ONA – Budokan

My Japanese odyssey continues, we are still in Tokyo where today I visited the Budokan. For me it is a venue that I was always associate with the Cheap Trick album Cheap Trick at Budokan, an album that was played ad nauseum when I was a child. Prince has played at the venue during two tours, he did four nights there during his 1996 tour of Japan, and another two nights in 2002 during the One Night Alone tour. Perhaps in this case we should call it the two nights alone tour. I am going to take a look at one the shows played during the ONA tour, as much as I like the 1996 concerts the shows from 2002 are more attuned to my current tastes. Not everyone is a fan of the One Night Alone tour, I find the tour is divisive between fans – it is either one you really love, or one you really hate. I have yet to find many people on the middle ground. I am going to stake my claim early, it is a tour I am a big fan of, so expect the following write up to be completely biased for the positive.

18th November 2002, Nippon Bodukan, Tokyo

The audience know what to expect from the start as is the norm for the ONA shows Prince begins with a distorted voice and heavily distorted drum solo. I like it, although it has no flow to it and is little more than a minute of sound that builds anticipation to the opening “The Rainbow Children.” The unease that “The Rainbow Children” creates can be heard in the music, but as always it is kept in balance by the band and their light sound that counteracts some of Princes unsettling vocal effects. By the time Prince sings “Tokyo!” I am fully on board and ready for this song to roll on and on. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea (and I’m aware of plenty of people who downright hate it) but I can’t deny, Prince’s guitar work is pretty sweet on the ear, and I would hope most people would listen past the lyrical delivery and instead gravitate to this mesmerizing guitar performance. I like that the song continues to strike new ground, and it keeps me fixated without ever repeating itself.

If anyone in the audience was worried about what might come next, Prince reassures them with the more accessible, and eminently more pop, “Pop Life.” Prince’s voice may not be as crisp as we have come to expect, but the rest of the song shines like polished silver, the recording sparkling as Prince turns the music this way and that under the lights. Renato and his jazz touch late in the song speaks to me, and I am filled with regret that I never saw this band live.

Prince brings discomfort to the pop audience with his introduction to “Xenophobia,” and the following song challenges expectations. At the time it came across as something new and shocking, fifteen years on I know what to expect and I am more than happy with the way the music unfolds over the next ten minutes. With Maceo playing there is very little to dislike, and as the horns run back and forth Princes message gets lost in the raw sound of the music itself. It is the last half of the song that is the most challenging, and it feels good to hear this again, something far removed from his 80’s pop sheen, here is something with grit and body, something that looks both backward and forwards at the same time, a song that contains something new every time I hear it.

Prince can’t quite keep to his promise to challenge and test the audience. It is “Purple Rain” that follows quickly after and soon enough any questions raised by “Xenophobia” are quickly painted over in the shade of purple. The audience recording is remarkably clean, there is very little background noise aside for cheers at the appropriate moments. Should I thank the recorder, or the restrained crowd, I don’t know,  but I do know it sounds very good indeed and I am more than happy with the performance of “Purple Rain” that matches it. It never ignites into the blazing wildfire it sometimes becomes, but it delivers everything that one would expect at a Prince concert, be it your first concert or your 100th.

“The Work Pt 1” surprisingly fails to fire. I had such hopes. I was expecting funk by the bucket load, instead I get a series of solos that never quite build into a much wished for payoff. I like the music just fine, but it is a platonic relationship and never becomes an intense love affair. Prince is too fickle and the music comes and goes as it pleases without giving me the time I need. I do like the “To-k-yo, woo-hoo” chant, something I may have been guilty of singing under my breath for the last three weeks as I wander the streets of Tokyo. The inevitable dancers on stage is the last straw for me, the heart of the song belongs to the audience in the building, and not us listening here at home.

For me, “Mellow” is all about the sound and vibe. I have very little idea what Prince is singing about, but I do love the feel of the song. This performance is cool, and “Mellow” lives up to its name, aside from the occasion burst of horn. It is unlike anything heard thus far on the recording, and for me it again highlights the scope of music Prince created. It wouldn’t be the first song I’d put on, but it is one that I always like when I hear it.

The concert energy again surges with engaging rendition of “1+1+1 is 3.” Of course it can’t lose with Maceo adding his years of experience with an instantly funky solo. Prince may claim that he is funky, but in this case it is Maceo who brings the funk to the party. There is a funky guitar underneath that is pure Prince, but for my money it is the horns that make this worth hearing. Nothing is added by appending “Housequake” and “Love Rollercoaster” to the second half of the song, and they could have easily been left off in my opinion.

The melancholy dip and swoop of Prince’s guitar brings the concert into a more traditional  realm, and the performance here could have come from any show in the last twenty years. That’s no bad thing, the guitar wail calling most Prince fans to duty with it’s mournful call. There is a heavy influence from the band, and the flashes of jazz later in the song reminds you just what configuration of the NPG this is. The final few minutes belong all to John Blackwell, and that makes this rendition well worth a listen as he kicks and stutters around the kit.

I am pleased to find that “Strange Relationship” is just as funky as it has every been, the band locking together in a solid squelching riff. If anything, it is aged even better, and like a fine wine I find it strong and more flavorsome than its 1980’s incarnation. Prince in particular seems to get a real kick out of playing this song, and he pulls the audience with him with his unbridled enthusiasm. It stands far above anything else heard on the recording with its energy and pure Princeliness.

“Pass The Peas” I am happy to take a pass on. I like Maceo, but Prince and the band don’t add anything to the song we haven’t heard before. It does give the horn section a chance to strut, but it pales compared to the previous “Strange Relationship.” Although, to be fair, almost anything would pale compared to that.

A torrent of guitar notes fly from Prince’s hands, and serves as a great introduction to “The Ride.” What is great about this show is that every song gets a full rendition and plenty of time to marinate in its own juices. Every song runs five to ten minutes, and after years of feeling short changed by Prince medleys with these concerts I finally feel Prince is letting us fully appreciate his music. His comment “Can I take my time” gets full approval from me. The song contains the unrestrained howl of his guitar as he finally lets it off the leash and it runs rampant for the next few minutes. It is a biting performance that snaps and chews in equal measure.

As a Prince fan I fail miserably, not recognizing “Sign O’ The Times” immediately as Prince elicits to shroud the intro with his chugging guitar. The song never really settles on a style from here on in, sometimes the horns come to the fore, giving it a brighter sound, while the record scratching pulls it in another direction entirely. And then pulling in in a third direction is Prince’s guitar. I would happily take any style, but to my ears all three don’t quite gel. There is some lighter guitar later in the song, which with the horns would be a much better fit for this band.

Ahh, the old “Take Me With U,” “Raspberry Beret” combination. Regular readers will be familiar with my feelings about this. I like sweet pop sugariness as much as anyone, but not so much now I am older and, ahem, more mature. I happily digest “Take Me With U,” but by the time Prince segues into “Raspberry Beret” I have had my fill and am ready for something more substantial.

“The Everlasting Now” wouldn’t be my first choice for something more substantial, but I do find it more rewarding than the previous couple of songs.  The first few minutes are a nice little appetizer as Prince gives us a taste of what’s to come with parcels of funk and chants. The main course comes with some Santanaesque guitar before the rest of the band add their sauce of horn riffs and piano twinkle. It’s a flavorsome combination, and one that I happily indulge myself in. It is Maceo that rounds out this feast of sounds, with his dessert of saxophone sprinkling chocolate sprinkles over all that has come previous. I am sold on it, and as it all comes to an end I feel well nourished and satisfied.

