The Orbit Room 2000

I have painted myself into a corner. Sometime ago I listened to an aftershow from Chicago in 2000, and although it wasn’t really my cup of tea, I found I enjoyed it. This week I picked another afteshow played just a few days after, but when I listened to it this morning I found it wasn’t quite what I expected. Most of the performance is Doug E. Fresh, and Prince can only be heard, along with his songs, a couple of times in the show. However, it’s too late now to find another bootleg to listen to, so I am stuck with my first choice. I find Doug E. Fresh inoffensive and pleasant enough, but he lacks any real bite and most of performance is toothless. At this show Prince’s performance is understated and subdued, leaving us with an entirely forgettable experience. Being a hard core fan I have to hear everything, and sometimes means listening to flat concerts like this as well as the more dynamic performances I usually gravitate towards. So with that it mind, this is very much a concert that will bring balance to my listening experience.

20th November (am) 2000, The Orbit Room, Grand Rapids

I listened to both the Sabotage release and the Thunderball release, and to my ears they sound near enough to the same. The opening two minutes is entirely representative to what will follow, two minutes of Doug E. Fresh rapping and hyping the crowd while the music stays secondary in the background. If you weren’t a fan of Doug E. Fresh before this then you aren’t going to be a fan after as he stays in the safe lane and delivers a rap that fails to elicit any sort of emotional response.The concert improves considerably with “I Can Make You Dance” as the band build a solid foundation for Doug E. Fresh to frame out his song. Musically it’s more interesting than the opening rap, but it’s not the typical Prince aftershow we have come to expect, and even as an electric guitar begins to cry in the background the song still remains far from inciting a riot. There is no sense of adventure, the music and delivery remaining tame for the time being.

Another rap from Doug E. Fresh has me again questioning why I am listening to this. Guest appearances and other players are par for the course, and there is no denying that they do bring interest to these concerts. However, in this case it feels too much, and there is very little Prince influence to be heard in the music. I do play along with the call and response, mostly to keep myself interested, but this is a Prince blog, not a Doug E. Fresh blog, and I do wait impatiently for my hero to make his mark.

Finally I am pacified by the appearance of “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” and Prince on the mic. The performance is easy enough to enjoy, although Prince seems caught in the same quicksand as the previous numbers, there is no punch to the performance, nothing challenging to grab on to, and very little in the way of surprise. It is a smooth, almost glassy performance, that is emotionally hollow and leaves me entirely unmoved.

With “Passin’ Your Name,” all is temporarily forgiven. Kip Blackshire takes vocal duties, and paired with Doug E. Fresh, the song has a drive and impetus that has previously been lacking. I can’t say I have heard a lot of Kip Blackshire’s singing, but from what I hear in this case he gives a nuanced performance that has a lot more character than the overwrought rapping by Doug E. Fresh. As one might expect, the horns rise to prominence through the song, and with some soulful keyboard, the song becomes greater than the sum of it’s parts. On a better recording I wouldn’t think much of this song, but surrounded by half-baked performances, and a concert largely lacking in Prince, it punches above it’s weight. With a crisp and taunt guitar solo breaking up the groove the song changes direction and ferments with a Najee solo in the final minutes into something far more interesting than heard elsewhere on the bootleg.

There is a sudden shift in gears, and an quickfire “Gett Off (Housestyle)” takes the previous laid back jams and accelerates them into a something that finally gets the heart racing. Prince’s performance doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm, but Najee elevates proceedings with his contribution before Prince’s final guitar solo starkly reminds me that I am actually listening to a Prince gig.

It is the sound of Prince’s guitar that heralds in the final song of the night, a detached rendition of “Johnny.” It sounds as if nobody is really invested in the performance, and  the halfhearted audience response matches the sound of the music. Even Prince’s guitar solo waxes and wanes in an uneven and inconsistent performance that is symptomatic of the show in general. On a positive note it is short, and it is the end of he show.

I don’t expect to love every Prince concert I listen to. I am a hardcore fan, but I am also a realist, and I trust my ears. This show isn’t dire, it certainly doesn’t sound like a disaster, but it is lacking in the soul, the emotion, that I so regularly hear on these bootlegs. We could attribute this to the lack of Prince’s input we hear on the recording, but it does sum up where he was at the time, musically adrift and leaning heavily on those around him. Normally I find something positive to say, and usually finish with a recommendation to listen to a recording at least once. You needn’t bother in this case. There is very little here for a fan to enjoy, and it is a soulless experience.

