Paisley Park After Dark – April 2014

Today’s recording is short, less than half an hour, but I thought I would take a listen as it shows a different side to Prince. It is the second of Paisley Parks after dark events where Prince makes a surprise appearance, but only plays thirty minutes as he experiences guitar problems. And this is what I want to hear. I have hundreds, no make that thousands, of Prince recordings where everything goes well and sounds amazing. What interests me about this performance is the sound problems he has with the guitar, and the way he curtails the performance because of this. We all have bad days in the office, and there is a part of me that wants to experience what it sounds like when Prince has one of these days. The accompanying notes say that one can hear when Prince unplugs his guitar from the board as the sound gets worse, I have listened but my rapidly fading hearing isn’t good enough to hear him unplug, but one can definitely hear the problems he is having on some levels. It’s an unusual choice for me to listen to, but I want a well rounded bootleg experience and take both the bad and the good together.

6th April 2014 (am) , Paisley Park

I immediately regret that this recording is so short, the opening burst of guitar is incisive and inspiring, and I am instantly caught up in the excitement of hearing “I’m Yours” from Prince’s debut album. It is fresh out the box and if I wasn’t a fan I would have said it was something far younger than 30 years. The song wears barely a wrinkle on its face as Prince reveals it to the Paisley Park crowd, its simple beauty forever timeless.

In comparison “Bambi” is an ex-girlfriend, and despite Prince retaining the same guitar tone as the previous song, it fails to get a second look from me. It is the typical 3rdeyegirl treatment of the song, and although I rejoiced in its rock sound at the time, three years later I find I have quickly tired of it. Everything is in its place, and there is very little secrets or surprises to be heard here.

I do like Princes spoken intro to “Peach,” and it threatens to be a devastating performance. However, this is where his problems start and the song is quickly aborted. The next few minutes though highlight what a consummate professional Prince is, and after apparently fixing whatever is wrong, the band pick up right where they left off in the song. Prince may be having troubles with his sound, but the song erupts in the next few minutes, Princes vocals just as raw and loud as the guitar licks he plays. The audience recording sounds great, there is zero audience noise and the next few minutes are pure guitar heaven as Prince blazes across the recording.

The bright pop rock of “So Far, So Pleased” is subverted by the weight of 3rdeyegirl. The verses retain their pop sheen, but the chorus is where the real action is with plenty of grit added by the band. It’s easy on the ear, while retaining enough for those that want a further challenge, and the change to a funk jam midsong is surprising given the rock credentials of the band. The jam is initially slow moving, it isn’t until Prince brings his lead guitar into the mix does it begin to come into focus, slowly circling around Prince at the centre of this almost silent storm. The music unwinds from this point though as Prince foregoes the guitar and the song continues in the most subtle of jams. This time I do hear the point where Prince unplugs the guitar as the band carry on their simple groove for another five minutes. It picks up again as Prince takes the drum kit for a final flourish, but I can’t say it’s particularly impressive, asides from demonstrating that he can play any position, a point he ably demonstrates by taking the bass next for something that I do like a whole lot more. This final jam runs for fifteen minutes, but truth be told there isn’t much in it, even with Princes various musical contributions, and there is almost a sense of relief when it comes to an end.

I can’t say I was surprised by anything I heard on the recording, the notes did say it was plagued by sound problems and Prince cuts it short. However, I thought the opening two songs were great, and even near the end when Prince became overwhelmed by sound issues, the music still sounded sharp and the band well invested. The final jam did meander, but all credit to Prince he did try and make something out of nothing with his drum break and bass playing adding an element of interest to an other wise dull moment on the recording. Even as the show wound down, Prince retained his professionalism and what we do hear on the recording is very good by anyone’s standings. This is a recording that I will probably never come back to, but I will keep in my mind how good those opening songs were, and what a craftsman Prince was when it came to live performance. I couldn’t say I recommend this one, but as someone who has to hear everything, it’s pretty cool.

Thanks for reading
-Hamish

Piano & A Microphone – show 2

The first show of piano and a microphone is still running through my head. Since listening to it yesterday I have been thinking of it constantly, and at work today I had cravings to listen to it again. However I know I must put that aside for a moment so I can concentrate on this, the second show. A preliminary glance at the set list shows this to be a different show in many ways, I see quite a few songs from the last ten years in there, and I think that bodes well. I adored all the older songs he played at the first show, but I also appreciate hearing some of these newer songs in the same setting. Hopefully Prince will bring something new to the table with these songs on the piano, and I can’t wait to hear it.

21st January, 2016 (show 2) Paisley Park

I can’t help but compare this show to the earlier show. The introduction to the second show is much more straight forward. There is the ethereal sounding music, but Prince starts quite suddenly with Wow. I was constantly surprised by his selections and arrangements on the first show, and right from the start I have the same thoughts here. On record I found Wow to be good, live on the piano it is something else. It’s uplifting and soulful, and Prince makes it shine in a way that it doesn’t on the album. Prince has the ability to take songs and infuse them with a lot more heart in the live setting. In this case Wow gains a lot, I would happily listen to this uplifting sound all day.

The Love We Make I have heard on a lot of boots, and usually in a similar way to this, that is the piano and vocals. Prince sounds more restrained in this rendition than I have heard elsewhere, usually it comes later in a set list, so maybe he is pacing himself rather than investing too much of himself into it. However, that in no way diminishes the power and performance of the song. Prince sounds weaker and more melancholy, and I find that moves the song in another direction. I appreciate his vocal performance, and later in the song I lean back and soak up his piano playing. I love hearing the lyrics as his sings, it speaks to me both with the words and the music. The last lines in particular are achingly beautiful.

