sometime, but none of them come close to the quality of this one. A brilliantly filmed show from one of Princes most fascinating years, this one merits a second or third look.

Thanks again
Hamish

La Cigale 2009

Prince didn’t play a great number of shows in 2009, there was no tour, only a selection of one offs scattered throughout the year and throughout the world. The shows he did play are smooth and streamlined, and surprisingly interesting. Of the twenty or so shows played that year I have already covered almost a quarter of them in this blog. Notable shows of 2009 include his  Nokia  trio of shows, his appearance at Montreux, as well as the Oscars afterparty. He also played a string of shows in Paris in October, and that is where today’s recording hails from. The show at La Cigale is fairly typical of shows of 2009/2010, a setlist peppered with hits and some not too challenging covers. The newish songs that feature are of the greatest interest, and any show that features Shhh is a show that I want to hear.  The show also runs at more than two and a half hours, so I am look forward to losing myself in the music for the next few hours

12th October 2009, La Cigale, Paris

The show begins with the misleading introduction of Purple Rain. It does sound rich and luxurious, but there is only half a minute of intro before Prince and the band kick the show off proper with Old Skool Company. With a solid groove the song is a better representation for what will follow, and as I listen I can feel the my feet begin to shuffle and move with the music, always a good sign. Frédéric Yonnet is present,and it is his harmonica sound that elevates the song early on before, after an extended introduction, Prince begins to sing. The groove isn’t heavy, but it is insistent and keeps the song moving for the eight minutes it runs for.

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The following Crimson And Clover could have been lifted from any show during this time period. With the rise and fall of the music, the band pushes forward and back,  never demanding even as Prince injects his Wild Thing lyrics into the song. I find I enjoy it greatly, without being able to explain why. It doesn’t rock, it lacks any sort of sharpness or vitality, yet I find I listen to it easily and enjoy the performance of Prince and the band. Perhaps its the clean guitar break that Prince plays that makes it all worth while.

Stand! is uplifting, and with the band playing clean and smooth its a feel good song that the audience responds to, especially as they sing the chorus. The song changes towards something more interesting in the final minute, the pop subverted by some extra funk from Prince which in turn brings Turn Me Loose to the set-list. Prince gives a funky guitar break which underlines his funk credentials before it takes a u-turn into the pop realm again with a surprising cover of the Jackson Fives’s I Want You Back. The only time Prince played this, it immediately elevates to the show to a more interesting status, and even more so as Shelby scats over the back half of the song. The dry sound of Prince’s horner guitar is what I focus on most, bringing more of his own sound to someone else’s song.

The following two songs are also notable for being rarities. Dance 4 Me has only been played once in concert in its full form, and here it is. It becomes even more interesting as Prince plays with it and stretches it out. His first guitar break is Santana-esque, while his second guitar break is full blooded and more of his own. Naturally I love both of them. With Shelby singing (Not Just) Knee Deep and Frédéric Yonnet adding harmonica, there is a feeling that anything goes, and the song has plenty of satisfying twists and turns before Prince finishes with a neatly manicured solo.

We stay with rarities as the band play No More Candy 4 U. It’s a joyful romp, the band play with a bounce and a grin, something summed up as you can hear Prince laughing on the microphone. It’s not taxing, and although light I find myself listening carefully due to it novelty value.

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Things change with some smoldering guitar work by Prince eventually giving way to a high powered performance of Shhh. The crowd obviously enjoy it as much as I do, they sing the verse from the first moment, leaving Prince silent for the first minute. When he does sing, it’s with a glassy smooth sound, before the crowd join him again, singing word for word. As much as I enjoy Prince, I do find the audience singing enjoyable, they are of the same mind as me and it’s hard not to sing along with them. Prince’s initial guitar break stutters and falters, but he returns with a jagged, electrifying solo that puts his mark all over this song.

 Like The Jam, Stratus is often used by Prince to introduce the band and give them an opportunity to solo. Here is no different, as Prince runs through the band as he has plenty of times before. I have heard this done plenty of times over his career, with Stratus and The Jam, that I don’t get the pleasure from it that I once did, and although it’s a fine performance, there is a part of me that wishes it would be over so we can move onto something sharper.

The following jazz infused rendition of Girl is much more my thing and I find it to be a lot of fun. So too does the audience and Prince, as he engages them with some encouragement to sing along. Its a quiet acoustic performance, with just a bare accompaniment of a guitar Prince sings this somewhat lost B-side. The mood of the recording changes as Prince sings and I wonder what direction the show will come next.