A short break lets me digest what we have heard so far, before the encores open with Prince at the piano. “Condition Of The Heart” is simply divine, I am beyond words as I sit and listen to it, letting Princes music and lyrics washing over me. It does become a medley, “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” getting a line, before Prince indulges us with a slightly longer “Diamonds And Pearls.” It is “Adore” that gets the most time and attention however, with John Blackwell ever so gently adding a heartbeat to the song. The crowd sit in an enraptured silence throughout, making this recording pristine and clean for the next few minutes.

Prince piles on all his tender ballads at this part of the show, and “The Beautiful Ones” brings a further string of heart tugging moments. It is almost too easy listening, some of emotional strength of the song sapped by its easy sheen and polish. I am engaged though, even if its not the heart stopper it used to be.

Its very hard to clear my feelings about “Nothing Compares 2 U.” A song I heard countless times in the 80’s from Sinead O’Connor, and then hundreds of times since from Prince, it is a song I am overly familiar with. Sometimes it breaks through and gets me in a soft moment, and sometimes it passes by making barely an impression. The rendition on this recording is good, but it fails to break my jaded exterior and I find I listen to it in an almost emotionless state.

On the other hand, “The Ladder” shoots straight for my heart and does make the emotional impact I crave.  The drums are a little too much, but Prince’s vocals and delicate piano carry the moment. It is one of the shortest songs on the recording, barely a minute and a half, but it feels real to me and sincere.

This pleasant stroll through Prince’s piano songs is rounded out by “Starfish And Coffee” It may not be on a par with the other ballads and emotional heavyweights in the setlist, but it does keep things light.

The final song featuring the piano is “Sometimes It Snows In April,” a song that has taken on an extra significance since Prince’s passing. This rendition is a fitting tribute, his vocals alone out front in the recording, smooth and velvety and carrying a hint of emotion that makes it all the more powerful. A moment to sit back, listen, and reflect.

“Days Of Wild” isn’t as sinister and threatening as sometimes heard, but it is still a stone cold classic. There are better versions on this tour (see Antwerp a month earlier where I swear Prince tears the roof of the place), but it is still eminently enjoyable, and as always I find my head bobbing and without even being aware of it I am singing along with Prince. The grind and churn of the song brings several different players to the surface, Dudley D can be heard on the turn tables midsong, and it is the horns that bring a different feel to the song. The song drops intensity half way through though, and as the bass is pumped up for the first time the recording distorts. This mars the occasion as the final few minutes becomes a difficult listen. The rest of the recording has sounded great, making this part sound all the more worse.

This show is fairly typical of the ONA tour, but is very well recorded (asides from the final “Days Of Wild.”) There is a plethora of material available from the ONA tour, I would happily listen to any one of them, but I do enjoy this concert for the  quality of the performance and the recording. The setlist doesn’t throw up anything too much in the way of excitement, but this bootleg does a nice job of capturing the standard ONA show. Very good without being essential.

Thanks again
Hamish

 

Yokohama, Final 1996 Japan concert

We have just had a lovely day at the Yokohama Triennale and I am currently overloaded by the art on display. Asides from Prince bootlegs my other great loves are traveling and art, so as you can imagine today has been a great day for me. I have enjoyed my time in Japan the last two weeks, even time with the in-laws hasn’t been as bad as I thought! We still have a couple more weeks here, we have been so busy I think I will need another holiday when I get home. In keeping with my Japanese theme, today I will be taking a listen to a concert recorded in Yokohama in 1996. It takes in the final concert of the Ultimate Live tour, and it’s a shock to me when I realise that it is more than twenty years ago now. It feels like only yesterday, and that pleases me as it must mean that the 18-year-old in me still lives on. There have been several releases of this concert over the years, but I have chosen the Zion release as it has particularly beautiful art work, and is in-depth in its coverage of the concert itself. Not only does the recording feature the concert, but also the entire 35 minutes of preshow music (in this case the Exodus album) that is played over the PA. It’s almost too much, I doubt I will ever listen to the preshow music again – not when I have the CD readily available, but it is a nice touch and makes for an immersive experience.

  20th January 1996, Yokohama Arena, Yokohama

Skipping over the preshow music, it is a video medley that begins the concert. An easy enough listen, it is merely a taster of Prince’s back catalog of music and not really representative of the show that will follow, nor of the live bootleg experience. At ten minutes long, it would be a nice mix for the car, but I am here for the live performance and as such I find I sit through it rather impatiently.

The introduction of “Prince…is dead, long live the New Power Generation” followed by a roar of music and scream that almost has me on feet here at home. An audience recording, it still captures the power and fervor of the moment, that rush as Prince and the band create the wall of sound that is “Endorphin Machine”. It is in itself an endorphin rush, and I feel washed away in its sound as soon  as I hear it.

The rush is short lived, but Prince gives us something even better with the power of “Shhh” masked behind his slow vocal. The guitar break is the iron fist in the velvet glove, and even though the song is criminally short it serves warning that the show will contain a multitude of styles all delivered straight from the heart.

Some of the power of “Days Of Wild” is dissipated in this setting. I can’t tell if its the Japanese audience, the size of the arena, or the mix, but what ever it is the song lacks the suffocating intensity I usually associate with it. The bass guitar solo is most welcome and for me it easily overshadows everything else heard in the song. The bass returns to finish the song, this time with a brief “777-9311,” something that briefly has me gasping for breath.  As much as I love the “Days Of Wild,” there are much better renditions out there, and I find this one a little ho-hum.

The introduction of “Now” has Mayte comparing it to “Irresistible Bitch,” “Housequake,” and “Sexy M.F.”, but as the song ignites I find it lacks the finesse of these and is about as subtle as a sledge hammer. The chorus is exciting and bold, but not the slinky dance number of the songs it was compared to. It is still fun, and I enjoy the performance even if just a little too punchy. I only wish we could see Mayte’s final dance during  “Babies Makin Babies” as the crowd chants her name, after all a Prince concert is as much a visual experience as an aural one.

The show opened with Prince declaring “Prince is dead,” and yet here we have a Prince song, the first verse of “Anotherloverholenyohead” jammed over the top of “Race.’ I like it. I like the groove of the song, I like the lyrics, but especially I like the sound of the keyboards. They are electrifying in both sound and style, and I am transfixed by the performance I am hearing. Other songs promised more, this is one surprise package that keeps me listening to bootlegs.

“The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” is a start stop affair that ably demonstrates how tight the band are, but as for overall enjoyment of the song it does detract a little. However, I have heard “the Most Beautiful Girl In The World” enough times in my life,and I am more than content to sit back and admire this configuration of the NPG.

One of most well known tracks from the Gold Experience follows, in the form of “Pussy Control.” It’s not as strong as it is on record, it’s a slightly different mix and the music is busy which does distract from Prince’s rapping. I expect it to come as a punch to the face, instead it is more like a slap in the face – it’s a challenge, but not quite the out and out threat that it should be.

I am much more attuned with “Letitgo.” With its low key groove it seduces me, and I fall in love with the interaction between Prince’s vocals and the music. Its all too easy, and I slip easy under it’s charms. Surrounded by some big songs, it holds its own with natural grace and beauty.