Piano Mic 2016

I have never sat down and fully appreciated Hitnrun phase 2, so Look At Me, Look At U strikes me for its newness. Prince is effortless in his delivery, and one feels as if this song just fell into his lap as he was playing. His vocals are low key, and once again it’s the piano playing that I get a buzz out of hearing.

The Question Of U is unlike I have heard before. I have heard subdued versions, and instrumental versions, but nothing quite like what we have here. This one is my new favourite, the piano sounds as if it is floating on air and Prince picks out different parts and keeps the song twisting and turning. There are so many words I could use to describe it, it’s beautiful through and through.

1000 X’s & O’s sounds thin, yet very enjoyable. Prince doesn’t push it hard, and the music glides out of the speakers at me. There is a downbeat feel to it, but the playing is divine. Prince on the piano is sublime, and I have to be careful because I could well write that for every song. I listen careful to his playing, and lose myself in its sound.

The next song played is U’re Gonna C Me. To be honest it’s pretty much the same as we heard in the earlier show. It’s a good song that doesn’t leave any lasting impression on me. I know it must be someone’s favourite song, for me it’s something I enjoy then forget about shortly after.

It has been a while since I last heard Call My Name, and listening to it now I wonder why I don’t play it more often. The piano is again sublime, some pieces are just plain brilliant. The vocals are uplifting, although as with the previous songs it sounds as if Prince is being restrained in his delivery. I love the way Prince sings it in this manner, later in the song he warms up, and I am drawn right into his world as he sings. As always my favourite parts are when he sings “I just can’t stop writing songs about ya”. A great performance again.

Whenever I see Purple Rain in a set list I wonder what can I write about a song that I have heard so many times. I knew when I saw it here that it would be something different and maybe more emotional. There will be no big beat stadium sound, no guitar solo release. Instead just Prince, his piano and the song. Purple Rain sounds better than I have heard it in years. The slow keyboard as Prince sings the opening lines sets the tone. He plays a variety of parts, mixing them up and that keeps me interested as we go deeper into the song. He draws out the verses, there is a lot of space in there, and I think that adds to the emotional element as after every few lines there is time to soak up the sound and feel the weight of the words. He never enthusiastically sings it like a stadium show, instead he passionately sings it to himself and mic in a way that feels much more personal. There is one moment that I particularly enjoy and that is when as he sings “I never wanted to be your weekend lover” some one in the crowd lets out a whoop, very similar to what’s heard on the original recording. By design, or accident, it’s a cool moment.  At one point he plays some chords on the piano that recreate that strong guitar sound as he sings “I know, I know, times are changing”, and it’s all these little things that add up and make this performance so great.  Most of the song I feel like the crowd you see in the Purple Rain movie, I am nodding along feeling all the emotion of the song. There may be even a tear in my eye (it’s just dust, honestly)

The Dance is an overlooked song. It gets its moment in the sun here, and rightly so. I hadn’t heard it for a while, so I find myself concentrating carefully on the lyrics as I listen and Princes vocals are flawless throughout. I am so pleased that Prince pulled this out, I am sure there is many other great songs buried on albums that would be much appreciated on a fresh airing. The song sounds almost new to my ears as I listen, and I will make a point of playing this a few more times in the coming days.

Prince gives a dripping performance of Ta Amo Carazon, the song lends itself well to this performance and emotion. I am impressed how many of these modern songs carry more weight solo at the piano, and Prince is able to give them the same status as some of his earlier material. I find I am feeling just as much emotion at this second show as I felt at the first, although they are different in many ways, and this one is less personal to Prince, and yet more emotional to me.

Paino Microphone 2

A Million Days follows suit, and again it’s Princes vocal delivery that has me in raptures. His voice doesn’t have the same smoothness, and it gives the song more feel as he cracks and growls in places, before ending with a beautiful falsetto. It’s another master class as he injects the song with new life.

I do greatly enjoy Nothing Compares 2 U, although I can’t find anything that I feel is new in it. I have heard Prince sing it plenty of times, so it’s piano playing that I find I listen to most and he gives it a little extra which I appreciate. He doesn’t draw the song out too long, and he gives us the essentials, again I think that is a smart move for a song that we all know so well.

With the words “one more sad song” Prince takes us back with a performance of How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore. The previous show he only teased us with it, this time we get the full song, complete with the audience clapping and singing along. With the audience involved it brings some warmth to the evening, rather than Prince singing melancholy songs alone at the piano. The are plenty of cheers and Prince rises to the occasion with some whoops of his own. The song ends with some call and response and it lightens the mood considerably.

Listening to the last show I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I heard Condition Of The Heart, this time it’s The Ladder that has the same effect on me. It’s good. I mean it’s really good. It’s a brilliant moment at the show, with Prince speaking the lines as his piano rocks back and forth underneath. When he releases and begins to finally sing the effect is spellbinding. It’s everything you could ever wish for in a performance, and it cements my thoughts on these two shows, they are easily up with the best I have ever heard.

I Wanna Be Your Lover brings a pop spark to the show, and Prince sums it up nicely with the single word “karaoke” as he begins to play. Sure enough the fans deliver, singing the lines back to him as he plays. It’s very infectious, and my partner is laughing at me as I play air-piano along with it. It’s full of fun and, as with the last show, it’s the outro that steals it for me, with Prince playing it all on his piano. Again, he is untouchable.

Lisa gets credit again as Prince plays Raspberry Beret. He doesn’t give us a full story like we heard in the previous show, but he still mentions the part Lisa wrote. The spoken part in the middle song sounds a little strange to my ears, the crowd however love it and sing enthusiastically along. Prince gives a laugh and I can feel his smile coming through the speakers at me. You can’t beat hearing someone who sounds like they love what they are doing.