Thanks for joining me again,
Next week I will do some homework and find us something exciting to listen to
-Hamish

 

Camden Palace 1988

The Palace in Hollywood wasn’t the only “Palace”  aftershow that Prince played in 1988. Earlier in the year he played a late night show at the Camden Palace in London, just one month before the famous small club gig that we all know and love. This concert is well known, in a large part due to the proshot footage that was later aired on “Prince: Musial Portrait” and “Omnibus: Prince Rogers Nelson,” both which provide a rare proshot glimpse into aftershows of the era. The concert itself is notable for three things. Firstly this proshot footage that hints that the full show remains on video tape somewhere in the vault. A tasty morsel of what could be an appetizing prospect should this whole show ever see the light of day. Then there is the guest appearance of Mica Paris, who Prince spots in the crowd and hands the microphone to for a guest spot. It is a glorious spontaneous moment that perfectly encapsulates the pure love of music and feeling that anything might happen at the show. Lastly, the show gains further luster from the guest appearance of Ronnie Wood, and immediately after  Mavis Staples. Although neither guest is heard on the bootleg (which sadly cuts out before they come to the stage), it still adds to the mythology of the show, and Sabotage have tried their best to give us a taste of what is missing by appending 20 seconds of Ronnie Woods appearance onto the end of the bootleg. It is a pointless exercise, but does serve to remind us of what we are missing from the recording. What we are left with though is a a fierce performance that touches on historic as Prince lavishes a hot and sweaty, yet utterly cool, performance on one of the most famous venues in London.

26th July (am), 1988. The Camden palace, London

It a special gift to Cat that introduces us to the bootleg as Prince gives a unique performance of “Happy Birthday” in her honor. It is a playful rendition as he flirts with different characters in his voice, and gives a gentle ad-lip with only heightens the lighthearted feel to the song. It is far from essential listening, but it does has its own simplistic charm.

“Forever In My Life,” is sonically far more serious, although the recording is less than ideal with its tape hiss just loud enough to catch my attention. The music that the band is cooking up is full of different flavors as Prince takes it from a campfire sing- a-long start to a song steeped in gospel and history, filtering it through a lens that colors it both with blues and funk while settling in neither camp. The guitar runs that appear midsong become the most fascinating feature as they carry the rhythm and the emotion of the song long after Prince has given up singing. Coupled with the popping bass sound, the song becomes the type of jam that contains far more rhythmic ideas than melodic ones, something for the feet rather than the ears.

The recording does no favours for the following “Strange Relationship.’ All the pieces are in place for a grand rendition, Prince’s guitar coupled with Eric Leeds horn sound as if they are prepared to inflict some serious damage upon the dance floor, but the recording remains willfully thin, all the more frustrating given that what we can hear is full of shadows and echos, a highly contrasting collage of sounds for the listener to luxuriate in. Prince’s guitar does whine and cut through the recording, but it never wails and howls as it would on a more full blooded recording, making this a neutered version of what we know would be a testosterone fueled performance.

“Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” is undoubtedly the high point of the show for a number of reasons. The introduction gives no hint of what is to come, the tape hiss stealing some of the intricacy from the performance, leaving only the bold strokes for us to hear. However, it settles down after this with the music elevated above mere trivialities. The vocals don’t fare so well, but as we approach the chorus the sound lifts as the sun bursts through the clouds of the recording. It is Dr Fink who first breaks this initial spell with his glistening and chiming solo. It does play to the divinity sound the rest of the band are weaving, with Eric Leeds following in a similar suit there is the feel that the band are indeed taking it higher. Prince’s guitar solo is different from the small club gig, in this case it is far more nuanced in the opening minutes, and Prince draws a slow build from his instrument, not so much playing rushing to hurricane force finish, but rather playing with the eddies and wind gusts before he finally blows us away with the gale force crescendo that follows. There is much more to come though, and as he spots Mica Paris in the audience he casually hands her the microphone for an impromptu performance that musically is just as rewarding as all that has come before. She grounds the song with strong roots, while Prince creates something otherworldly onstage Mica brings a humanity to the song that we can all relate to. This performance alone has me salivating at the prospect of a full proshot ever appearing.

I find the appearance of “Colonial Bogey March” and “Under The Cherry Moon” to be nothing more but a diversion, although “Under The Cherry Moon” offers a fresh take on a familiar song with the keyboard squelching and heaving in a psychedelic way that would sit happily at home in any late 1960’s commune.