Although its short on the album, “Starfish And Coffee” in this context is given the royal treatment and Prince plays a regal five minutes with it. The twist comes in the tail and the song slips down a musical rabbit hole, its sound becoming suddenly darker as complexities steps out of the shadows. It is in complete contrast to the first minutes, and ends with a Michael B solo – completely unexpected for a song such as “Starfish And Coffee”

Compared to other renditions of the era, “The Cross” is almost delicate in its delivery. Prince’s guitar a gentle lace rather than the blanket of sound it sometimes is, and there is layers of complexities early in the song. A lot of this is unpicked however once the song reaches its apex and Prince tears up all that came before with plenty of rage and howl on his guitar. As a guitar aficionado I am in blue heaven, and as always my only complaint is that it is all too short.

I think I have heard “The Jam,” almost as much as I have heard “Purple Rain” over the years. It’s hard to get too excited by it here, it is the standard run through we have all heard before. Michael B is mighty in his contribution, although the rest of the song I could take or leave.

Prince proclaims his love for Joan Osbourne’s “One Of Us” before serving up his own take of her song. It is a great match for him, both in theme and style, and the final guitar saturated minutes is where it becomes purely Prince as he drenches the song in his trademark sound.

To my ears, “Do Me, Baby” has never got old, and the rendition on this bootleg is pretty standard, yet entirely mesmerizing as Prince works himself and the song up into a lather. It is not as an intense experience as I have heard on other bootlegs, but it still remains an unmissable part of the show.

The seduction and sexiness of “Do Me, Baby” becomes pure sex with the appearance of “Sexy M.F.”  Normally I am captivated by the grease of the guitar, but in this case it is Tommy Barbarella who has my full attention with an upstart of a solo that is a livewire in its delivery. The rest performance is smooth, the only jolt coming from this solo.

I am more than happy with “I Am Your Girlfriend” The recording is top notch, and I can hear every nuance of the song as the band walk us through it. It is a classic, and deservedly so, as Prince twists up a gender bending mix of personalities and musical styles into a drama underpinned opus. Beautifully recorded at this show, I could easily feast on this for days.

One of the great things about listening to concerts form this Japanese tour is the appearance of “Vicki Waiting” in the setlists. Rarely played, when we do hear it on bootlegs it always sounds fresh and exciting. That feeling is heightened here by the twin keyboard attack of Morris Hayes and Tommy Barbarella,  they both bring some heavy musicality to what otherwise would be a simple pop song.

I am tempted to skip over the “Purple Medley” as it is just as unnecessary in concert as it is on record. Hearing it only makes me yearn to go back and listen to the original songs, all of them having being done a disservice by this medley. It is dire, and a colossal waste of time. Redeeming features? None.

Prince immediately wins me back with a sweet version of “7”. There is nothing to demanding, it never once challenges, but it does sound easy on my ears and is a thousand times better than the preceding “Purple Medley.” The song comes and goes in its own easy way, and I am deceived by the track listing that has it at seven minutes, when in reality it is half that before it gives over to the break between encores.

Things kick off in grand style with a smoking rendition of “Billy Jack Bitch.” I might be biased at this point, as this is one of my go to songs on those days I need music as a prop. Princes vocals are a little weak against the wall of music, and it is the Fishbone sample that comes across loudest on the recording, something that will rattle around in my brain for the next few days now. I have a lot of fun listening to it, although before I know it, its over and we move quickly on.

The show stays in this uptempo groove with a quick fire rendition of “319.” There isn’t much to it, and just as I find myself singing along it ends.

It is entirely predictable that “Gold” is the last number of the night, yet it is just as uplifting and sweepingly epic as you could want for a show closer, or even a tour closer. I may not be able to see what is happening, but I can hear it in the music, and in the audiences response, and my heart quickens with every sweep of guitar and every homily spun by Prince. It may be cheesy but it does the trick, and I am converted to the message Prince is preaching. The final whine of the guitar adds one last golden sheen to all that has come before and although it does become rough in places it stays on message with its uplifting sound and soulful howl.

I recommend all concerts from the 1995/1996 time period. The music bristles with a revitalized energy and enthusiasm and it is hard not to be captivated by the sound of it as Prince begins his new journey, shedding his 1980s skin and persona as he strikes out in new directions. The final concert of the tour marks this as something special, and Prince delivers in concert, and on the recording, with a sparkling set delivered at maximum rock n roll velocity. There are a couple of weak moments in the concert, but the bootleg is good enough that I am more than happy to overlook the moments that drag. A worthy release of one of my favourite eras, this one can sit easily along side any other show of the era.

Thanks again
Hamish

Glam Slam, Yokohama 1992

I am currently in Tokyo for a month visiting my wife’s friends and family. To celebrate this fact (and to avoid going shopping), the next few weeks I will take a listen to some of Prince’s live recordings from Japan. Today I will start with an unusual concert from Yokohama in 1992. It is an one off show at the Glamslam club, but what makes it unusual is  the setlist that is a standard run through of songs that we would expect at an arena show. This is an audience recording, with a slight distortion just perceivable, yet I like it for the songs, and the general vibe of the show. There is a great feel to the performance that lets me temporarily forget the sound quality.

6th April, 1992. Glam Slam, Yokohama, Japan

I didn’t expect much when I saw “Daddy Pop” listed on the packaging as the first song, and the feeling doesn’t change as the quality of the recording is revealed in the opening seconds. However, it is a bright and breezy performance that wins both me and the audience over. Rosie is monumental, but there is much more to this song than just her. The band is playing with an easy touch that has the song flying along, and with the crowd lending their infectious voices to the song it most definitely has a joyous vibe.

There is no cherry on top, but there is “Cream” and it envelops the club and bootleg, Prince at his very smoothest as the band flow through the performance. There is no sharpness, or jagged edges, just the constant forward movement provided by the buttery guitar line, and Princes sticky-sweet vocals. It is easy on the ear, and I am completely prepared to over look Tony M’s barking that comes loud across the recording. It ends with the syrupy guitar line that has carried most of the song, and I am satisfied with this sweet treat coming so early in the performance.

Rosie puts her cards on the table with “Chain Of Fools,” and comes up trumps with an ace performance. I didn’t fully appreciate Rosie when I was young, but I do now and her vocals early in the song are the exact reason I rate her as highly as I do. Strong, yet warm and inviting, it is hard to resist her sumptuous voice, and I am drawn in from the start. She does step aside as the song becomes a jam, the horns and guitar providing lines that keep the song on track with their train-like rhythm. Taking this song with the previous “Cream,” the concert already rates highly in my opinion, and we are only three songs in.

There are only two minutes of “Let’s Go Crazy,” but it is two minutes too many for me. It is during this song that the limitations of the recording are readily apparent, the guitar distorting at times, and a incessant  buzz.  It is equally jarring to hear “Let’s Go Crazy” in this company, after several smooth funk songs (and one straight after) it feels wedged it and detracts from the show rather than adding anything to it.

The smooth funk I alluded to returns with a greasy sounding “Kiss.” With the guitar line sounding almost like “Sexy M.F.” it has a classic funk sound, and is all the better for it. It may not be one for the purists but there is no denying the funk of it, and with the horns adding just a tinge of brassiness I rate it highly.