Piano and Mic

Starfish and Coffee sounds good, this time I know what to expect and as before Prince keeps it short and perfunctory. It is a fun song, yet it doesn’t quite fit with the pop of I Wanna Be Your Lover or Raspberry Beret, nor does it fall in with the melancholy ballads that we heard early on. It is its own thing, and seems out of place here. I still love it though.

Once again Venus De Milo is mesmerizing and I can do nothing but sit and listen. A classic though and though this almost steals the show, as it did in the earlier show.

Second time round I appreciate Sometime It Snows In April much more. Prince sounds cleaner to my ears, and the words speak for themselves. His piano swells and rolls under the lyrics, and I know this is a slow burner that will stand up to repeated listens. He plays with the arrangement later in the song, and for me that adds to the attraction of this song.

I have always liked Dear Mr Man, so I was very interested to see how this arrangement would play out. The piano works well for the song, and it’s got a fuller sound than the guitar. That might detract from the lyrics, but Prince is well in his stride now and the lyrics are infused with a quiet power that has me nodding in approval. The lyrics are poignant, and I think the crowd realize that as the quietly listen. Prince’s piano has a slight swing to it, I am impressed by how expressive he is with it.

After listening to the first show, hearing A Case Of U doesn’t come as such a great shock. It’s still a great performance, although I am not as moved as I was when I first heard it on the piano. It’s a touching song, and I wouldn’t want to hear Prince play it too much, least it loses that sheen of special it has about it. As great as Prince’s piano sounds, it’s the lyrics that have me transfixed. They convey so much and in such a beautiful way, this could be the best cover he has chosen to do.

I must admit that I didn’t pick Kiss right away, it’s a left field selection for a show like this. It has me scratching my head, its takes some time to wrap my head around what I am hearing. It’s mad, in a genius sort of way, and I can’t help but like it. That sharp rhythm guitar that I thought was so important is gone, and instead Prince bangs out the rhythm on his piano, again demonstrating how rhythmic a piano player can be. The break is excellent, the clunky piano reminds me of some party’s I have been to, and it has a homely feel to it. The crowd get into it, with some singing that adds the sense of fun with Prince teasing them a couple of times.

What the, is that Black Sweat? Indeed it is, and it’s a lot of fun. Prince is still playing that heavy rhythm on the piano as he sings, and I almost laugh at how he is even doing this. He definitely has vision. It sounds like the crowd are with him as I hear some cheers and clapping along. He only keeps it up for a couple of minutes, its well worth hearing though as it shows him attempting something unexpected.

I was unfamiliar with Free Urself. Prince sings “if you know the words sing along” and it seems I am not the only one who doesn’t know this song. The song has a simpler feel to it, and it kicks along nicely as Prince sings Free Urself. It’s up against some great songs in this show, it’s never going to be a knock out, yet it has its place and is an uplifting way to finish the show as I can hear the crowd singing ‘Free Urself” It’s a positive ending to yet another great show.

It would be unfair to compare this second show to the other. It’s tempting to do so, yet both are quite different to each other, and this one stacks up very well to the earlier show.  A few hours ago I would have sworn the first show was the show to end all shows. Now in the cold light of day, and after listening to this one, I’m not so sure. This show was great in its own right, and deserves just as much praise as the first show. Prince has pulled out some forgotten songs, dusted them off and given them a new lease of life, and he must be commended for that. It was a brave move, and I think it paid off, especially as he threw in songs that are not easily suited to this style such as Black Sweat. All in all, I need this show just as much as the first show. If Prince ever chose to give this an official release I would be first in line paying whatever it took. Prince has given me so much joy throughout his career, and these shows are the cherry on top. Thank you Prince.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piano & A Microphone – show 1

When I first heard that Prince was going to do these shows I thought to myself “oh, that’s an interesting concept, it would be interesting to hear”. I enjoy his piano sections in concerts and thought an evening of his piano playing and singing would be something worth hearing. Then after the shows reports starting coming thick and fast about had brilliant it had been, and how intimate and personal. When I read about Prince speaking of his father and running though his own history of song on the piano it went from an interesting idea to something I must hear. With a recording surfacing in the last few days my prayers have been answered. I am unsure I should be blogging about such an important show after only listening once. I have blogged other shows on a single listen, but never one that carries the hype of this one. I have decided to write about it on my second listen, as I don’t have any history attached to it yet, and I am writing on what I hear. I am sure that in future I will digest this more fully, but right now I can’t wait to give it a listen.

 

21st January, 2016 (show 1) Paisley Park

A cheer, the sound of a piano, and another cheer opens the show. The recording is clear, and already I am feeling good about this show. Over some piano sound Prince sings in an echo, it sounds ethereal, but with the echo it is hard to make out what he is saying. The crowd is amazingly quiet, they do cheer, but while Prince sings there is absolute silence. There is a respectful and somewhat anticipatory hush. “I wish I could play piano” says Prince and he whispers about being three years old. “Maybe I will just watch TV instead” draws a loud cheer from the crowd before Prince talks about his father and not being allowed to touch the piano. It’s an insight to his childhood, I have heard Prince speak of his youth before, but not in a direct manner like this and tied to his music. He then talks of being seven years old and addresses the legend of the first song he learnt with a funky sounding rendition of The Batman TV theme. It’s glorious to hear, he bangs it out before picking it apart later in the piece. This is something I have always dreamed of hearing, and these few minutes are a brilliant opening to the show. It’s intimate and crowd pleasing, and sets the scene for the rest of the show. The second half of the song Prince plays with a jazzier feel, he keeps it short but it shows his development.