“Six” brings further interest, as Eric Leeds brings his horns and Jazz sensibilities to what would otherwise be a pop rock concert. The opening horn refrain signals what will follow, and the song throws down a challenge from here on in as Eric wiggles and squiggles across the beat for the next few minutes in a manner that suggests the wider palette that Prince was drawing from at the time. Its a far from the furious guitar rock we heard earlier in the show, and even when Prince’s guitar is heard it remains subservient to the mood of the piece, remaining busy without ever coming into full focus.

 

This audience recording finishes with some funk in the form of “Dead On It” and “Housequake.” “Dead On It” is notable only for inclusion, musically it doesn’t muscle up  to the other songs performed in the evening. “Housquake” is more rewarding, there is some punch to Prince’s performance, and the beat alone is  reason enough to always dedicate time to this song. Unfortunately this is where we leave the concert as the recording finishes midsong, leaving us to only guess what the following “Miss You” (with Ronnie Wood) “I’ll Take There,” “Chain OF Fools” (both with Mavis Staples) and “Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic” offer in the way of musical treasures. Part of the “Miss You” performance with Ronnie Wood can be seen on the circulating footage, with Prince giving a fine impersonation of Mick Jagger, and the Sabotage release of this show has tacked the 20 second snippet onto the end of the recording, a waste in that it doesn’t offer much listening value, although I have to admit the video footage out there looks fantastic.

This is almost one of the greats. A 1988 era aftershow, a bevy of guest appearances, and some of Prince’s finest music all makes for a memorable performance. On the downside, the recording is just on the rough side of good, and incomplete. In itself this would be no bad thing, but having seen parts of the video, we know that this show has so much more, and the thought that it exists on video out there makes for a frustrating listen, always there is the voice in the back of my head saying “this could be so much better” Until we do get a better recording of the show, we will just have to make do with what we’ve got. It’s not perfect, but it is definitely a show that every needs to hear at least once.

Thanks for joining me again
-Hamish

The Palace 1988

When it comes to bootlegs of aftershows in 1988, the Trojan Horse stands above all others. It is the most beloved and well known of the aftershows, but there are several others from the same year that deserve attention. The Warfield aftershow from November is highly regarded, as is Große Freiheit ’36 (especially by me). There is also the aftershow from the Camden Palace in London (sadly incomplete) and then the bootleg I will be listening to today, the early morning performance from The Palace, Hollywood. Superficially all these concerts appear to be similar, but I find that when I listen to them each has it’s own character and feel, and so it is with The Palace. It appears to be a standard aftershow set of the time, but it is played with a heavy dose of swing that is missing in the other shows. There is an element of fun, and the intensity that smothers the other concerts is instead replaced with a bright and breezy performance. The audience recording isn’t too bad, considering the era in which it was recorded, and even if the sound is thin in places, the performance can always be heard without distortion. It can probably be best compared to the Warfield show, recorded just four days later, the setlists are almost identical, and although two different recordings of that later show are in circulation, I prefer the sound of this concert.

 7th November 1988 (a.m.), The Palace, Hollywood.

It is the keyboards that roll out the red carpet and lead us into the show. The slow build into “Positivity” gives the song the solemnly that the lyric content demands, and as the rest of the band join there is the feel that something special is in the air. Without becoming too intense, the song lets the individual players feel their way into the music, along with the audience, and the song envelops the recording in it’s timeless mist.

A brightness enters the recording as Prince plays a sharp version of “Eye Know.” It is at this point that the recording briefly flickers, but the band and Prince remain upfront and loud, and there is an extra energy as the song and concert blooms into something a whole lot more colorful and celebratory. Despite the wobble in the recording, it is apparent that Prince is giving another star performance, and he burns with supernova power even this early into the show. The song isn’t as as complex as it is heard on record, but the band add a baroque sound that melds well on top of Princes bare funk that can be heard churning away beneath the song.

“Wade In The Water” gives the recording an extra depth, as Prince pulls us back to his roots, while delivering some feathery guitar that sounds as if it has been handed down from God himself. Prince stays on this route, “God Is Alive” bringing spirituality and funk together in a mix that is Prince at his very best, bringing these two desperate strands together to create something unique that bestrides both sides of this religious gulf. There is the feeling of God in the air, while the bottom of end of the music suggests all sorts of other sins, this unresolved tension creating a music that never gets tiresome or stale.

The piano introduction to “The Ballard Of Dorothy Parker” shines in the darkness in this recording, and the rest of the song is equally well served by the quality if the tape.  The nuance of the song is captured well, and as it segues into “Four” the piano and horns can both be heard, without either taking precedence over the other, making for another colourful and three dimensional moment caught on tape.

