On the afternoon of May 11th 2011, it was suddenly announced that Prince would be doing two impromptu shows that very day at the Troubadour, Hollywood. Of course this is completely in character for Prince, the attraction of playing shows at short notice has appealed to him since the early 80’s. Not only was the show announced a short notice, but there was to be two of them, one starting in the early evening, and the other just after midnight. With Prince’s residency at the Forum in full swing, this is quite a feast of music for local music lovers to enjoy, and the subsequent bootlegs are equally enjoyable for the wider fan community. The bootlegs of these particular shows may not be the best sounding you have ever heard, but the concerts themselves are fantastic, and both concerts are well worth the listen. The first show of the evening is notable for the last live performance of “Power Fantastic,” something that every hardcore fan would love to hear. The rest of the setlist is a combination of after-show standards,and marquee concert mainstays, all contributing to a heady mix of all that is good and great about Prince and his band.
11th May, 2011. Toubadour,Hollywood, California
The recording drops us right into the midst of the action, a swirling and ominous groove that parts to to reveal some light in the form of a “One Nation Under A Groove”chorus. Without settling on any one direction it keeps the listener guessing, while providing a showcase for this band comprised of John Blackwell, Ida Nielson, Morris Hayes, and Renato Neto. With Mike Phillips putting in an appearance, this is a band with the chops to move swiftly across the music Prince wishes to cover, and they tackle “Stratus” with plenty of finesse, along with a big chunk of pure music muscle, making Prince’s guitar contribution shine all the more brighter and potent as it lasers its way through the dense murk of a groove the band creates. Time is irrelevant as the band crush any other thought apart from music itself, and Renato Netos solo piece is otherworldly as it transports us from the confines of the room.
There is hiding the fact that this is an audience recording. It doesn’t have the crackle and fades that sometimes plague such recordings, but it does have plenty of audience noise and this does at times detract from the music. “Power Fantastic” is undoubtedly the highlight of the recording, but there is a lot of audience noise that comes with it. The song allows a chance for the band to breath, and the song plays as steady as a dreamers breath. Mike Phillips adds to this slumber like quality, and at just three minutes long I find I have to hit repeat a couple of times to fully appreciate the moment.
Coming from a similar place is “Somewhere Here On Earth,” its lighter touch filling the recording with further dreamscape sounds. The song can’t match “Power Fantastic” for nostalgic weight though, and as good as it sounds, especially Mike Phillips again, it can’t compare to the previous few minutes. I wallow in the joy of Mike Phillips playing, and I would recommend this far more highly if not coming straight after “Power Fantastic”
The cascading guitar at the beginning of “Boom” is inviting, before giving way to a heavier riff that is the signature of the song. From here the band surprise me with an instrumental jazz jam appearing, and again the best moments don’t belong to Prince, but rather to the superb players he has surrounded himself with. The performance is better than we hear on the recording, the audience is silenced from the outset, hinting that perhaps they are watching opened mouth at this moment. I cannot understate how good Mike Phillips is during this song, and for me that has been one of the most revealing aspects of the recording – previously under recognized performers coming to the fore and demonstrating just why Prince bought them into the fold. The final frenzied combination of Renato Neto and Mike Phillips is an absolute treat, and eclipses all that has come before.
The band are onto something good, and they continue to mine this rich vein with a ten minute jazz instrumental. It is not as intensive as the previous jam, and there are portions where it threatens to meander. Overall though, it is another hit out for the band, with Renato Neto taking the lead in several fast piano passages that piques my interest. It’s an undemanding listen that contributes to the overall feel of the recording, without becoming essential in itself,.
“Let’s Get It On.” Figuratively and literally. What an inspired cover version this turns out to be, and with Andy Allo on hand to lend some vocals this becomes another surprising moment to be cherished. Andy doesn’t have the depth to her voice that Marvin Gaye does (does anyone?) but she brings her own touch to the song and without ever threatening the original it becomes it’s own quiet storm. The appearance of a vocoder and lines lifted from elsewhere brings an unique aspect to an otherwise familiar song, as the band definitely stretch it to their own means for the next few minutes.