I like “Jughead” (I never thought I would write that) because it opens with a verse from “Dead On It.” The rest of the song I could take or leave (mostly leave). Tony M is quite forceful in his delivery, which tends to drown out everyone else. However, Rosie holds her own with the moments she is given, and as always it is the slippery rhythm guitar that I am really attracted to. I have to admit, I do enjoy Prince’s rap – for no reason other than I guess it’s one of those days.

The band is back in the groove for “I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get it Girl). Much like many of the other songs at this performance, it is smooth funk jam. I have heard this song at several other concerts, and this one is different from those in it’s easy long groove. There is very little singing as the band ride the rhythm from start to finish, unswerving in their dedication to the funk. There may be a couple of solos, but never once does the attention waver from the underlying feel and rhythm.

I could say the same about “Call The Law,” if not for Tony M’s heavy delivery. Rosie matches him for power with her vocals, but it is the guitar that steals the show with an burst early on that makes any vocal work irrelevant. Again, the recording is less than stellar, only the guitar stands proud among the swampy sounds of the verses. I do like the funky intentions of the band, sadly let down by the recording, and shaded by a guitar player who stands head and shoulders above all those around him.

There is a lot of swing to be heard in “Kansas City.” I have heard Boni Boyer sing this plenty of times, but for my money Rosie Gaines does just as good a job. The recording isn’t quite good enough to contain her, there is a slight distortion on her vocals as she is at her strongest, she is just too powerful for an audience recording.

The highlight of the bootleg for me isn’t all these funk tunes, but the divine “Do Me, Baby.” After listening to Prince seduction ballads for thirty plus years, I have come to the irrefutable conclusion that this is his finest. In my opinion, and it may well be an unpopular opinion, it eclipses even “Adore.” This recording is much more sympathetic to a softer song like this, and Levi’s guitar lines are just as emotive as the vocal performance by Prince. I find myself writing every week that “Do Me, Baby,” is the highlight of whatever show I am writing about, and I’m going to say it again about this concert. It towers over all the funk jams, making them lightweight in its solemn and earnest delivery. It is yet another outstanding rendition of one of Prince’s masterpieces.

I want “Gett Off” to finish the show like a punch to face, and although all the key elements are in place it lacks the killer blow that I desire. Prince’s gutsy guitar line elicits squeals of delight from the crowd, but this is the only moment where the song sounds dangerous and edgy. The rest of the song drifts along, even the drum beat sounds half hearted and weak. It is still likable, but it never threatens to reach the heights of the songs earlier in the evening.

So ends this curio from 1992. I wouldn’t recommend it based on the quality of the recording, but I would definitely recommend it based on the songs and the performance. It is a great funk workout for most of the show, and I think it nicely captures what this band was about, and lays down some of the groundwork for what will follow in the next couple of years.  Avoid if you’re a soundboard snob, otherwise I would say give it a listen.

Thanks for reading, I better go be a tourist for a couple of hours
-Hamish

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

Bennetts Lane, Melbourne 2012

This week I will be posting about two shows as both are short, yet they interesting for several reasons. Firstly, the legendary Bennetts Lane impromptu performance. Anyone who has spent time on the internet reading about Prince will be familiar with this concert; Prince made an appearance at Bennetts Lane jazz club early morning of 29th May, 2012. The show was only announced very late, and Prince and the band played to a crowd of about seventy people. In almost darkness, Prince played for close on three hours, with a setlist that is chock full of goodies. From all accounts this was a humdinger of a show, and it made all the mythical by the fact we don’t have a complete recording of it. We are spoilt nowadays by the scope and quality of recordings available for most shows, and this bootleg harks back to earlier days when shows were only partly available, or not available at all.The recording appears on an Eye records release, and covers a half hour period early in the concert. We don’t get the gems promised by the setlist, but it is a taste of the flavour of the evening and I have to say it well and truly whets my appetite for more. I thoroughly recommend taking time to go online and read about this concert from those who were there, there is so much more to this performance than what is heard on the recording.

 29th May 2012(am) Bennetts Lane, Melbourne

I am salivating from the first moments as John drums up a funky brew with Erykah Badu’s “On & On.” There is the wow factor from the very first seconds, John’s percussive sound setting a vibe that the small audience responds to with shouts of encouragement. The recording picks it up well, band is clearly heard, and although the audience call out they aren’t right in the microphone and sound almost as if they have been added in for atmosphere. Prince introduces himself with his first tentative notes stretching into the darkness, before the guitar takes an authoritative tone and lights the room in its luminescence.I have heard “Stratus” many times over the years, and wasn’t expecting much from this performance. Instead, the band floor me with a well rounded and satisfying performance. I think it is partly down to the recording, it is steady in its sound, and seems to have the mix in balance. Part of me wants Prince’s guitar to sound louder, but sitting lower in the mix works well for the song over all and I have no complaints. The band idle loudly behind Princes guitar sound, waiting for the clutch to be dropped and the concert to accelerate into the next few songs. It is John Blackwell that puts the pedal to the metal with a drum break that carries power, speed, and finesse in a combination that drives the show forward.

There is a break in the recording next, “Stratus” fades out at the end before “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” fades in, delivering us late into the song. We only get the last few call and response of “must be something in the water you drink” before the song fizzles out.

It’s not all that bad though as the following song is  “Strange Relationship.” The bass may not be particularly prominent on the recording, but there is plenty of funk dripping from the keyboards and Prince’s vocals. However, things flip when Cassandra plays her solo, the piano barely audible and the bass suddenly becoming the backbone of the song. It is a very loose performance, one that I feel as much as I hear, and it’s about this point that I decide I would gladly sell right arm for a soundboard recording of this entire gig.

Even “I Like Funky Music” sounds better in this context. A song I could happily pass on, here it becomes part of the “Strange Relationship” jam, and rather than drag it down it adds to it with the audience becoming involved with the chants. I must praise the keyboards again at this point as they continue to solo and delight me with their sprinklings of stardust.

This funk jam continues to evolve, and “Up For The Downstroke” reminds me of how much this white boy has learnt about the history of funk from Prince. My first introduction to Parliment/Funkadelic/George Clinton was from hearing performances like this and then going back to find the original artists. This performance is worthy of those predecessors as the song swells and bloats,Prince and the band playing the audience as much as they are playing the music. It remains a beautifully unfocused, all encompassing jam that is further enhanced by cameos from “Fantastic Voyage” and “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” Its not an intense jam that fills the recording, but it is one of the most enjoyable I have heard for a long time, and again I am quite ready to sell my bodyparts for more of the same. Oh to be there!

I am seriously overwhelmed as the the jam continues to creep across the land, this time swallowing up Mary J Blige’s “Be Happy” and consuming it into the body of the music. I regret that I am sitting at the computer at this stage, such is the urge just to get up and let my body move to the music. In my book, there is no higher recommendation. I am an old jaded fan who spends too much time listening to bootlegs, but performances like this are what I live for.

A brief “Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough rounds off this jam, before the recording ends with a final hit out from John Blackwell. At this point the recording is raggedy sounding, with John’s drums distorting. In some ways it is probably just as well it finishes here, least my previous buzz from the funk jam is shattered by this less than stellar sound. Nothing against John himself, it is purely the recording that is sounding rough at this stage.