Forever In My Life is fabulous in everyway. With the stripped back beat Prince gives a performance of this beloved song, again accompanied every step of the way by the crowd. The guitar arrives for later verses, adding some richness to the performance and the sound. Even with the audience singing it is a showstopping performance, this is easily the highlight of the show thus far. The late twist of Shelby singing a furious Single Ladies is completely left field, as well as the best thing I have ever head from her.

Shelby J continues to rock the mic, with an equally furious Baby Love that has me reaching to turning it up louder. I’m not a big fan of her calls to “put your hands up”, but I am completely onboard for everything else she does, and even as Prince blazes out another guitar break it is still Shelby that holds the spotlight. A beautiful strong and independent voice, she adds a harder edge to a show that is sometimes just a little too polished.

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There seems to be an extra energy and life in Peach, perhaps the bonus of so few shows in the year is Prince playing with extra enthusiasm and energy. Peach certain bounces along, and the guitar breaks rocket by just as quick. It’s not as long as other renditions in circulation, but it does provide an extra shot of adrenaline into the show.

Sexy Dance has a similar energy, it comes at a quicker pace and has plenty of singing and dancing in the mix. The audience is again singing under Princes command, and Frédéric Yonnet can again be heard adding his contribution to the song. The band is relaxed and having fun, something that translates into the recording, it feels just as relaxed and fun on the recording years later. The All Day, All Night, chants that end the song underline this and ends the first part of the show on a high.

The All Day, All Nigh chants continue for a couple of minutes until Prince returns to the stage for a slower and enchanting rendition of I Want To Be Free. Prince’s opening sprinkle of guitar sets the tone, before singing an impassioned take on the lyrics, suitably accompanied by Shelby, Liv and Elisa all the way. The guitar solos come from another place altogether, a completely different feel from the lyrics and verses, nevertheless they are enjoyable and add an extra element of interest to the song.

The next section of the show is the usual run of Sly and The Family Stone songs. Sing A Simple Song has an extra brightness to it that the crowd responds to. The following  Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again) is equally popular with the audience, especially one woman who is close to the recording device and gives several earsplitting shrieks as the song begins. I can forgive her however as the song is indeed a great rendition that has the speakers pumping here at home.

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Be Happy is all about the band and the audience, with Prince taking a back seat on vocals the girls lead the way, before the audience pick up the “All day, all night’ refrain again with great gusto. Things are shaping up to go on for sometime,so it comes as a complete surprise as Prince wraps it up with his “Vegas” call.

I wasn’t expecting too much from 7, so I am pleasantly surprised by what we have here, a couple of minutes that are faithful to an old hit. It does segue into Come Together, another song that got more than it’s share of concert time in the late 2000’s. This version is much as it is usually heard, although the speech by Prince mid-song is interesting and revealing. Talking about America he mentions that his music is no longer on the radio, and says America wants to make him a slave. I’m not sure exactly what to make of it, but it is interesting to hear.

Dreamer follows on, and it is similar in style to the preceding Come Together.  It does gain from some louder guitar and more harmonica, but asides from that it doesn’t make much of an impression and ends before I can really get a feel for it.

I am re-enthused with hearing The Bird, not only does it push my nostalgic buttons, it also sounds like a lot of fun. The crowd is feeling it as much as I am, and the guitar has plenty of funk. The final minute has me smiling as Prince speaks with a repeat effect on the microphone, which has him saying “turn this repeat off, what are you doing?”

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Jungle Love has him asking “Who wrote that” before playing a version that makes it quite clear. A short, sharp version it has plenty of punch to it, and I am surprised by how strong the guitar solo is. It maybe short, but it is efficient and conveys plenty in the time it plays.

The performance of Glamorous Life is one of the most satisfying parts of the show. After first taking some time to get the sound right, Prince tells the audience that he wants to live in France, because it rhymes with his favorite word “dance”. The band live up to the moment, and once again I am turning them up louder. It sounds classic, live, and fun all at the same time, and although Shelia E is missing it still manages to capture some of her sound and influence.