Boni Boyer does not disappoint as she comes forward for “Down Home Blues.” I prefer her performance here over what is heard at the Small Club gig (incidentally, the first live performance they did of the song) , she is more subtle here and rather than belting it out she instead gives it to us piece by piece, making for easy digesting before Prince makes his first major guitar move of the show with some surgical playing that neatly dissects the song. Boni Boyer returns for a final “Rock Me, Baby,” but it is Prince who burns the house down with one last fiery burst from his guitar.

It takes some time for the band to build into “Cold Sweat,” but even these opening minutes are funk fueled and one can almost hear the sweat dripping through the tape and the recording. Boni Boyer and Eric Leeds dominate the overall sound, and although the song is grounded it its forceful rhythm, it is these two can be heard adding the most to the overall feel of it. For all that though, it is a Sheila E. solo that brings the song to a close with a simple and effective break, only to be out done by the moment where Prince briefly sings the “Bad” bassline. Well worth checking out!

Some interlacing guitar work introduces “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me),” draping a soft lace of rhythm guitar across the sparse opening. At first Prince is swallowed up by the song, but he does emerge from this aching sound with a emphatic plea from the heart as the song builds to it’s emotional core.  It is the first pillars of the guitar solo that are the gateway into the heart of the song, and as the guitar cries in the darkness the song slips away, only to be replaced by raw emotion and the purity of music itself. It’s hard to know where to place this solo on the Pantheon of Prince guitar solos, but as it claws it’s way across the raw bloodied heart at the centre of the music, it speaks not to the ear, but to the very soul, making for one of Prince’s most powerful performances.

It is a frantic “Supercalifragisexy” that banishes any such sentimentality from the show, and Prince gives a furious and mesmerizing performance. With guitar in hand he ladles on great dollops of funk, all at a breakneck speed that never lets up through the ten minutes the song twists and turns in various shades of funk. It is Eric Leeds who is the foil to Prince’s kinetic sound, he matches him blow for blow through the song, both matching Prince and pushing him further. It is only in Prince’s final hurricane of a solo that he bests Eric, and after such a blitzkrieg it is hard to envisage what might come next.

What comes next is  “I Wish U Heaven (part 3).” With a heavy beat, the drums overwhelm the previous all conquering guitar, a heavy march compared to the guitar’s earlier wild night flight. The song smolders with the appearance of the horns, and as Prince hits his lines the song heats up, but it never quite bursts into flame as it promises. The rhythm though is undeniable, and it never once lets up in its drive and momentum as it powers towards the end of the show. The music glowers and growls, there is no bite, only the threat of imminent danger and darkness. It is a decisive finish to the concert, and the band unfurl their strident brand of funk in these final minutes, making a lasting impression that lingers on long after the concert has finished.

It has been quite sometime since I listened to this entire show, and I have to wonder why it doesn’t get more play at my place. An excellent show with Prince and the band at the height of their powers, there is a lot to love about this bootleg.  There is very little rock or pop to be heard here, it is all about the funk, and Prince gives us plenty of his own unique style of funk as each song is brushed by his sound and sonic flavor. This bootleg is easy to overlook next to the highly esteemed Small Club, but it holds it’s own in comparison, and should not be discounted. As a record of Prince’s funk style at the time this recording is outstanding, and is not to be missed.

Thanks again
-Hamish

Troubadour, California 2011- Show 2

I feel cheated. It seemed like a good idea last week to write about both the shows at the Troubadour, but there was one fatal flaw in my plan – the bootleg of the second concert is incomplete, and by a substantial amount. To be honest the recording that exists of the show is merely a taster as it takes in a scant twenty minutes of what was a two and a half hour performance. I was disappointed when I realized my error, but I have decided to plough on regardless. The tape we do have is short, and only an audience recording, yet I feel it is still worth giving some time and consideration to, if nothing more to give me closure after listening to the first concert. The first concert set a high standard, and this later show promises to be even better. The setlist from this later show appears heavier, and with a much more aftershow feeling about it. Both aspects appeal to me, and I am sure this recording gives a good indication of what the concert was about.