There is no mistaking, this a great show and one that I want to hear a lot more of. A sparkling setlist is matched with a classy performance, and throw in the vibe of the room and this makes for one heck of a show. It is all the more disappointing then that we can only enjoy a half hour of the performance, with another two and half hours missing I can only imagine how good the rest of it is. Again, I strongly recommend researching more about this gig, with first eye accounts the music takes on a whole new dimension. I am grateful for what we do have here, but I want so much more. This recording creates a thirst that I know will never be quenched, no matter how much I hope and pray. Worth hearing, just try not to think about what we are missing.

Thanks for joining me, as this show was only short I will take a quick listen to another short show I have been meaning to cover for sometime.
-Hamish

Liberation (1996)

I have been continually surprised by how much I enjoy concerts from 1996/1997. At the time I wasn’t taken by them, but twenty years later I find that I have finally matured and caught up with Prince. The shows are an odd mix, Prince is aiming at the pop audience, yet the music and performance lacks the sparkle of his younger years. However, to my more mature ears there is plenty to keep me entertained. This week’s bootlegs covers an aftershow recorded in Chicago after Prince’s performance on Oprah. It doesn’t quite fit the classic aftershow mould and is more or less a run through of the Love 4 One Another tour setlist. It is a crowd-pleaser though, and Prince offers a couple of diversions that keeps the crowd well and truly involved with some loose renditions later in the show.  Despite being an audience recording, with all the baggage that comes with that,  I look forward to hearing this again and discovering something new.

21st November 1996 (am), Park West, Chicago

There is no denying, the recording gets off to a rough start. I have no issue at all with the music, “Jam Of The Year” opens with a long instrumental featuring some taunt guitar work that makes it all the more appealing. However, the recording is rough for the first few minutes, crowd noise overwhelming the music in places. Listening past that though and things aren’t so bad, this opening number having some cool keyboard work as Prince sings his lines to a highly charged and appreciative audience. “Jam Of The Year” doesn’t quite live up to its title though and I am already looking forward to what comes next in the setlist.

Doing a quick calculation, I have heard “Purple Rain” four or five times a week for the last twenty years, factoring when I listened to the album on heavy rotation from 1984-1994 when Prince was THE MAN, and Purple Rain was THE ALBUM, I estimate I have heard the song approximately 16,000 times. And yet I find I still enjoy it. The version on this recording is surprising for several reason,. Firstly, it appears very early in the setlist, where traditionally it comes later in the show. Secondly, it is a late night/early morning show, where the big songs don’t normally get an airing. And finally, this is a loose version, featuring a veil of intricate guitar work from Prince. The main solo pulls back as Prince begins to gently weave his way through the song before returning to the verse, almost rebooting the song at this point. It keeps me guessing, and even if I have heard the song 16,000 times before I still finish with a smile on face.

I am pulled straight back into the summer of 1996 with “Get Your Groove On.” Listening to it today I can almost feel myself in the car, windows down, music on, and the feeling of sun on my skin. Prince imbues the music with a sunshine feel that seeps through the song at every opportunity, and for my money this is a better representation of Emancipation than the earlier “Jam Of The Year.’ It certainly helps that a lot of the earlier sound problems have dissipated, and even though the crowd is loud and vocal, it adds to the sense being there, rather than detracting from the music itself.

Prince doesn’t dwell on “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World,” drawing it in after a minute to instead deliver a hard hitting “The Ride,” something that seems to go over very well with the Chicago crowd. I am with them on this one as the music churns and chews through the next ten minutes. At times the music is so low it almost disappears into the floor, and that is no bad thing at all as Prince lays down his blues sound in blues town.From this swampy festering sound, Prince’s guitar rises loud and proud, a flaming sword in the darkness of the music, a light to gravitate to. Its a great moment, but not the finest moment of the song, that comes later and Prince teases and taunts the audience with his talk, made all the better by the audience yelling encouragement – “Come on Boy,” “Alright now!”. In these moments I am right there in the audience, just the reason I listen to bootlegs.

There is a guttural grunt and snort to the guitar sound at the beginning of “The Cross,” a raw sound that transports me back to when I was a young punk. Prince keeps his guitar set to “Garage Band” as he plays a mighty rendition that comes from the gut. It may not be the cleanest sounding recording in circulation, but Prince more than makes up for it in raw, unadulterated power and force of will. Even twenty years later listening to a scratchy bootleg at home, it is easy to be swept up by the fervor of it all, and by the end of the song I too am desperately close to whooping and hollering with the rest of the crowd. The response to the end of the song is overwhelming, it is obvious that I’m not the only one deeply affected by the performance.

Prince may have declared “Prince is dead” a year earlier, but here he is full resurrected and digs deep into his back catalog for a performance of “Do Me, Baby,” a performance that sounds as if the song had only been written the day previous as Prince plays it with unbridled emotion and feeling. Again, the crowd are right with you as the song plays, it may be too much for some but I do get a buzz hearing the audience screaming their appreciation, even if they do swamp the music at times. Prince unleashes an exquisite scream that has the crowd baying for more, and who can blame them when Prince is sounding this sexy. With lyrics thrown in from “Scandalous”, “Adore”, “Insatiable”, and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore”, it becomes a tour de force of Prince’s most seductive songs, no bad thing at this stage of the concert.

The following “Sexy M.F.” is most welcome, with its horn refrain it brings a fresh sound to the concert. However, the verses can’t quite live up to this, and the recording does Prince no favors. While the horns are recorded well, Prince himself sounds a touch fuzzy, and the slippery guitars underneath are mostly lost to my ears. A song that promises much, in this case the bootleg just can’t do it justice.

When I was fifteen, “If I Was Your Girlfriend” sounded like the most important song in the world. Thirty years later, and as much as I try, listening to it here I can’t recapture that feeling. The weight of the song has gone, and now when I listen all I can hear is the easy groove the the song rolls across. Getting older is a bitch. However, as a live bootleg experience it is perfectly serviceable, and when I take my personal feelings out of the equation, I find it an easy going three or four minutes.

Prince’s spiritual side again comes to the fore with his intense cover of Joan Osbourne’s “One Of Us.” One can see the attraction, and with the snare sound anchoring the beat it fits in well with Prince’s oeuvre. It could do with a better quality recording, but Princes playing is forceful enough that it overcomes most sonic limitations. It’s not quite the key song of the evening, but it is a good pointer to where Prince was at this time.

The encore begins with “Sleep Around” from the Emancipation album. It may not be the best sounding song on the bootleg, but it is good enough that I feel I should pull out the original album and give it a listen, which I guess is the point of these concerts; to promote the album of the time. The Emancipation  songs may be firmly fixed in the mid-Nineties by their sound and style, but they still have their own spirit and for me nicely capture the zeitgeist of that time. The bootleg itself is a passable listening experience without ever blossoming into something essential.

This is followed by the final song of the evening as Prince segues “A Train” into an all encompassing jam. There is some bass work, that judging by the screams is the man himself, and the crowd are fantastically vocal with their “play that funky bass”  encouragement. This jam is the highlight of the show for me, the thumping bass (or should I say thumbing bass) is glorious in its chest thumping vibration. Princes chant of “C, H, I, love you” is pretty cool, and coupled with the contributions from the other band members it is a fitting end to what has been a lot of fun.