3121 returns with a steamroller of a  heavy groove that is mind crushingly good. Ten minutes of heavy, and heavenly, funk follows- only lightened by the reappearance of the harmonica. All Day, All Night chants, soul claps, lyrics that hint at something dangerous, and unhinged harmonica all add to this behemoth of a song, all killer groove and funky rhythms. The audience do become intrusive on the recording, but I am prepared to overlook this as the song rolls on in its own unstoppable way. This the moment where I am finally swept away by the music and I truly lose myself in the moment.

And suddenly we are back to where it all started with the the soft drizzle of an introduction to Purple Rain. The recording has been good until this point, but it’s now that it finally loses some of its polish with some mild distortion and crowd noise. Maybe it’s the crowd noise that ruins the levels, it is as the crowd sings that the distortion is most noticeable. As for the song itself, it’s a humdinger, with Prince electing to go with the guitar saturated version rather than drawing out the verses he cuts straight to the chase early on. This makes the distortion of the crowd singing all the more frustrating, especially as Prince revisits the verses and sings with a whole-hearted fullness.  With the vocals and the guitar being top notch it really is a shame the recording lets it all down at this stage. Still, it is what it is, and the show ends just as good as it begun.

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Another excellent show from 2009 and what is proving to be a very fruitful year for bootlegs. All the shows I have heard from 2009 are clean sounding and offer plenty to the careful listener. This one had plenty of high points, and even at two and a half hours it never let up, giving plenty until the very end. The Paris crowds are always knowledgeable and fun, and Prince acknowledges that with another show that is outstanding. I had doubts before I listened, I thought it maybe too clean cut, but it has proved otherwise and is a great listen. With a cold beer in hand it has been the perfect way to end the week.

Take care
Hamish

7-7-7 Target Centre

Several weeks ago I wrote of the Macy’s matinee show from 2007, and it’s only right that I now return to have a listen to the other shows from that day. The main show from the Target Center in retrospect can be seen as a precursor and warm up show to the 21 nights in London that will come in the following month. The set list  here being typical of these future shows, with Prince airing most of his hits in the show. The real drawcard of this show is the appearance of Wendy on several songs. I would like to say I recognized her sound immediately, although to be honest I’m not sure I would have picked up on it without being told. However, I will be listening carefully to see if I can pick her style on the songs she appears on.

7th July 2007, Target Center Minneapolis

We don’t have to wait long to hear Wendy, she appears on Purple Rain that starts the show, and this is entirely appropriate as this is the period most fans know her from. Prince is up to the occasion -a hometown show, Wendy on guitar, and he gives a stirring performance from the first minutes. His vocals are punchy and carry some weight as he sings, he does sound invested in the moment and the song soars due to this. Normally it’s the guitar break that I find myself waiting for, on this occasion I get just as much pleasure from the singing as anything else that might be going on. The guitar break however shouldn’t be overlooked, as Prince infuses this with spirit and feeling that gets the show off to a positive and highly enjoyable start.

Take Me With U maintains this momentum and good will, the recording is clean sounding with enough of the crowd noise there to get the impression that they are all aboard from the very beginning, much as you’d expect from a show in Minneapolis. It’s upbeat, it’s fun, and it comes and goes in a flash, leaving me with a smile on my face.

Prince keeps the foot on the accelerator as the segue into Guitar keeps the show moving quickly on. I did enjoy it when it first came out, since then my interest has waned somewhat so I didn’t expect too much here. I was pleasantly surprised by how good it sounds, especially the last few minutes. The verses and chorus I could take or leave, but the final few minutes is where Prince warms to his work and some great guitar work can be heard.

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My first “wow” moment comes with Shhh, a song I will never tire of hearing. Prince wraps me up in his warm vocal delivery, before an avalanche of guitar pushes this song into greatness. The contrast between the vocals and the guitar give it some dramatic tension and for me that’s what makes this song what it is. I can’t tell you how this compares to the hundreds of other performances of it I have heard, what I can tell you that at this moment it is the highlight of my week and it washes the worries of world away for the next few minutes.

Musicology snaps me back into the real world and, as enjoyable as it is, it can’t compare to Shhh. I do appreciate the sentiment behind “real music by real musicians”, but after listening to a great many shows I have found I have become tired of the phase. Musicology does provide some interest as Prince begins to sing Prince And The Band. It lacks some of the bite it had earlier on, but it’s cool to hear Prince trotting it out again. There are further highlights as Prince can be heard having fun with an audience member dancing, before Mike Phillips brings his magic touch to the song.