Paino Microphone 2

The singing comes next with a short and sweet I Second That Emotion and Who’s Loving You. Together they are both less than a minute and give Prince a chance to warm up his vocal chords. He holds the notes, quivers and inflects, and gives us a brief glimpse of some of his vocals that have always served him so well. The songs are nice, and I know it’s about to get even better.

And even better it does get as Prince says “I need to write some songs” before singing Baby from his first album. This is another WOW moment for me, Prince playing it live for the first time, and he delivers in the best way possible. The lyrics are vulnerable and youthful, I feel like a teenager again as I hear him sing. The song is beautiful and after hearing it in this setting I will be going back to the For You album to hear it a few more time. Prince lets the piano do the talking for the last part of the song and it ends on a high.

I Wanna Be Your Lover I have heard plenty of times on the piano, so I aren’t expecting any surprises. Prince does take the time to get the crowd clapping along, I think they probably would have any way. The song sparkles and shines as always, I have always found the piano to be uplifting and here is no different. Prince and the crowd trade lines for the chorus but the best is yet to come. The coda is played by Prince on the piano, and he generates a great sounding rhythm while picking out the melody. It’s quite a noise he manages to generate from the piano and it goes without saying that I am cheering at the end.

The first 15 minutes of this show has been phenomenal, and it doesn’t let up as Prince next plays Dirty Mind. I always associate Dirty Mind with the heavy pulsating keyboard, in this case the piano is lighter and it gives the song a different and more colorful feel. Dirty Mind is one of the songs I play most, and I enjoy the different feel this version has. It still has a lot of energy and isn’t as muscular, I am sure I will be revisiting this one also.

I would have thought that Do Me Baby was tailor made for a show like this. Indeed it’s a great rendition that highlights Princes vocals, and of course his piano playing. It loses none of its power in this situation, the song to me has always been about Prince’s voice and the piano and in this arrangement there is nothing else to distract me from those key elements. Over those wonderful chords Prince delivers some soft spoken word that is very much toned down from what he would have sung in his younger years. It is still on the same topic, just not so direct.

In recent years we have heard a lot of Something In The Water (Does Not Compute), so it’s no great surprise to hear it here. Again I am struck by how quiet the audience is through the song, and it gives it that lonely sound that initially drew me to it all those years ago. Prince pulls the song back and quietens it, it’s not so angry sounding as the last couple of years, and for me this gives it new life. I do enjoy his piano flourishes as well as his vocal performance, if I hadn’t of heard it so much of late I would rate it more highly.

Free is lighter sounding after the last two songs, I think maybe because it’s another song I have already heard a lot in this form. The real surprise comes as he interrupts the song to offer his thoughts on David Bowie. I hadn’t expected his to acknowledge his passing, but as I am a huge Bowie fan I was glad to hear Prince speak of his kindness. As a little aside here, I have always thought a dream collaboration would have been between ‘1999’ Prince and ‘Let’s Dance’ David Bowie. Prince and his creative use of synthesizers on the 1999 album reminds me of Bowie and his Low album, while Bowie working on Let’s Dance with Nile Rodgers would have had the funk to work with Prince. Of course Prince is not one for collaboration, so  it’s always been just a fantasy.

The next moment that leaves me floored is the cover of A Case Of U. The lyrics to this song mean a great deal to me, and to hear Prince sing it is amazing. I forget the piano and listen to just his vocals, which are exquisite. The song is beautifully balanced between vocals and piano, with Prince playing piano break before returning to the lyrics later in the song. No words can properly describe how good this song sounds to me, it might just be the highlight of the recording.

I have heard (Sometimes I Feel Like A) Motherless Child from Prince before, but never like this. Prince plays low and slow, using the space between the notes. His vocals aren’t too strong, he sings and plays as one, and neither the piano nor vocals take precedence. As the crowd snaps their fingers the music quietens before fading to nothing. It’s another lovely performance of a great song.

I have been enjoying the show so much that I haven’t been thinking about what might be coming next, which is usually a good sign that I am in the moment. Beautiful Ones I should have expected, and Prince plays it just as you might expect. With only the piano the song is delivered with just the essentials, and I like that he doesn’t push his vocals too hard on it. I listen carefully and soak up every note and word,and even a nice vocal adlib that he throws in. He doesn’t attempt the shrieks and screams near the end, and I think it’s great that he feels that he doesn’t need them to deliver the song. There are plenty of cheers at the end of what is obviously a crowd favorite.

Piano and Mic

U’re Gonna C Me is a nice break from the more well known songs we have heard so far. It lacks the intensity and serves as a good break mid show to catch our breath. Prince’s playing is light and his vocals are nice, asides from that I don’t get too much more out of it.

The segue into How Come You Don’t Call Me is clever, and I think Prince does the right thing as he chooses not to play the song in full. He gives us the opening on the piano before stopping and taking in a completely different direction. We have all heard this plenty of times on the piano, and playing it again doesn’t add anything new of unique to the show.

My heart almost stops as he plays Condition Of The Heart. I know I am not alone in my love for this song. Prince plays it better than I could have ever imagined, his vocals are brilliant, sometimes quietening to a whisper, and he rounds the song of with some runs on the piano that I leave an impression on me, I will be hearing this song in my head as I fall asleep tonight.

I had forgotten about Venus De Milo, of course he would play it a show like this. I sometimes think of Prince as being a Jay Gatsby type figure, in his expensive house and clothes sitting alone playing this song. They say familiarity breeds contempt, not so with this song. I know it so well, yet every time I hear it it’s as if it’s the first time. A heavenly song and the performance of it at this show is note perfect.

Another personal moment from Prince next as he speaks of Wendy and Lisa and the first time they met. He talks as he plays Raspberry Beret underneath before he changes tack and becomes thoughtful and does his best to imitate Lisa’s playing. It’s a thoughtful moment and adds to the intimacy of the gig. Raspberry Beret returns proper, but he doesn’t belt it out as is sometimes heard, instead we get a laidback sounding rendition with minimal fanfare. The crowd is subdued, and only come on board with some prodding by Prince.