There is an unexpected “Colonized Mind,” featuring very little of the guitar that we have come to associate with the song. Instead that guitar grunt and sinew has been replaced by a thoughtful delicacy provided by Renato Neto and Mike Phillips. They take the song and spin it the other way, molding it to fit the jazz sound of the previous few songs. It brings new life to the song, and it burns just as bright in this setting as it does in the fury of more guitar orientated sets.
“When She Comes” appeared on the 2015 album Hit N Run Phase 2, here we have a much earlier version that is far more of it’s time. It’s sound comes from the same fertile soil as “Somewhere Here On Earth,” and it is a nice fit into the setlist. However, it fails to generate any sort of emotional response from me, and as nice as it sounds I just can’t connect to the music I am hearing. It does become a long jazz jam though, and this I find far more rewarding as again Mike Phillips comes to the fore with an array of new sounds and fresh ideas.
Normally it is the punch at the start of “Shhh” that grabs me, in this case that punch is neutered by the quality (or lack of) of the recording. It still delivers though, but like everything else in the evening it is through the jazz lens that this band filters Prince’s songs through. It is Mike Phillips with the first contribution that signals what direction the song is going, rather than Prince’s vocals its is his horn the opens the door on the song. Prince’s vocals aren’t as in your face on this recording, it is the rest of the band that pick up the slack, along with some fantastic singing from the audience as Prince leads them into a soft rendition of “U Will Be” over the music of “Shhh” In many ways it works better, and I am more attracted to the song without the sometimes hokey “Shhh” lyrics. It is far more mature sounding, and the lyrics match the direction the music is flowing. It takes a moment to adjust to the alluring sound, but the song draws me in over its ten minutes, and I find that this is the standout song on the recording. Ignore the quality of the recording, this is a performance that needs to be heard. The final guitar solo from Prince confirms this as he makes an emphatic statement in the final minutes with a whirlwind performance that sweeps all aside without ever becoming hurricane force.
There is a good old fashioned stomp towards the finish with the incisive guitar riff of “Controversy” appearing, along with John Blackwell’s trademark pound. After a funk intro, everything is seemingly turned up to ten at once with Princes howling guitar leading the way. This is a misleading step and once again it is Mike Phillips who blasts his way through the bulk of the song, adding plenty of spice to its bare funk sound. The highlight for me though is the crowd chanting their way through the “people call me rude” chant for sometime.This version has a unique feel and it reinvigorates my love for a familiar classic.
“Musicology” shuffles into view, the intensity derived from the twin attack of Mike Phillips and Princes vocals. They both carry the impetus that propels the music forward. On record, “Musicology” isn’t always the most appealing song to me, but I can’t deny that in the live situation it is a great song to get pulses rising and the crowd moving. The most interesting part of this performance is the final half of the song as it breaks down and the band noodle around various aspects of the riffs. No ground breaking material to found here, but it is a pleasant enough diversion.
The recording doesn’t capture every song of the night, but it does finish on an all time high with a divine version of “A Case Of U.” There are of course more famous versions in circulation, but I am delighted to hear it here at this concert. The bootleg isn’t perfect, but the performance sounds pretty close, Prince’s vocals and piano weaving a magical spell before Mike Phillips appears on the shoulder of the song, adding the sweetest of touches with his saxophone. All in all it is an endearing performance, and one that we would all be talking about if only it was a soundboard recording.
Sadly, the bootleg finishes here, missing the final two songs (“Pop Life” and “Beggin Woman Blues”). There is no need to be too disappointed, there have been plenty of treasures sprinkled throughout the show. Obviously, the final “A Case Of U” is breathtaking, as is “Shhh” and “Power Fantastic.” It seems each week that I write that despite the quality of the recording, whatever show I am listening to is worth hearing. I can’t help it, I am a fan of bootlegs, and it matters little to me whether a recording is soundboard or audience recording. It is certainly the case with this recording, the setlist and performance far outshines the recording, and for a hardcore fan such as myself it demands listening. Casual fans may skip this at their peril, for the rest of us there is plenty here to enjoy and reflect upon.
Join me next week for the second performance from this evening, one that is equally good.