I have never enjoyed Play That Funk Music in Prince shows, and here is no different. The band sound good, the crowd are lapping it up, and yet listen here at home it leaves me cold. There is some fire in the guitar solo that has me regretting my words, and by the end of the song I too am won over – never underestimate the power of Prince and his guitar ability.

The cover version of Let’s Go by the Cars adds a huge dash of fun to the show and, although it is short, it is eminently enjoyably. From its catchy sing along beginnings to the scorching Prince guitar break it ticks all my boxes, and even at two and a half minutes it is a performance that leaves me breathless.

Mike Phillips certainly leaves his mark on Satisfied. I’m not feeling it early on, but then Mike Phillips arrives with his saxophone and plays up a storm. The intensity levels go through the roof, and I wonder why I don’t listen to this more often. The rest of Satisfied is as I have heard plenty of times before, but those few minutes of Mike Phillips elevates it in my estimation.

Mike stays front and centre as he and Renato Neto play an instrumental What A Wonderful World. This time I find I do mentally check out, I am here for Prince and these moments he is not on stage the energy seems to drain out of the building, and the recording. What A Wonderful World is good in its own right, but it’s not Prince.

I knew Wendy played on several songs, what I didn’t expect was her and Prince playing a solo guitar set together. This takes things to a whole other level and is easily the highlight of the show. If I had of known what was coming I would have come to this recording much sooner than I have.  The opening Little Red Corvette is other worldly, the guitars and vocals angelic as they interlace and weave their magic. Prince keeps it short, but it’s only the beginning of something special.

Raspberry Beret is a song that I feel I never have to hear again – except this version. Stripped back to the vocals and guitars it regains it youthfulness and spark. The years roll back as it plays and the sound of Wendy’s guitar is unmistakable. I am not normally one for nostalgia, but this has me back wallowing in my teenage years.

We get some Prince humour as Prince and Wendy next tackle The One U Wanna C. It starts off quickly, before Prince stops – telling the crowd that they can’t play it as its new and they might bootleg it. They then change tack and play a different version of it, slowed down and rolled with, which in my opinion makes it a lot more bootleg-able, its these different arrangements and live performances that I collect bootlegs for.  There is a downside, as the recording unfortunately captures some people discussing what seat numbers they are, but the rest of the song passes without incidence, and it sounds fantastic. This guitar set is something else, and I’m loving every minute of it.

The guitar set is rounded out by a tear-jerking performance of Sometimes It Snows In April. Its sharper and cleaner, and not as over wrought as I expect, and the performance is all the better for it. There is a purity to it that lifts the show, and the guitar flourishes are pitched just right to give it a touch of colour. It brings the guitar set to a close in the best way possible, and gives us a pause before the show pushes forward again.

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The band re-join for 7, and the show immediately becomes an up-tempo party again. 7 is an introduction for the following Come Together, and after two minutes it easily segues into Shelby singing the opening verses. Come Together doesn’t add anything special to the show, and it’s hard to fathom why it appeared in so many of Princes shows. Prince and the band never quite put their only mark on it, and for the most part it is a perfunctory run through the song. The saving grace comes in the form of Princes closing guitar break which lifts the song far above its plodding beat. If only the rest of the song sounded as good as the guitar break, it would be a different beast altogether.

The piano set portion of the show begins with a lovely sounding Do Me, Baby. Prince and piano start off easily enough, before the band do join to give the song a full, yet touching, sound. This is another moment that I find I gravitate to, and it sets the bar high for the next few piano songs.

I Wanna Be Your Lover follows in similar fashion, Prince and the piano opening the song before the rest of the band joins in.  It sounds fresh, and even here at home I am singing along with it as if it is a new song to me. The outro is played, which is a plus as far as I am concerned, and there is some funk under the pop veneer.

How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore is more in line with what we traditionally expect from the piano set. With just Prince and the piano, the next couple of minutes could have been recorded anytime over the previous thirty years. The band do join, but this signals the end of the song, rather than a fuller version.

There is only a couple of lines played from Diamonds and Pearls, before Prince plays with the crowd as he calls for his guitar. He stays with the Diamonds and Pearls album, playing a lively version of Cream. This sometimes sounds dreary to me, not tonight as Prince plays with an extra sharpness and energy. Playing to the hometown audience is bringing out the best of him, and the recording is sounding great.