The first five minutes give a false impression, and after a bumpy start the concert settles into something very cool indeed. Putting aside any recording issues, I found that even though it wasn’t an aftershow in the true sense (the setlist being pretty much a condensed mainshow) , the interaction between the band and audience made it feel like one, and especially so in the final couple of songs. Of the concerts of this era there are certainly better ones, but this is the one I have enjoyed most so far. One to avoid if you an audio purist, but for anyone who likes plenty of passion and crowd interplay this is pretty darn good.

Thanks for reading, until next time take care
-Hamish

3121 Las Vegas 1st night

I have for too long skimmed over the 3121 performances in Las Vegas. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that there is such an array of concerts and styles circulating from this period, it is hard to know where to begin. It doesn’t help that my catalog system for these shows is in disarray, mostly because some releases throw together a bunch of unconnected shows from this run, leaving my carefully laid dating system in ruins. Anyway, that is neither here nor there, what is important is today I will finally come back to these recordings, and what better place to begin than the first concert of the series.

There are several bootlegs of this concert in circulation, I have decided to listen to the 4daFunk release, purely because I find myself drawn to the art work. The Pure Funk release is more complete (it has the entire opening song) but I find I listen to this one much more. As for the concert itself, there is very little surprises to be found, it is a straight forward performance that lives little room for spontaneity or long improvised jams, instead Prince chooses to romp through his setlist in uninspiring rush. There are moments I cherish, but overall this is a standard show, and there is little to distinguish it from other shows at the time.

11th November (am) 2006  3121@Rio Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas

The first minutes of “Spirituality” (Controversy) are missing, and although I have said the setlist is uninspiring, I do find this opening song coming at me in a breathless rush that raises hopes that this may deliver more than I remember. There may not be fire, but there is definitely a spark to this opening number.

The promise made by “Spirituality” comes good with “Johnny B. Goode”, Prince’s guitar bursting into flame at the appropriate moments, engulfing the recording in fierce fire that even a jaded guitar guy like myself can appreciate. It isn’t as freewheeling as we hear in aftershows, but it does get my pulse racing and Prince tears it up. Prince’s final shout of “Thank you, and good night” is entirely appropriate, as it does indeed sound like a final hit out before the close of a show.

I like the pop of “Lolita,” but I have found that as time has gone on it has lost its initial charm. The song is still young at this show, but ten years on it has reached middle age, and it has not aged well. It’s not helped by recording drop outs, and as much as I try to find something positive in the song, it does sound like Prince is on autopilot.

The following “Black Sweat” is also lifeless, something of a surprise for me as this is one song that usually delivers a defibrillator size jolt to concerts. In this case it is dead on arrival, and although the recording is very good at this point, the performance remains flat.

“So many hits, so little time,” sets alarm bells ringing for me and I am rewarded with a standard rendition of “Kiss.” This is Prince by the numbers, there is zero variation or inspiring moments, and the song remains insipid despite my hopes for something, anything, to happen. Still, a great song is a great song, and “Kiss” sounds fine on the recording, I enjoy it much more when I put aside my expectations and just go with the flow.

“Shhh” has the opening I want, but it isn’t anywhere near as powerful as I would like, and its not until the music pulls back that I find I can begin to enjoy it. Like the preceding “Kiss,” it is far more enjoyable when I put asides any preconceptions and just enjoy what I am hearing. In this case it is a cleanly recorded, cleanly played, rendition of a classic from his catalog. I may wish it to be an electrifying and muscular performance, but this is Prince playing it straight and the lean rendition we get is anorexic compared to the original. It is what it is, and in the car or playing in the background it would be great, but listening close with headphones it makes me wish for some of the other performances I have heard over the years.

“Musicology” suffers further in this flat performance, there is no guitar solo to inject passion or to shock the listener into an emotional response, and its light funk is lost in the easy mix and sound. I can’t quite put my finger on what is missing, but it never quite feels like the party that Prince wants it to be. There is an brief section in the middle where I think I may have misjudged it, but the second half droops again and leaves me feeling deflated.

I find that “Cream” is an easy listen, but there is nothing there to raise it above anything else heard in the evening. The band sound much stronger though, and I am beginning to warm to the gig again at this stage.

The guitar again cuts through this smooth funk, and heralds in the arrival of “U Got The Look.” It is by the numbers, the guitar may kick and start in Princes hands, but it never breaks free into the rampant guitar storm that I half hope for. The stomp keeps the concert moving however, and it does lead us tidily into the following moment.

It is pleasing to hear Prince take his time with “Joy In Repetition.” At first I feel I am immune to its charms, yet sure enough I am singing with Prince word for word as the song builds. It is the sort of song and performance that one can easily inhale, and exhale at your leisure. I dwell on the song as long as I can, reveling in its intoxicating and heady sound, and although it isn’t the first performance I would reach for, the song is still strong enough that it works its black magic on me despite its straight performance.

There is a low-key, percussive opening to “17 Days,” which to my ears doesn’t serve it well. There is further disappointment when I hear that it isn’t Prince on vocal duties, rather it is the Twinz that warble their way through the song. To add insult to injury, they butcher some of the lyrics, and to be honest I would rather not hear the song at all than hear it like this. “17 Days” in the setlist should have been the highlight, instead it is the nadir.

Things improve considerably with “7.” Prince pushes it out to twelve minutes, and in this time he gives himself space to speak to the crowd, ad-lib lyrics, and makes the song a much stronger statement than the previous moments. It’s not a bold statement, but it is music with a stronger backbone, and it finally feels like Prince is connecting with the music and the crowd. That is until the final minutes when he crosses the line into preaching. Several members in the audience can be heard complaining about it, and I am temporarily taken out of the moment by it.

A rocked up version “Anotherloverholenyohead,” oh yes, now we’re talking. For the first time I feel like letting out a whoop as I feel my body moving involuntarily to the music. The Twinz may be a touch too high in the mix for me, but there is plenty of grunt and muscle in Princes guitar that keeps me firmly focused. The climax comes with the predictable, but worthy, segue into an impassioned “Rock Lobster.” The guitar is enraged as it fury spews forth, a powerful anger that has me forgiving the previous hour. The guitar rages on after the music stops, briefly touching on “The Cross” before the band reengage for one final assault and drive to the finish.

A change of direction next, but a welcome one, as Prince eases into a groove laden “If I Your Girlfriend” As enjoyable as it is, there is still an undercurrent of funk that is missing. The band play with precision, but little of the soul I have come to expect, and as much as I find my head bobbing to the song, its not quite the knock out punch we have come to expect.

The radio friendly sheen of “Pink Cashmere” works surprisingly well at this moment, I sit enraptured as Prince works the lyrics and the crowd to his will. On the recording sides of things there is a loud snap that is, well, just too loud. It detracts from Mike Phillips solo, something that again raises the disappointment feeling within me as I always look forward to his contributions. I never recover from this feeling and even as the song stretches to ten minutes, I can’t recapture that feeling and warm glow from early on.

I am back on board for a compelling rendition of “Fury.” It comes and goes in a flash, but it does draw a line in the sand. For some reason the guitar driven songs at this concert seem to have a lot more energy to them than the funk jams, surprising given that Prince is normally so good at presenting both in an enthusiastic and impressive package. The final minute has a real bite to it, and I can only wonder how this concert could have played out if all the songs had have been played with such intensity.