The loudest cheer of the show is when Prince next plays Paisley Park. It’s a rare treat to hear it live, and I have never heard a piano rendition, so there is smiles all round at my place as this comes out the speakers. There is a lot of rhythm coming from Princes piano, and this drives the song along as the crowd claps. It’s hard not to move my head as he plays, and I may be guilty of singing along loudly. What an excellent surprise, it had a great groove to it.

Surrounded by so many other stripped back songs Sometimes It Snows In April doesn’t carry the same weight. The piano is good, but it’s the vocals that I like the most. Prince’s performance is very mature, he doesn’t do too much with the vocals, just gives it to us nice and straight. At the beginning it sounded like the other piano ballads in the set, but I was won over by the end, and happily clap along with the crowd on the recording.

Prince begins The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker, then kills me as he stops and teases us with “You don’t know that song” before picking up with Eye Love You, But I Don’t Trust U Anymore. This is another song that means a great deal to me, and I am sure that if it had have been on a better album it would reach a much wider audience. The song isn’t too long, or over worked, and I am very happy with what I have heard when Prince brings it to an end. It’s a classy rendition of a beautiful song.

The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker does get played next, and it’s worth the tease. The only thing missing for me is that downbeat muteness that I associate with it. It’s not too much of a problem, this is another excellent addition to the setlist, and Prince calls out for appreciation for Joni Mitchell mid song which is a nice touch. I do like the rhythm he produces with the piano, and this show has been an eye opener for me in that respect.

The cover of Ray Charles’s Unchain My Heart is entirely appropriate in this circumstance. I know he has covered it before, but I don’t recall hearing it. It’s a great cover and as is usually the way, my only complaint is that it is too short.

I was never a fan of Baltimore until I heard it here. It seems to take on a more serious tone solo on the piano. Prince does address the crowd, so the song only gets just over a minute. It’s a shame that he plays an abridged version, this one could have been much more if he had of played it longer.

We get another song from modern times next as he plays Rocknroll Loveaffair. I prefer this version to what was released. It’s got an easy groove in the rhythm Prince plays and has a swing to it. I like that it hasn’t had the life squeezed out of it by production or a full band, what we have instead is the heart and soul of the song. It has a freshness to it and like many other songs on this recording I will be revisiting it a few more time.

I guess Starfish and Coffee would be obligatory for a show such as this, so there’s no great surprise as I hear it next. The song is kept short, almost as if Prince knows there is nothing new here for us. It’s just right, enough for me to start to enjoy, but then stopping before it reached the point where I think I’ve heard it too many times before.

I could have guessed at Starfish and Coffee, I could not have predicted the next song would be The Breakdown. I am dumbstruck as it begins, this song for me was the highlight of Art Official Age, and to hear it on this recording is a real treat. Prince sings it extraordinary well, and injects extra emotion with a couple of well placed shrieks near the end. For most of the song I can only sit and listen, it is that good.

There is one more surprise and the whoops of the crowd echo my own as Prince plays the opening notes of Anna Stesia. His playing for the song is strong and powerful and I am amazed to hear this song again, especially in this setting. Like so many other songs played tonight I can only sit and wonder at the beauty of it all. The song gets softer as Prince sings quietly and it’s an entirely appropriate way to close the show. Prince singing ‘God is love” softly as the song draws to a close is almost a spiritual experience.

I have two thoughts as the recording comes to an end. Firstly, musically and performance wise this is one of the best. The setlist is great, the arrangements are beautiful and Prince is note perfect. Combine that with the personal spin Prince puts on it with his talk and this show is close to perfect. To hear Prince speak intimately and personally as he plays was a real treat, and that alone makes this recording extra special. And that brings me to my second thought about the show. When it finished I felt almost embarrassed and guilty I had heard it. The show was something personal, and played for the people in that room at that time. I don’t know why, it’s never something I have felt before, but on this one occasion I felt pangs of guilt that I have heard this show. It’s an absolutely beautiful show, and now firmly a favorite, so I am very grateful indeed that we are lucky enough to hear it. All the same, I can’t help but think how much more this show would be if it hadn’t have been recorded, it would have taken on mythical status.

Tomorrow I will take a listen to the second show
Until then, take care
Hamish

New Years Eve 1987 with Miles Davis

As far as Prince bootlegs go, 1987 is a stellar year.  Starting with the Sign O The Times warm up show at First Ave, through the tour itself, the excellent after shows of Le New Morning, Park café and Fineline café, there is a good variety of shows available and some of them are of outstanding quality. The year of 1987 is capped off with one more legendry boot, the New Year’s Paisley Park show, where the iconic Miles Davis joins Prince and the band onstage. Prince had experimented with jazz the previous two years, and one feels that having Miles on stage with him meant a lot to him and his art.  Miles doesn’t feature through the whole show, and the show itself isn’t as jazz infused as some of the other shows that year, but it’s still great to see his interaction with Prince and the band onstage. The show is an interesting mix, there is some standard renditions as we had heard throughout the tour, but things get more interesting near the end as the band indulge in a long jam that incorporates all sorts of songs.  The recording is missing the first few songs which is unfortunate, but what we do get more than makes up for it.