There is cascade of noise and guitar work with the introduction of U Got The Look. Prince and the band romp through it, playing a boisterous, rough and tumble rendition. The guitar isn’t over worked, but it is strong, and the song is much more than the two dimension versions heard elsewhere through 2007.  It comes as an unexpected surprised, and I am pleased to hear it in this form.

The band is stronger than I expected, and they put their stamp well and truly on If I Was Your Girlfriend. There is sound and power coming from every corner as the song plays, normally it’s Prince vocals that command attention in the song, in this case all the band are vying for attention as the song plays. It gives it a fullness that is far from what is heard on Sign O The Times.

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The same could be said of Black Sweat, the band swamp it in sound as the stripped back sound of the original becomes just a memory. It may not be my favourite version, but I commend the band for taking ownership and making it distinctly theirs. Renato Neto in particular has my attention with some keyboard sounds that sound alien in nature.

The band is slightly more restrained for Kiss, although there is a low bass rumble that has me excited. The song starts off well, but it’s the guitar break that has me sitting up and paying a lot more attention. It brings some sharpness to a song that has too much happening and at times sounding unfocused.

Let’s Go Crazy on paper fails to excite me, but listening to it reveals a different arrangement, designed to engage the crowd to the full. The original opening is intact, then no verses, just a headlong rush into guitar work before Prince engages the audience in some chanting, all the while delivering guitar histrionics. The music snob in me would normally dismiss this, but like a mouth to the flame I can’t help but be attracted by the rush and thrill of it.

That rush and thrill is maintained as Prince and the band cut into one of the funkiest versions of A Love Bizarre I have heard for a long time. With Shelia E on board the song has an authentic sound, although it’s the funk of the guitar that really gets my heart going. The band are giving their all, and the song is pushed out the speakers at me with great energy and force. The trombone of Greg Boyer adds a taste of something different, and the song never once loses energy or the pure joy of simply being alive. The last searing guitar solo by Prince is the icing on the cake, and leaves me feeling like I felt the first time I saw him live.

Crazy is more like what I expected this show to be like, a gentle run through of a familiar set list, with plenty of Shelby J sprinkled through the show. It’s much more in keeping with what would be heard later in the year during the 21 nights in London, and as such it doesn’t overly excite me hearing it here. I do enjoy the guitar riff of One Nation Under A Groove that is briefly alluded to, but for the most part the song can’t compare to the highlights that came earlier.

Nothing Compares 2 U is similar, it is an uninspired run through of a song that deserves better. There isn’t the interaction between Prince and Shelby as we hear in other performances, he takes the song on himself, and the solo from Mike Phillips sounds bold but lacks any emotional pull. It is disappointing, but I can’t complain after all that has come before.

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Shelia E makes herself heard for the final song of the night, A Glamorous Life. Shelia and Prince can be heard having fun together, as they play with the song and the audience during a mid-song break down that features plenty of percussion from Shelia. I do start to lose interest, but I can’t deny it would have been great if I had been there. It is great to hear a performance of A Glamorous life, and although the song doesn’t end with a bang, the show does with this performance of a live rarity.

The show is a curious mix of the familiar and the not so familiar. Although the bulk of the show is similar to the London shows that will follow, there is enough in there for me to take a closer listen. The section with Wendy was outstanding, as was the closing with Shelia E.  Some of the other songs suffer in comparison to this, although there were moments where Prince draws from the home crowd and elevates some numbers to a higher level. This could have been a mundane show, but is saved by the guest appearances and a lively performance from Prince. Too long I have ignored this one, dismissing it as another 2007 show by the numbers. Worth a second listen, and I may have to revisit it several more times in the coming weeks.

It’s been a shaky week here, and its been a great diversion to lose myself in Prince’s world for a couple of hours
See you next week,
Hamish

Studio 54 MGM 1999

With not many shows played in 1999 there isn’t much to listen to from that time. My collection is thin from 1999 and consequently so is the blog. I intend to right that wrong by taking in a couple of shows from that year. I have already taken in the Mill City festival, and today I will listen to a show from the beginning of the year at Studio 54, MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas. This from a Sabotage release, and also covers another couple of shows, but it is the show from January 2nd that interests me most. An eclectic mix of songs sees some strange bedfellows, I Would Die 4 U bumps up against Get Yo Groove On, and the show is short for a Prince show so I am hoping for something infused with plenty of energy. It looks good on paper, fingers crossed it delivers.