12th May, 2011 (am) Toubadour, Hollywood, California

The party is well and truly underway as the recording comes in near the end of “Musicology.” The tape only catches “Musicology” in its final throes, nevertheless we can hear and feel the swing in the music, and the audience’s reaction is more than enough to suggest that this has been quite a show already. “Musicology” appears about half way in the setlist, so the audience have had plenty of time to marinade in the music, and their own juices, something readily apparent in the noise at the end of “Musicology”

The four minutes of “Musicolgy” is mostly crowd noise after the song finished, and it is “Crimson And Clover” that ushers us properly into the concert. It has a natural elegance, and an easy, delicate beauty that is beguiling, even when Prince isn’t to the forefront of the performance. Andy Allo is star that the song orbits around and she has an understated radiance that spreads a warm glow across the recording, the performance, and life itself as she charms all with her honey dipped vocals. The audience recording seems to fit the moment, with an out of focus softness that brushes all edges off the music. The rest of the band may be playing the music, but Prince is the song itself as he enters, and he appears as a thunder bolt for his crushing moment as the music rears it’s head briefly into “Wild Thing.” He personifies the song as he plays with a startlingly controlled fury, an exhilarating rock moment as the guitar embodies the true meaning of wild thing, will remaining tethered to the ideals of “Crimson And Clover.” This song makes up the bulk of the recording, and is reason enough to give it a listen.

The mix of “She’s Always In My Hair” is busy, and the drive and energy of the original is dissipated by the extra sounds that muffle the recording. There is a brief respite as Prince’s axe cuts through the baroque sound, it cleaves the song in two but isn’t quite as cleansing as I hope – the final minutes see’s it swamped by the bass and keyboards that the recording seems to crave. The final minute of the song features Prince’s guitar thrumming through the gears, but we never reach overdrive, the song finishing before Prince can fire us into the home straight.

The final two minutes of the recording capture the first half of “Play That Funky Music.” Surprisingly I find myself deeply attracted to it, perhaps because I am denied the complete show and this absence leaves me with a hunger for more.  It is an loud and unruly performance with the crowd contributing their own energy and buoyancy to the song and the show. There isn’t much to it, but it is eminently enjoyable, and that’s something I don’t say very often about “Play That Funky Music”

And that’s all there is. A twenty two minute recording of what was a much longer show, and one that sounds as if it was going off. I would have loved to hear more, but alas this is all we get. Being short, it is easy to recommend this one, it takes no time to listen to, and even if people don’t like audience recordings it is only twenty minutes so there is no real time lost to give it a try. 2011 is an odd year for me personally, and an odd year in Prince’s live performances. Shows like this give a little light, and I only wish there were more like this one for us to enjoy. No doubt a great concert to be at, the recording too is a nice listen.

Finally, I would like to note the passing of Synnove Soe this week. Synnove was a good friend, and a strong supporter of this blog. You can see her comments on many of the posts here, and she would often message me directly on Sunday night to offer her verdict on the concert I had listened to, and my writing. She was, as my father would say, a straight shooter, and I always knew where I stood with her – she had opinions, and she wasn’t afraid to share them!  I shall miss her terribly, she was a strong figure and a great mentor. She was also a kind and gentle friend. Rest In Peace Synnove.

 

 

Troubadour, California 2011- Show 1

On the afternoon of May 11th 2011, it was suddenly announced that Prince would be doing two impromptu shows that very day at the Troubadour, Hollywood. Of course this is completely in character for Prince, the attraction of playing shows at short notice has appealed to him since the early 80’s. Not only was the show announced a short notice, but there was to be two of them, one starting in the early evening, and the other just after midnight. With Prince’s residency at the Forum in full swing, this is quite a feast of music for local music lovers to enjoy, and the subsequent bootlegs are equally enjoyable for the wider fan community. The bootlegs of these particular shows may not be the best sounding you have ever heard, but the concerts themselves are fantastic, and both concerts are well worth the listen. The first show of the evening is notable for the last live performance of “Power Fantastic,” something that every hardcore fan would love to hear. The rest of the setlist is a combination of after-show standards,and marquee concert mainstays, all contributing to a heady mix of all that is good and great about Prince and his band.

11th May, 2011. Toubadour,Hollywood, California

The recording drops us right into the midst of the action, a swirling and ominous groove that parts to to reveal some light in the form of a “One Nation Under A Groove”chorus. Without settling on any one direction it keeps the listener guessing, while providing a showcase for this band comprised of John Blackwell, Ida Nielson, Morris Hayes, and Renato Neto. With Mike Phillips putting in an appearance, this is a band with the chops to move swiftly across the music Prince wishes to cover, and they tackle “Stratus” with plenty of finesse, along with a big chunk of pure music muscle, making Prince’s guitar contribution shine all the more brighter and potent as it lasers its way through the dense murk of a groove the band creates. Time is irrelevant as the band crush any other thought apart from music itself, and Renato Netos solo piece is otherworldly as it transports us from the confines of the room.