It’s not necessary to have five minutes of audience noise between encores on the bootleg, but  4daFunk have put it there anyway, for the completists I guess. “Purple Rain” is entirely predictable at this point of the concert, and as you might expect it sounds just as it always has since 1984. I could almost sing the guitar solo note for note by now, and especially here as Prince adds not one bit of improvisation or unpredictability to his playing. He is going through the motions, and in this case it sounds as if he is just as tired of the song as some of the hard core fan community.

“Let’s Go Crazy” rounds out the concert in an upbeat finish. It’s joyless, and rather sums up the evenings performance. It all sounds very nice, but is shallow and leaves me wishing for something more substantial. It is very short, and whips the crowd up one last time before Prince calls for their love.

Ok, so I didn’t love this concert. On the plus side, it did sound good, and had a couple of my favourites in the setlist. What it was missing  was a sense of urgency. The songs meandered, even when they were short, and there was a lack of depth to the performance. I was hoping something of interest would be thrown up in the melee, but it was just a standard run through of his radio friendly hits. No doubt I will return to this recording in future, like I said earlier, it would be OK in the background, or in the car, but as for an intensive listening experience, I would happily pass on it. Like Prince says, all that glitters ain’t gold.

Thanks for joining me again,
I will have a rummage through the cupboards and see if I can pull out a treat for next week.
-Hamish

Melbourne 2003 Aftershow

Last weeks blog about the Melbourne show of 2003 left me unsatisfied. As much as I enjoyed it, it was an incomplete recording that left me wanting more. As luck would have it, I have in my hand the aftershow from the same evening. This is a complete recording, but it is short – clocking in at just under an hour. I don’t mind that too much at all as the contents within are interesting – an unusual arrangement of Musicology (still five months away from being released), a slowed down “The Work Pt 1.” and a left field cover version in the form of “When The Saints Go Marching In.” It’s a tidy setlist that keeps the listener engaged throughout as Prince leads us down various musical alleys and backstreets. It is in contrast to the greatest hits package served up at the main show, making in an even more intriguing listen for me.

23rd October 2003 (am) Melbourne, Australia

Prince emerges regally through the crowd noise, although the audience recording cannot match the moment and is not quite good enough to make out his introduction. It matters little as the music takes its rightful place at the centre of the recording for the live debut of “Musicology.”  In the smaller and more intimate venue it sounds soulful and full, the drums especially sounding huge in the opening stanza. The horns are still busy, and Prince delivers his vocals with panache, but it is less Vegas sounding than on the Musicology tour, and for my ears it resonates with its soulful roots showing. Maceo and Greg Boyer are well into their work early here, and they are infuse plenty of kinetic energy into the song, Maceo with his furious saxophone solo, and Greg with his mighty trombone solo that for my moneys tops him. It’s early days and Prince is still playing with the arrangement for this song, in this case it is broken into two with  “Brick House” making a cameo appearance between the two sections. As much as I love “Brick House,” in this case I aren’t too fussed. Prince is bold with his vocals, and it is unfortunate that there is a slight distortion in the recording at his loudest moments. It is left to the horns to save they day, and they segue back into Musicology with aplomb and remain the main focus of my listening experience for the rest of the song.

It is Rad that sings “Ooh,” but she is far from the centre of attention as it is the rest of the band that grab the song and shake it up into a cocktail of horn and keyboard funk. Another shot of trombone action from Greg Boyer leaves me drunk in its wake, the music a powerful mix of 100 proof funk that is overpowering and intoxicating. There is little I can do but lose myself in the moment as Prince demonstrates exactly what aftershows are all about – purity of the musical experience.

“Peach” is lost to me in the general noisiness of the recording, the vocals washed away in the waves of crowd noise and general thinness of the recording. However, the recording does a good job of capturing the horns (here, and throughout) and especially Prince’s guitar. It is a shame then that he doesn’t engage with his instrument as much as you might expect, and asides from a couple of storming runs there is little guitar to be heard.

Rising on the back of the horn motif comes “The Work Pt.1” My soul sings as the horns play, but for me the meat and potatoes of the song is the rhythm guitar that arrives later in the song. Even as the sound becomes busy and spreads out in several directions I can still hear the guitar, a style I have always gravitated towards and held dear. The rest the song goes by in a blur and there is much to admire in the way the band all play so uniquely but blend their styles and sounds together seamlessly. This may not be the best recorded version, but there is still plenty there for those that listen close.

It is Chance Howard’s time to claim some spotlight as he comes forward for his take on “No Diggity.” Its a relaxed cover version, the rhythm section however is flawless in their work, and although this isn’t the most energetic version in circulation it is still interesting enough in it’s own way, especially when Maceo adds his talents to the mix. Truly a legend, he elevates every song as soon as his saxophone is heard on the recording.

Prince leads hand clapping into “When The Saints Go Marching In,” and this version isn’t just about the horn section as you might expect. There is some excellent keyboard to be heard, but at only a few minutes there is not really enough time for anyone to show off their abilities. However, the crowd like it and it is a neat way to bring us to the last song of the evening.

That last song is an instrumental jam, and a fast and furious one at that. The key elements are all in place, chants, whoops, the various band members playing sharply throughout. It isn’t an elongated jam as we often hear at aftershows, in fact its one of the shortest jams I think I have heard at barely a couple of minutes. That doesn’t count against it in this case, as the crowd sound as though they have been whipped into a frenzy, and its is easy to understand why as the music vortex’s and increases intensity. It isn’t what is expected, but it is a good way to finish the show, putting an exclamation mark on all that has come before.

An interesting little bootleg this one, it doesn’t sound quite like other aftershows in circulation, yet it has its own irresistible style and feel. There a few nuggets sprinkled through out the set that keep the listener engaged, and it does come as a nice palate cleanser on top of the mainshow I covered last week. The recording is far from perfect, but the contents of the bootleg more than make up for it, making for an engaging listen from start to finish.

 

Melbourne 2003

Prince didn’t jump straight from the ONA era into Musicology. There was a year gap, featuring a world tour that took in only Australia and Hawaii. I find these shows interesting as they are the stepping stone between the two, and we can see the crowd pleasing hits played with a trace of the ONA concerts heard in the smooth and easy style in which this band play. The concerts in Australia should have been a great chance for me to see Prince play live, Australia is only a four hour flight away, unfortunately I was out exploring the wider world and was living in London at that time. My opportunity to see Prince play would come later.

There are several releases of the concert I am listening to today, I am listening to the Overfunk’d release as to my ears it sounds slight better than the other versions. An audience recording, it is pretty good – with no distortion, the mix is about right and I can clearly hear and enjoy the music throughout. The only thing that counts against it is that it is an incomplete recording, we are missing the opening bracket of ten songs, but it is a long show, and what we to have is plenty enough to cover two discs.

22nd October 2003, Melbourne Australia

The recording begins with “The Beautiful Ones,” and it immediately puts me in mind of the ONA tour from the previous year. With Maceo Parker on saxophone, the introduction lingers and Maceo does what he does best and fills the room with a steamy atmosphere. With the band draping their sultry veil across the soundscape it could have easily been lifted from any 2002 show, and I am more than happy with that as I am infused with the ghost of concert’s past. It’s not all about the past however, this is not Purple Rain Prince, and as he sings he very much Prince of the time. His voice doesn’t ache and bend as it had previously, and as much as I love his performance here, I must admit it is workman like in the most professional way, no bells or whistles here, just a straight delivery that serves his maturing sound well.