2nd January 1999, Studio 54, MGM Grand Hotel Las Vegas

We ease into the show with an easy Push It Up. It takes some time to make itself known, but that’s no problem at all as I enjoy it right from the start. With a steady beat and the band chanting “push it up” the funk is slowly added by the slightest of guitar. With Prince intoning “The funk keep on rolling” he, in a couple of words, sums up the exact mood of the song, it does indeed roll. The song stays with a low roll and even as Prince sings the chorus it doesn’t rise to anything more, it stays low in the groove all the way. Things do become more lively with the introduction of Jam Of The Year, with the groove still locked down it’s the lyrics that raise the excitement levels and some added keys is certainly a plus.

Talkin Loud And Sayin Nothin has the band changing gears and cutting into their work, with Larry Graham doing his best to get things going. Hand waving, and some funky music has me feeling it, although Prince does pull things back a couple of times and breaking the flow. Mike Scott delivers a quick solo as the party begins in earnest with an action packed keyboard solo following close after. Its funky and something I would normally expect later in the gig, nevertheless it gets things moving early on and sounds great.

Rosie Gaines singing Carwash is perfectly in keeping with what has come before and it is seamless in setting the party vibe already set. It follows right on the heels of Talkin Loud And Saying Nothin, almost as a medley- the groove never stopping. It may sound dated, but it is of its time and is very 1999.

Likewise Let’s Work comes after, without pause or let up. It does lack some crispness, whether it be the recording or the performance I don’t know. After years of listening to Prince bootlegs I know that it does lack the fire and passion that was present in the performances of the song in the early eighties.

Delirious also harks back to the early days and it fares better at this show than the previous Let’s Work. It still has a brightness and a bounce that carries the day, and the best moment is the brief piano solo that appears midsong bringing a smile to my face. Rock N Roll Is Alive (And Lives In Minneapolis) is played as an instrumental coda, leaving the song finishing on an energized high.

 

There are plenty of great live versions of Purple Rain in circulation, this is not one of them. It has a dreariness about it, and sounds uninspired throughout. Even the guitar solo that is usually uplifting is instead laborious and for the first time in my life I find myself counting the minutes until it ends.

The gentle swells of Little Red Corvette restores my faith. With the guitar delicately emphasizing the rise and fall of the keyboard it has a gentleness to it that washes against me. It is a somewhat unusual arrangement, after an extended introduction Prince sings the opening verse and chorus before Mike Scott takes the solo and the song suddenly ends. Even in this truncated form it is still a classy few minutes and worth it just for those opening minutes alone.

I Would Die 4 U sees the crowd cheering and gleefully singing along. The next few minutes the songs come thick and fast, and this is a fine introduction that gets the crowd involved. It’s only played very short, and as such has a brightness to it that keeps things moving as Prince quickly introduces the band with Get Yo Groove On before the segue into I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man.

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I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man has a pounding beat as Prince toys with some guitar playing. A minute of teasing and the song kicks into the familiar riff as Prince sings. Of course it’s all about the guitar, and it isn’t long before Prince dispenses with the singing and heads straight for the guitar solo. The solo isn’t as long as I want, and it slows to some interesting guitar noodling which shimmers and swirls before occasionally flickering into life.

The intensity levels drop as Rosie Gaines takes the microphone for Redemption Song. It’s not a bad rendition, it’s just that it is not Prince. I try to get something out of it but it never sweeps me up. The song goes by without me feeling engaged or actively listening, it serves well as a backdrop without any demand.

Rosie stays on the microphone for Ain’t No Way, and this time I am much more engaged. Her voice with the keyboards underneath, gives it a soulful nostalgic sound and I wallow in the song for several minutes, enjoying all of it. With a full warm sound this is better than the previous Redemption Song and I find myself falling for Rosie all over again.

It’s no surprise that Prince and Rosie next take on Nothing Compares 2 U, and this lifts the show to another level as they belt it out for maximum effect. The organ solo is the heart of the song and gives it an emotional base. It is obviously hitting the right buttons with the audience as they actively sing through the song and give plenty of warm appreciation at the end of the song.

I forget that Come On was less than a year old at this stage, and at this performance Prince plays it in full, with plenty of loops and beats keeping it hopping. The singing comes across well on the recording, and it does have its own charm. I may not like it when Doug E Fresh does his thing, but I do enjoy hearing the crowd sing and chant along with him.