I don’t normally post pictures of bootlegs covers, but this one seems to capture the spirit of the evening

There is hiding the fact that this is an audience recording. It doesn’t have the crackle and fades that sometimes plague such recordings, but it does have plenty of audience noise and this does at times detract from the music. “Power Fantastic” is undoubtedly the highlight of the recording, but there is a lot of audience noise that comes with it. The song allows a chance for the band to breath, and the song plays as steady as a dreamers breath. Mike Phillips adds to this slumber like quality, and at just three minutes long I find I have to hit repeat a couple of times to fully appreciate the moment.

Coming from a similar place is “Somewhere Here On Earth,” its lighter touch filling the recording with further dreamscape sounds. The song can’t match “Power Fantastic” for nostalgic weight though, and as good as it sounds, especially Mike Phillips again, it can’t compare to the previous few minutes. I wallow in the joy of Mike Phillips playing, and I would recommend this far more highly if not coming straight after “Power Fantastic”

The cascading guitar at the beginning of “Boom” is inviting, before giving way to a heavier riff that is the signature of the song. From here the band surprise me with an instrumental jazz jam appearing, and again the best moments don’t belong to Prince, but rather to the superb players he has surrounded himself with. The performance is better than we hear on the recording, the audience is silenced from the outset, hinting that perhaps they are watching opened mouth at this moment. I cannot understate how good Mike Phillips is during this song, and for me that has been one of the most revealing aspects of the recording – previously under recognized performers coming to the fore and demonstrating just why Prince bought them into the fold. The final frenzied combination of Renato Neto and Mike Phillips is an absolute treat, and eclipses all that has come before.

The band are onto something good, and they continue to mine this rich vein with a ten minute jazz instrumental. It is not as intensive as the previous jam, and there are portions where it threatens to meander. Overall though, it is another hit out for the band, with Renato Neto taking the lead in several fast piano passages that piques my interest. It’s an undemanding listen that contributes to the overall feel of the recording, without becoming essential in itself,.

“Let’s Get It On.” Figuratively and literally. What an inspired cover version this turns out to be, and with Andy Allo on hand to lend some vocals this becomes another surprising  moment to be cherished. Andy doesn’t have the depth to her voice that Marvin Gaye does (does anyone?) but she brings her own touch to the song and without ever threatening the original it becomes it’s own quiet storm. The appearance of a vocoder and lines lifted from elsewhere brings an unique aspect to an otherwise familiar song, as the band definitely stretch it to their own means for the next few minutes.

There is an unexpected “Colonized Mind,” featuring very little of the guitar that we have come to associate with the song. Instead that guitar grunt and sinew has been replaced by a thoughtful delicacy provided by Renato Neto and Mike Phillips. They take the song and spin it the other way, molding it to fit the jazz sound of the previous few songs. It brings new life to the song, and it burns just as bright in this setting as it does in the fury of more guitar orientated sets.

“When She Comes” appeared on the 2015 album Hit N Run Phase 2, here we have a much earlier version that is far more of it’s time. It’s sound comes from the same fertile soil as “Somewhere Here On Earth,” and it is a nice fit into the setlist. However, it fails to generate any sort of emotional response from me, and as nice as it sounds I just can’t connect to the music I am hearing. It does become a long jazz jam though, and this I find far more rewarding as again Mike Phillips comes to the fore with an array of new sounds and fresh ideas.

Normally it is the punch at the start of “Shhh” that grabs me, in this case that punch is neutered by the quality (or lack of) of the recording. It still delivers though, but like everything else in the evening it is through the jazz lens that this band filters Prince’s songs through. It is Mike Phillips with the first contribution that signals what direction the song is going, rather than Prince’s vocals its is his horn the opens the door on the song. Prince’s vocals aren’t as in your face on this recording, it is the rest of the band that pick up the slack, along with some fantastic singing from the audience as Prince leads them into a soft rendition of “U Will Be” over the music of “Shhh” In many ways it works better, and I am more attracted to the song without the sometimes hokey “Shhh” lyrics. It is far more mature sounding, and the lyrics match the direction the music is flowing. It takes a moment to adjust to the alluring sound, but the song draws me in over its ten minutes, and I find that this is the standout song on the recording. Ignore the quality of the recording, this is a performance that needs to be heard. The final guitar solo from Prince confirms this as he makes an emphatic statement in the final minutes with a whirlwind performance that sweeps all aside without ever becoming hurricane force.

There is a good old fashioned stomp towards the finish with the incisive guitar riff of “Controversy” appearing, along with John Blackwell’s trademark pound. After a funk intro, everything is seemingly turned up to ten at once with Princes howling guitar leading the way. This is a misleading step and once again it is Mike Phillips who blasts his way through the bulk of the song, adding plenty of spice to its bare funk sound. The highlight for me though is the crowd chanting their way through the “people call me rude” chant for sometime.This version has a unique feel and it reinvigorates my love for a familiar classic.