31 December, 1987, Paisley Park.

 

1987 New Year Prince 8

I have been a little hard on Shelia E and her drum solos in previous posts, but this show jumps in just as she is beginning one of her solos, and to be fair it is very good. Maybe it’s because I can see her playing, and the passion and efforts she puts into it.  We hear the very end of Jack U Off as the recording cuts in, and I assume it’s played very much as the Fineline Café gig I previously wrote about. The drum break starts off slow, it almost has a sound check quality to it as she works her away around the kit. But then it does pick up pace as it goes along, and I especially love the sound the snare has on it. Just as the drum solo reaches its peak the sound of Hot Thing cuts in, but I think this is just an error, and it it quickly stops as Shelia continues. There is a very passionate moment as she crashes away on the cymbals, forgoing sticks just to smash away with her hands. I love seeing that sort of thing, and it is the peak as the band rejoin for another quick refrain of Jack U Off lead by Eric Leeds. The song comes to a conclusion rather fittingly with the band gathered around the drum riser as Shelia drums the end.

1987 New Year Prince

Immediately after we do get Hot Thing. If you have seen the Sign O The Times movie then this one contains no surprises for you, as it is very faithful to what we have heard throughout the Sign O The Times tour. Prince engages in plenty of dancing, and even rips off Cats dress as seen in the Sign O The Times movie. The band is sounding tight, there is not a loose moment in the whole song. I can’t get excited about it, its much as I have heard before,  but the onstage fun with Cat and Prince is worthwhile and does brighten it up.

1987 New Year Prince 1

The bass line of If I Was Your Girlfriend sounds fantastic as it begins. This song is a masterpiece, and like all the best Prince performances he draws it out, milking every second. The intro with the drum beat, hypnotic bass and organ goes for a good few minutes, and I could listen to it all night long. Prince sings it looking very casual with one hand in the pocket, but his delivery is sublime. There is a nice sound to it, a little echo which lends it the lonely sound. Prince is full of character as he speaks the lines midsong about going to the movies etc, but he returns to his excellent singing voice without skipping a beat. Again, as per Sign Of The Time movie, he picks out Cat midsong and lures her away. With the main focus removed I find my self enjoying Eric and Dr Finks playing, until it pulls back to the bare beat and the song finishes.

1987 New Year Prince 2

The organ refrain that begins Let’s Go Crazy is one that I always associate with this tour. As one keyboard holds a long sustained note, the other plays a sound that rocks back and forth. Its something I have heard between other songs about this time, and its something I like. Prince then picks up his guitar and we get a traditional sounding Lets Go Crazy. The first half of it fails to connect with me, but Prince ditches the usual song about half way and begins a long guitar break. This also starts leaving me cold, but the second part of the break is certainly a lot better and he plays some wild sounding licks. I don’t enjoy the “go go go” chants with the crowd, its a little tired and the audience doesn’t seem to respond very well to them either. Perhaps Prince realises this, because he shakes his head, and says “No no” before the band pick up again and Prince gives us the classic ending to Lets Go Crazy, head thrown back and guitar howling.

1987 New Year Prince 3

Another Purple Rain era song follows with When Doves Cry. This one I find very satisfying, there is plenty of horn early on, before the stripped back verses. The keyboard is a little quiet for my tastes, but this is compensated by another great vocal delivery by Prince. I wouldn’t have guessed that the horns could add much to this, but they do slot in nicely to the song. There is a lot of dancing by Prince and the others later in the song, its an abridged version played here, we get a verse and a chorus, followed by a minute or so of dancing before it finishes up. Short and sweet as they say, but still very worthwhile.

1987 New Year Prince 4

Purple Rain itself gets a very full on treatment at this show, there is plenty of Dr Fink playing before Prince walks on stage with the cloud guitar, playing the melody of Auld Lang Syne. Its a great moment, and the sound of it played on Princes guitar sits very well on the keyboards of Purple rain. Prince says “one more” then plays it again on the guitar as the crowd wave their arms. Another call of “one more” and he gives it to us a third time, and every time is very good, and really worth hearing. Even as he plays it a forth time I am not tired of it, he improvises a little, and its the type of Prince playing that I like to see more off.The call of “Bring it down” and we strip back to the keyboards and drums softly playing. At this stage a technician hands Prince a rope to release balloons over the crowd, but there is a malfunction and it doesn’t come off. For years I only had an audio recording of this, and I didn’t know what was going on, especially when Prince says “Matthew, come get your rope”. But after seeing it, I understand much better. Prince then attempts to sing Auld Lang Syne but its nowhere near as good as his guitar playing of it, mostly because its apparent that he doesn’t know the words beyond the first couple of lines, fading to “la la la” after this. The crowd doesn’t save him, and when Prince sings again “Should old acquaintances be forgot” he ruefully smiles and say “(I) know that part”. There is then a few moments as the music progresses Prince goes to one side to release the balloons and there is a beautiful solo played by Miko. I always associate Miko with a slippery dirty funky sound, but this guitar break was a revelation to me, its just great. Its not a fast rock solo, just a sharp sounding crisp break. Prince takes command soon after this and we finally get the verses and choruses of Purple Rain, complete with Princes crunching guitar. The rest of his guitar solo is standard for Purple Rain, but it is very enjoyable indeed, even for someone like myself who has heard Purple Rain hundreds of times.

1999 seems strangely out of place. Its sounds clean, but there isn’t any fire in it. Prince keeps it very short, there is the opening verse, a chorus and then have the ‘party” chanting outro. The horns riff keeps it sharp, but apart from that there isn’t much for me.