I have similar feelings about “Nothing Compares 2 U.”  Prince is good, without ever flooring me, and it is Maceo Parker who’s brief moment stirs up the passion with me, and within the song. The recording shines though, and even though I haven’t shown any real enthusiasm for the first couple of songs, I am greatly enjoying the bootleg.

It is “Insatiable” that first has me swallowing hard and listening close. Now this is what I came for, a delicious delivery that has the crowd swooning at the show, and me having all sorts of feelings here at home. The more Prince croons, the louder the crowd swoons, and I am giddy with fanboy love as Prince walks us through a vocal maze, following the trail of bread crumbs that Renato Neto lays. Its a lethal combination, the song sneaking up on me and drawing all the oxygen from the room.

Although “Sign O The Times” moves in the opposite direction, it demands listening to just as much as the previous “Insatiable” and drives out a funk groove that is irresistible. I am disappointed that the crowd get to sing along, while here at home I have to stay quiet as my wife sleeps in the other room. It matters little, I lip sync along with them in a a happy delirium, and I am happy to report that “Sign O The Times” gets a whole nine minutes to funk and roll across the the recording. The real action begins after Prince finishes his lyrics, rad. (Rose Ann Dimalanta)  gives a brief and electric keyboard solo that leaves me wanting more, and it gets better as John Blackwell plays us through a turnaround that leads the music into a swirl and even more keyboard work that excites me in ways that I never knew a keyboard could.

The combination of “The Question Of U” and “The One” reached its peak during the tour of 2002, for my money those performances will be never be bettered, and although this version is sonically very similar, it lacks that magical quality that was heard the previous year. It is slightly more labored, and deadened in sound, there is a lightness of touch that is missing, and although the song is guitar heavy, it is this finesse and delicacy that makes it what it is. The chunky guitar by Prince midsong does briefly have me breaking into a sweat, but that sweat turns cold as the band go though the motions later in the song.

“Let’s Work” has things jumping again, and it sounds nice and sharp on the recording. The horns in particular leap out at me in their energy and brightness. Prince doesn’t work the song too long, it is only a couple of minutes, but it does signal the next upbeat part of the performance.

In the same vein, “U Got The Look” is a short, sharp shock of energy and pace that accelerates the concert further. The guitar sounds strangely quiet as Prince solos , and for me this is one of the key reasons to listen to the song and its muted sound leaves me silently frustrated.

The show is gathering pace rapidly at this point of the bootleg, as Prince tears through a series of covers and upbeat numbers. We firstly get an embryonic version of “Life Of The Party,” which is too busy for its own good until it settles for the chorus. It is the following “Hot Pants” where the groove gets hot and heavy, one can almost feel its hot breath on their neck as the groove becomes dark and dangerous, hinting at an unseen sexuality. Prince breaks the mood with  “Life Of The Party” rap, and before I can fully immerse myself in the bass end of the song it transitions to Chance Howard and his lively rendition of “Soulman.”   It’s hard not to like it, and I find a smile spreading across my face as it plays though. Its sounds so summery and easy, for a minute I consider tackling it next time I go to karaoke.

It is a keyboard push that drives “Kiss,” its pulse beating just under Prince’s lyrics throughout. I like the sound of the keyboard, but I could take or leave the rest of the song. I appreciate the new arrangement, but “Kiss” is one song that I have heard far too often.

Prince’s cackle introduces “Take Me With U” and one can appreciate why as the band and the crowd respond with energy and love. Like the previous “Kiss,” this is one song I have heard too many times, yet I fully understand why it has been a constant in the setlist over the years. An uplifting song from Prince’s most successful album, it never fails to elicit a response from the crowd and re-energises the concert.

The main set is rounded out by a full rendition of “The Everlasting Now.” It encapsulates the full talents and scope of the band as it moves quickly across musical territory, throwing up all sorts of sounds and styles. The funk grows and evolves through the song, the ground never quite solid beneath my feet as the band move swiftly through this soundscape. It is a fitting end to the main show, and a great reminder of how good this band is.

The piano set encore opens with an understated “Adore.” As much as I love bootlegs, I have never enjoyed hearing “Adore” on bootlegs, mostly because the screams and shouts of the audience ruin the moment for me as Prince plays the one song that truly connects to my heart. Here is no different, each line greeted with rapturous shouts and squeals of excitement, and as much as I share their enthusiasm it does take me out of the moment. The song does get its full five minutes, which for me is an exercise in frustration as the crowd stay prominent.

Prince keeps with humor as he segues into “Sleep On The Couch.” He takes his time over the delivery, each line hanging in the air so it can be fully digested by those listening. I laugh a little early on, but soon enough I am cocooned in Prince’s vocal delivery and lose myself in a soft delirium. A song that didn’t promise much, I am surprised by emotions it brings to the surface.

Emotion is the name of the game as Prince has the crowd clap as he plays an soulful version of “Forever In My Life.” Head bobbing, hand clapping, it has its own unique rhythm that is offset by Princes lyrics and vocal delivery that speaks of love and honesty. Its only brief, but it is the perfect fit with the two previous songs.

“One Kiss At A Time” gets a different arrangement, and is a fine match for “Forever In My Life” I am surprised that Prince sticks with some of the risque lyrics, but he is doesn’t engage with any curse words, so I guess in his head that makes it all alright. It is a surprising end to the piano set, a set that I have found most enjoyable, my feelings about “Adore” not withstanding.

As much as I enjoyed the piano set, I am more than happy when the funk returns with “All the Critics Love U In Melbourne.” I like the insistent funk drive of it, and the color that the keyboards and saxophone add. Maceo is at his very best at this point, the music and concert orbiting around him as he plays. The keyboard rhythm later in the song is a match for him, and it is a devastating few minutes of funk that has me applauding at home in appreciation.  “Phew, can’t nobody mess with this band” is my only thought as the song ends.

The keyboards are equally to the fore as a frenetic “Alphabet St.” follows. It is derailed by Princes interruption to talk himself up to the crowd, but as a performer at the top of his game, he has every right to brag and enjoy the spotlight. The song never regains momentum though, and I feel the constant stoppages would be better left out.

There is an easy jam that leads into “Days Of Wild”, a jam that tidily takes a low key funk groove and allows Prince to chant with the crowd. The serious business comes with “Days Of Wild” as it stomps across the landscape, bringing a tension to the previously lighthearted concert. Its not as quite as dangerous as other performances I have heard, Prince is enjoying himself too much, but the music has a touch of malice the keeps it just on the right side of the ledger.

The final song of the night is of course “Purple Rain.”  as befitting a greatest hits show, the moment is milked for all its worth, with the usual introduction sweeping across the arena before Prince begins to punctuate it with some lead guitar. Its a worthy rendition of a much loved classic, but there is nothing new here for anyone who has followed prince’s career. The final guitar break has me interested only for nostalgic sake, Prince isn’t breaking new ground, but he is playing his signature song to an appreciative audience at the climax of the concert.

This is a bootleg that you don’t hear much about, yet I would happily recommend it to anyone wanting to hear a quality audience recording of what is a standard hits show. The band are coming off some fantastic 2002 shows, and although different in style, they are just as good here in 2003 as they were the previous year. it may not be a complete show, but it never drags either, making for a bright and easy listen. For those that were there this is an excellent document of that experience.

I see there is an aftershow from the same night that has caught my eye, I shall give that a listen next week.

Thanks for reading
Hamish

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