“Musicology” shuffles into view, the intensity derived from the twin attack of Mike Phillips and Princes vocals. They both carry the impetus that propels the music forward. On record, “Musicology” isn’t always the most appealing song to me, but I can’t deny that in the live situation it is a great song to get pulses rising and the crowd moving. The most interesting part of this performance is the final half of the song as it breaks down and the band noodle around various aspects of the riffs. No ground breaking material to found here, but it is a pleasant enough diversion.

The recording doesn’t capture every song of the night, but it does finish on an all time high with a divine version of “A Case Of U.” There are of course more famous versions in circulation, but I am delighted to hear it here at this concert. The bootleg isn’t perfect, but the performance sounds pretty close, Prince’s vocals and piano weaving a magical spell before Mike Phillips appears on the shoulder of the song, adding the sweetest of touches with his saxophone. All in all it is an endearing performance, and one that we would all be talking about if only it was a soundboard recording.

Sadly, the bootleg finishes here, missing the final two songs (“Pop Life” and “Beggin Woman Blues”). There is no need to be too disappointed, there have been plenty of treasures sprinkled throughout the show. Obviously, the final “A Case Of U” is breathtaking, as is “Shhh” and “Power Fantastic.”  It seems each week that I write that despite the quality of the recording, whatever show I am listening to is worth hearing. I can’t help it, I am a fan of bootlegs, and it matters little to me whether a recording is soundboard or audience recording. It is certainly the case with this recording, the setlist and performance far outshines the recording, and for a hardcore fan such as myself it demands listening. Casual fans may skip this at their peril, for the rest of us there is plenty here to enjoy and reflect upon.

Join me next week for the second performance from this evening, one that is equally good.

Take care
-Hamish

First Show Of 2007

Last week I wrote of the New Years Eve show from 2006/2007, played during Prince’s Las Vegas residency. The second part of that story is the concert Prince played in the early morning of January 1st , a jazz inspired show that features very little of Prince singing, instead being a showcase for Mike Phillips and the rest of the band. Prince purists may not find anything too exciting to it, but Prince loved being part of the band, and even though it is often difficult for me to pinpoint Prince”s contribution I still enjoy the wild ride as the band stretches across a range of styles, especially as the band dig deeper into jazz. Mike Phillips leads the way, and the other performer that really catches my ear is Renato Neto. His performance may not be powerhouse, but there is plenty of finesse to be heard, and his hands dancing across the keyboard has me spellbound at times.

The first half of the show is similar in style to the show from the previous morning, a jazz fragranced romp that serves as an easy introduction for those that don’t normally listen to jazz. The stench of funk arrives in the second half of the concert as the band shows off their flexibility and they are just as adept at funk as they are at jazz. It is a show of long jams, a couple of songs in the first portion perhaps running a few minutes longer than is necessary, but there is no complaints at all as the standard of music is high, and the funk songs later on come thick and fast, keeping the listener guessing what might come next in an anything goes medley.

1st January 2007 (am)  3121 Jazz Cuisine @ Rio Hotel & Casino

“A Night In Tunisia” is well-known, and anyone even vaguely familiar with the original will find nothing new in this rendition. It is Renato Neto who throws down the gauntlet with his early solo, and Mike Phillips rises to the occasion with a dizzingly fast solo that excites while paying homage to the original. Prince is only heard late in the song, his guitar arching slowly across the soundscape, but as with all music my first question is “Is it good?” to which my response would be “yes,” so I am more than satisfied with this first song as an indication of what will follow.

The fifteen minutes opener was merely an appetizer, and the main dish comes with a twenty minute rendition of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” featuring the talents of Greg Boyer. It is the recording itself that shines just as bright as the band on stage, and as I listen I find myself thinking about how good it sounds just as much about the music I am actually hearing. An audience recording, the band sound sharp throughout, clear and bright and no distortion at all. I often get a sinking feeling in my stomach when I see the words audience recording, but in this case it is one of the better ones I have heard. Complimenting the music perfectly, the recording elevates the concert to another level. My only caution is that there is excessive cowbell late in the song, but it is tempered by a furious guitar break by Prince that leaves an impression long after the cowbell has faded.