1987 New Year Prince 5

We return to the rocking back and forth sound of the keyboards as the stage goes dark. This is played out for a minute, and as I said before I really like it as it sets the tone for what comes next. The beat of U Got The Look and the rhythm guitar sound as Prince takes a minute to ham it up with the crowd. He has his guitar but as he sings he doesn’t initially play it, so we just have as less strong rhythm guitar which negates some of the rockiness that I sometimes tire of in this song. After a couple of verse chorus he does begin to play in a loud crunching way as he climbs atop the piano. Its a very showman moment as the dancers go through their routines as Prince plays rock god over them all. And so the song ends in this manner, with Prince waving over the band, and a “thank you, good night”

1987 New Year Prince 6

There is a break about now, as the band leave the stage. Its a good few minutes they are gone, and knowing what is coming I can understand why.  What comes next is extraordinary, and I am not sure that writing about it can ever do it justice. They return to the stage for a 30 minute rendition of Its Gonna Be A Beautiful Night, with Miles Davis, and incorporating everything except the kitchen sink. Anyway I shall do my best to give a brief outline. The song begins as we heard on the Sign O The Times tour, and after the first part there is some fun dancing with Prince, before he takes to the drum stool as Shelia E delivers her rap. Her delivery is fast and accurate and I love watching the band dancing as she sings. Prince too is sounding good, and its fantastic to see him on the drums for an extended period. Soon after Cat dances everyone to the ground Prince steps down from the drums and its time for the keys to have a solo. The whole performance has a lot of joy to it, Prince sings to the crowd about his brand new dance, and Eric Leeds plays a little of Six before it quietens as Miles Davis enters and begins to play. How to describe this moment? To see Miles stalking across the stage and playing next to Miko is fantastic and I am a total fanboy throughout the whole time he is playing. Its not what he is playing, its just the sound of his horn and seeing him play with that band. Prince scats against his playing for a little, but I preferred just to hear Miles play alone for some more. As Miles continues Prince throws some cues to the band and they play around him. Miles steps back into the shadows as the snare comes down hard and Prince cues the band into the next section. He directs the band through several different dances and refrains before he speaks to the crowd  “someone tell me I ain’t got the funkiest band in show business, we will take on all comers” Finally we hear Boni and she blows her way through Chain Of Fools, and sounding powerful all the way.  The band is absolutely seamless and I have to agree with Princes sentiments about his band.  Boni gives way to any excellent solo by Eric Leeds before Prince indulges in some grooves on the organ. The band really hit their stride at this point, Eric is killing it on sax while the band keep the groove going. Prince stops the band to tell the crowd “we the best” before he cues them in again and they hit a faster groove. Prince does very little playing at this stage, he is in total control as band leader and runs the band through their paces and dancing around the stage. There is several stops and starts, and the band move effortlessly through several different grooves. My mouth is open the whole time, its mind blowing to watch, this band is unstoppable. Prince has me laughing when he tells the audience they are going to be jamming 20 more minutes “..on the same song!” He then proceeds to be true to his word as the band continue on and on. Prince has me laughing again when he say “you’ll expect an awful lot for $200.” Perhaps my favourite part of the jam is what comes next, Prince takes a couple of minutes playing at the piano. Just the sharp sound of the piano over the heavy groove, its the contrast that makes it all sound so good. The last five minutes Prince throws in everything you could imagine, there is lyrics and horn lines from all sorts thrown into the mix, and it all works until we return the Beautiful night riff that started all of this. With a final call of “Confusion” Prince brings the show and this brilliant jam to an end.

1987 New Year Prince 7

What a great way to end the year 1987. This recording is a favourite among prince fans, and I have to go with the general consensus on this one, it’s very much a must have. The band is on top of their game, coming off a fantastic year, and this show is the icing on the cake. The fact that Miles is there gives it just a little more shine, and I feel it means a lot to Prince having him there. This is one that I will come back to again and again. If anyone every doubted Princes genius just check this one out.

Take care

Hamish

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful Experience

I have been badgered into writing today’s entry by long time Prince fan Jony. He has long maintained that this is one of Princes greatest recordings, and I should check it out. For the longest time I was adamant that I didn’t actually have this one, and I hadn’t heard it. Then last week I was cleaning the spare room, and voila, there was the CD. The recording itself is from early 1994, and believe it is Princes first performance as Symbol. Some of these songs are now firm favorites in my house, but at the time they were all new to me and quite a departure from what had come previously. A quality recording of one his most creative eras? Yeah, I’ll give that a listen!

13 February, 1994, Paisley Park

I love the start of this one. The first thing we hear is Prince saying “alright, lets get it started” before the sound of a computer keyboard and a voice-over telling us there is over 500 experiences to choose from, the same as we hear on the Gold Experience album. A nice scream from the back of Princes throat brings the band and the music into focus with a fine sounding performance of Interactive. This is a soundboard, but my copy sounds a little muted, its does seem to be missing some of the top end, and a little bass. Perhaps because I only have it as MP3’s. A bit of tweaking and it would sound much fuller. The band pause after a minute, while the voice over returns, then we kick back in. The drums sound good here, some excellent sounding tom-toms, before Princes guitar solo brings things nicely into focus, and energizes the song again. About now I can hear the keyboards underneath, and I realize that this one will give me something more with every listen. It’s a short sharp song, and nicely sets the scene for what is coming next.

Prince Feb 1994

And what is coming next is something extraordinary- the first ever live performance of Days of Wild. Hold onto your wigs indeed! It sounds great here, I really dig the nice deep groove to it, and it’s got a slightly dark sound to it. There is a lot happening with first listening, the juicy bass line, the moaning and groaning keyboard, the sharp keys dancing overtop, and to top it all off we have Princes vocal delivery. Not just the lyrics he is singing, but also the passionate way he spits it out, it commands my attention throughout the song. The ‘hold on to your wigs’ refrain balances it nicely, and gives me a chance to wave my wild sign high as I write this. Oh by the way, he plays guitar- its a thin sounding guitar solo we get here, it doesn’t stand up again the dark deep grooves, but its not bad. The song is already very strong and a stronger guitar break would have been overwhelming. I could quite happily turn of my computer now and just groove to this, but it does end and I find myself writing about the next song.