I was curious to hear 1999: The New Master live, until it actually started. It’s a mess, with beat boxing from Doug E. Fresh, and lots of rapping and crowd participation. Some people may like it, for me it’s not really what I want to hear from a Prince show. It does run for ten minutes which can make for hard listening, and I must admit late in the song I stopped paying attention as I wasn’t enjoying it in the slightest.

The loop of Gett Up has me perking up, but we stay with Doug E Fresh for the first minute before Prince hits the main riff and things get started. It’s not the greatest version, but there is no denying the ear-worm of a hook, and the guitar has me listening intently for the couple of minutes the song plays. The final couple of minutes it switches to Gett Off(housestyle), something I wouldn’t normally like but this evening I find myself liking it despite myself, and even Rosie’s scat raises a smile.

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The final Release Yourself is where Larry Graham and Rosie Gaines shine. The song is such that it is a natural fit for them, and with Larry’s bass rumbling underneath there is another chance for Rosie to sing. The song is yet another finale jam that runs for some time as an upbeat instrumental with plenty of organ and bass. When the singing does begin its as with the key players each taking a part, although Rosie is easily the strongest. Despite this, Larry is recorded best on the recording, a shame as Rosie is going for it near the end even though she is quieter on the recording. It is the finale and there is no surprise as it ends with a flourish.

I was overly optimistic when I set out to listen to this show. I knew 1999 wasn’t a great year for shows, yet I thought some of the songs would offer more. There was some good songs and moments in the show, but they weren’t strong enough to make up for the not so good songs. A run of shows like this and I would quickly lose interest in listening to bootlegs, luckily I know there are plenty more good shows from other years without having to dip into shows like this. An interesting enough experience, but no something I would want to do again any time soon.

Thanks again
Hamish

 

 

1994, Roseland Ballroom New York

Following on from last week’s blog, this week I will be listening to another show from 1994 -the soundboard recording from the Roseland Ballroom New York. On the surface it seems to be similar to the show from the Palladium earlier in the year, but a preliminary listen the other day reveals that this one has raised the bar higher, and with some additional songs in the set list it offers a different listening experience. I know I spoke highly of the show last week, and I somewhat regret that now that I have heard this one and it’s even better.  There is a lot to be said for this one, so I guess I had better get on and say it.

12th December 1994, Roseland Ballroom New York

The recording opens with an incomplete Endorphinmachine. The first portion of the song is missing and the recording picks up just as Princes guitar solo is in full flight, before he slips into the spoken word breakdown. Its wonderfully clear, and even incomplete it is well worth the listen. Prince isn’t setting the world on fire here, but he is sounding strong and clear, something that bodes well for the rest of the recording.

I have previously often written of my ambivalent feelings toward The Jam, the version played here leaves no doubt in my mind, it sounds fresh and light and is great introduction to the band leaving me completely sold on it. The keyboard solos are lighter, they lift the song, and the guitar line underneath is well served by the recording, every nuance is recorded and easy to hear. Normally I enjoy the first organ solo, then drift off as the rest of the song plays, today is different and I listen enraptured to every moment. I enjoy all the different elements, as each member plays I listen to them with enthusiasm and never once do I lose interest.

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Last week I wrote that Shhh was the highlight of the show. This week’s performance trumps that, it is hands down one of the best versions I have heard. A lot of this has to do with the recording, its silky smooth, and I can feel the song as much as I can hear it. Prince’s performance sounds steamy and the recording is so good I can almost hear the sweat dripping off him as he sings. There are two aspects to the song, firstly the vocal performance which is sensual and full of desire, and then the guitar breaks which start with a smoky stutter before becoming full blooded and soaked in passion. Both parts of the song are beyond compare, and as Prince wraps it up with the guitar crying I decide that this is my new favourite version.

Days Of Wild also benefits from this soundboard recording, it has a lightness and clarity as it squelches across the soundscape. Without the heaviness Prince’s vocals can be heard clearly, and every syllable enunciated has been captured by this fantastic recording. The groove continues it’s roll, and even as Prince sings Hair, the underlying Days Of Wild rumbles along before we return to the chorus. The song has a couple of twists and turns which keeps it interesting, as well as the heavy funk there is a lighter guitar break that drops out of nowhere, before it closes with the crowd chanting.

We have another long funk workout next with Now. It’s the latter part of the song where things get interesting, the band go into a long extended groove before Ninety-9 joins them and begins to rap. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is interesting to hear something different, personally I’m not overly enamoured by it although it does keep me listening. However there is no denying the pulse of the organ groove under it, and this is what keeps the song and me moving forward.

With the quality of the recording and a slight echo Prince sounds ethereal as he sings The Most Beautiful Girl In The World. The music is fine, but it does sound of this earth while Prince’s vocals seem to come from someplace else entirely. This is the hit song of the year and was played constantly, yet here it is as fresh as ever, its pure pop sound undiminished by constant rotation. With the keyboards showering the song in their colourful runs, it ends on a high that has me smiling for several minutes after.

Princes vocals sound somewhat detached from P.Control, although it is held together by the music. The vocals are clear but not as loud as I expect, maybe the recording is too clean for its own good. The band are very tight through the song, and there is not a loose moment in the whole thing, it is play as straight as can be. It’s a good moment in the show, without exploding into anything more.

Letitgo has Prince talking about his contract for the first minute before the band slips into the easy groove. It has a seductive slide to it which gets my head bobbing from the start. The song lacks any real punch; it stays on the gentle side of a groove with the wheeze of the organ carrying the versus before the song opens up for the chorus. It’s an enjoyable few minutes although like the previous song it doesn’t punch things to the next level.

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We get a treat next as the band plays the first live performance of Pink Cashmere. The stabs at the beginning add some sharpness to it, although to be honest it is Prince’s singing that is the main attraction of the song. There is added interest in way of a jazzy interlude which briefly takes the song to a different plane. Overall Prince keeps it relatively straight and this song is the biggest benefactor of the soundboard recording, Prince vocals sound great as do the keyboards and drums through the whole song.

A minute of guitar noodling leads us into a version of The Ride that seems to be slightly faster. Prince doesn’t dwell on it as is his usual way, instead the song moves along at a steady pace allowing him to quickly cut into this work on the guitar. The normal slow burning guitar is replaced by something quicker and sharper, there is still a buzz to it but the notes come in flurries rather than being drawn out. The song is shorter than normal, the final minutes dominated by Prince talking to the crowd as he plays.

Race has things moving, and like other songs on this recording it gains a lot from the soundboard recording – Prince sounds cleaner than I have previously heard in live versions of this, and the song gains an extra level of energy. It rattles and rolls without settling down, and Tommy’s solo keeps it off balance, it never feels like it settles into a groove. That is until Morris plays on his organ, and it is at this point that the song and the band hit their straps and drive it home. There is some excellent keyboard sounds from all involved in the final minutes of the song, and at that point it becomes looser and more of a jam.

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I was looking forward to hearing Superhero, it is a great NPG song that deserves more coverage. The up-tempo beat and quick groove gets the energy levels up, especially midsong when the drums begin to pound with the Superhero refrain. Things get wild from this point on as the keyboards go off piste with some very cool solos that lead naturally into Outa-space. We are fully into the jam at this point, with plenty of different sounds coming at us thick and fast. The groove however remains constant, and I find that I have to resist the urge to get up and dance to it. The final few minutes bring the greatest surprise, with Morris indulging in some playing that has come straight out the church while the rest of the band fall silent. It’s an interesting moment, and although I am use to the God and religion in Prince’s music it is still a surprise to hear such a church moment at this stage.

The organ sound returns as the final song of the evening begins, and the first couple of minutes are all Morris Hayes before Get Wild kicks off proper. Its bright and shiny, with the keyboard playing horn parts and giving it some extra sparkle. Things become much more serious as Prince unleashes some heavy guitar. It’s brief as it ushers in the next part of the song, plenty of loose solos provided by all. Princes vocals are again sounding detached in the mix, luckily it’s all about the band and the music for this final hoorah. The highlight is certainly the bass, as the song plays this is the moment I look forward to and it doesn’t disappoint at all with some thick yet sharp bass playing.  The disappointment comes from the fact that this is the final song, and as it wraps up I am still hungry for more.

It’s refreshing to hear a show such as this in soundboard, and in years to come I am confident it will be highly regarded. Prince and the band are lively and play a tight and enjoyable show. I have only listened to this a couple of times, and I will be listening to it plenty more times in the years to come. A great show, a quality recording and a beautiful cover, you really couldn’t ask for anything more, this recording deserves all the coverage it gets.

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