Prince Feb 1994d

Now has a happy sing a long beginning. Again it is another first performance of a new song. On a good day I really enjoy Now, and on an average day I find it a bit ho-hum. It is at a great disadvantage coming straight after Days of Wild. Another groove song, it doesn’t have the dark strength of Days of Wild, nor does it compare in Princes vocal delivery. For all that though, it does draw me in, and by midsong I am hanging on Princes words, even if I do find the chorus too much. Putting down the laptop and dancing around the room it would be a much better experience, but sat as I am writing about it, it’s not that great. I cannot fault Princes passion, nor the performance of the band, it’s a solid B+.


The bluesy The Ride follows next, and Prince pitches it to the over 35’s in the crowd, great – something for my demographic. It’s a good clean version we get here, I have heard it much slower and bluesier. The recording is great in that I can hear Princes singing so well, something I usually miss on live recordings of this where I mostly concentrate on the guitar work. Prince’s voice is full and he’s in complete control after the fury and fun of the first couple of songs. No sooner had I commented on Princes vocals then the guitar work begins. It’s not long, but it is one of the better ones I have heard on this song. Very joyful to my ears, and something I will be coming back to again. It pulls back to softer guitar before Prince ends it with “If you got the time baby, I got the ride” and a call for “Vegas in E’. Now I have listened to this song plenty of times over the years, but this was the first time I realized the lewdness of the ‘the ride’. Let’s just say I was a little naive.

The Jam next, and its very much like the all the other jams we have heard from this era, lots of Prince calling “oh he’s a funky man” as he moves around the band and gives them all a moment in the sun. Nobody gets too long to really do too much, but most parts are enjoyable enough. I do like the guitar parts, it’s different from what you might expect and has a light rhythmic touch. Sonny gives us something in complete contrast with a short heavy moment, and the the band really begins to swing. This is reined in much too soon, but is none the less is very enjoyable.

Prince Feb 1994a

I Believe In U is a cool little cover, and plays to the strengths of this band. The keyboards in particular are very strong throughout. Asides from that there is not too much that can be said about it, it does come across as smooth and light in comparison to Princes own original material. I find myself nodding along, but at the same time looking at the set list and looking forward to what is still to come.

This show is also the first time that Prince played Shhh live and reclaimed one of his most beloved songs (in my house at least) Week after week I heap praise upon this song, and this week is no different. For a first live performance of a song, it’s outstanding. This version here is one of my favorite live versions- the fact it’s a nice soundboard, Princes band is as sharp as ever, and Prince clearly makes a statement in the way he sings this, it is most definitely his song. He does go too over the top, and as the guitar break starts it’s very nicely restrained and sounds very tight. It’s excellent in every way. The backing singers are right into the mix, and close behind Princes voice, adding a lot of depth and strength. There is the second drum rolls and crashes midsong, and then Prince really let’s fly with his guitar. The sound here is beyond words, it’s really something to hear. At this point I want to say thanks to Jony for pointing me towards this show, the show is great and this song is outstanding. Most excellent, although I find it is lacking a little ambiance from the crowd.

Prince Feb 1994c

What’d I Say had been covered by Prince for some years before this performance, so I don’t find it overly excellent in this performance. Prince does have Tattoo on stage to play some guitar, but it’s somewhat shambolic, and doesn’t add anything of value to the show. Its does pick up later in the song, and there is a decent solo, playing on a guitar with a very interesting tone. It doesn’t sound like his usual setup at all. I can’t decide quite how I feel about this song, I didn’t have the urge to skip it, but I could have quite happily gone without it.

The next song in the set if very interesting. Peak The Technique is improvised and has all sorts of things thrown in the mix. There are plenty of samples and some very cool bass and guitar work. Prince can be heard laughing early on, and it’s obvious the band is having fun. There is not too much vocally to the song, mostly samples of Eric B and Rakims “Don’t Sweat The Technique”. The second portion of the song things really speed up and there is some excellent bass work that is funky and gets things swinging. It’s about here that I become very interested and my ears really prick up. The song ends after five minutes, but there was plenty going on there, and I could have easily listened to much more of this.

Prince Feb 1994b

I sneaked a peek at the set list and this was the song I was looking forward to hearing most. Martial Law is a George Clinton song that I never get tired of. The version here isn’t what I expected at all, it’s more a jam and groove, but it’s great. This band I have always thought sounded most like a Parliment/funkadelic band and there sound is very well suited to this song. That thought is further emphasized as Prince puts on a series of distorted and strange voices. The song pulls back to just a bare kick drum sound and more strange vocals from Prince has me slightly disorientated. The only parts left from the original song is where at one point we hear the backing singers singing “ow ow ow”. It’s the drum and piano sound that play all over this one, and some kinetic bass lines. The whole thing has certain strangeness to it, and I would have loved to see Prince do something like this more often. Weird but wonderful.

A Salt and Pepper song to finish? Why not, it’s that sort of show where nothing surprises me any more. Prince sounds very relaxed, and the piano playing also has a nice easy sound to it. It’s an instrumental for the main part, mostly piano playing over a groove, but there are a couple of DJ scratches thrown in for good measure. The organ too is well in the mix and the song sounds fat and full. There’s not much more to it than that, and it ends before I know it. A very smooth and listenable way to end the recording.

Thanks again to Jony for recommending this recording, it really was excellent. Old Prince very much was dead by this stage, and the new songs he is unveiling here sound much funkier and are coming from a different place all together. The start of the recording was sounding uptight, but by the end it was nice and loose, and somewhat strange. This is a keystone recording from a very important part of his career. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is still essential listening.

-Hamish