I am very happy to hear Shelby J say”We going to let it it marinade” at the beginning of “Crazy” , and that is exactly what they do, letting it cook in it own juices for the first minute on the back of Prince’s rhythmic guitar work. The previous half hour of jazz is forgotten as the vocoder arrives, along with a timely chorus of “One Nation Under A Groove” The sonic landscape is transformed as Prince’s guitar rises from an earthy tone into a metallic tower of steel and power. He remains within the confines of the band and the song through, and it is Shelby J who leads us through this uplifting and inspiring performance.

This pop music is put back in the box quickly after as we return to the jazz with a long rendition of “Footprints.” I enjoy it immensely, unfortunately some of the audience near the taper don’t share my love of the music, and there is quite a bit of audience chat to be heard in the first minutes of the song. As the band rise in intensity some of this background noise is drowned out, and the recording definitely sounds better the deeper we get into it. This isn’t the first song you would choose to hear on a bootleg, but it a great representation of this band, and Prince’s genre hopping abilities. The funk that will follow is what we have all come to expect, and it’s somewhat of a shame that more jazz standard covers such as this don’t appear more frequently in Prince’s setlists as it gives the band a chance to demonstrate their grasp of another genre.

The pop returns with Shelby and a sweet performance of “Sweet Thing.” Its effortlessly cool, and before I know it I am singing along with Shelby. I am no match for her vocal power though, and she gives us a perfectly pitched performance here, building from the glittering verses to a luminescent chorus that will brighten the rest of my day. The concert hasn’t reached its peak yet, but with Prince’s final guitar break we are lifted several notches closer.

We stay with the cover versions for a short but fierce version of Bill Wither’s “Who Is He (And What Is He To You?).” With it’s pulsating bass there is a tension in the air and the feeling that the band is just about to cut loose, a sense that at any moment the concert will erupt into something a whole lot funkier.

That something a whole lot funkier is “More Bounce To The Ounce” incorporating a range of funk tunes and chants. It doesn’t come all at once though, instead building from the foundation of the previous song and steadily rising into an a storm cloud of a groove. It does cover a lot of ground, Maceo fundamental to all that is going on, and although I have fun picking out the songs that are in the mix I am constantly mindful of Maceo’s contribution and endorsement of this band. I sometimes weary of these funk medleys, but in this case they are so smoothly integrated that it comes as a steady smorgasbord of funk, all of which I greedy eat up. It’s all rounded off by a cocktail of vocoder and Prince guitar licks, all of which leave me lightheaded not quite sure if I want more or just a glass of water.

 

The final song of the show is another funk jam, this time centered around “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” A regular in Prince’s setlists, in this case it is made all the more interesting by the appearance of the vocal group   MO5AIC. They add a different element to the song, and their addition of Janet Jackson “Rythmn Nation” to the chorus adds a sense of fun, as well as neatly tying the song back to some of Prince’s former colleagues. It brings several elements of the night together, the horns switching from jazz to funk and adding firepower to back up Shelby’s vocals that as always stand proud, front and centre. It is very much about the band, and no one performance stands out, in this case it is the band that is the star.

Without being outstanding, this is a nice little bootleg that I can see myself listening to plenty more in future. Its not supercharged Prince, instead its an understated performance of comfortably tunes that would sit easily on any playlist, and it contains something for all seasons. It may be a little too light on Prince for many peoples tastes, but as part of the wider eye records release (6 CDs), it gives us a breather and a chance to sit back and just appreciate the music. My recommendation would be to take a listen on Sunday afternoon, glass of wine in hand.

Until next week,
take care – Hamish

 

 

Las Vegas 31st December 2006

All apologies about missing last week. I had intended to post about a Christmas show but unfortunately I was swept away by Christmas and my summer holiday. Christmas was chaos, but thankfully I have had a few days in the countryside since then with no internet, cell phone, or laptop, and I feel fully restored as I sit here today. I am a week late, so the Christmas concert I was going to write about has become a New Years Eve concert. Prince played several New Years Eve concerts, the most famous being his Paisley Park show of 1987 with an appearance by Miles Davies. Sadly, none of his other New Years Eve concerts live up to the high standard set by that one, and I did struggle to find one that I felt motivated to write about. I have gone with the New Years Eve show in Las Vegas in 2006, from the Eye records 6CD set. It is no by no means an outstanding show, but it does cover some quality material and is a decent enough show. Prince also plays an aftershow in the early morning of January the 1st 2007, a recording I shall cover that in next weeks blog.

The New Years Eve show is unsurprising and contains a fairly typical setlist of the time. Although Prince was mixing up his setlists constantly, we do see the same songs appearing in different combinations, and there is nothing desperately unusual to be heard here. The recording itself is clean, and that is always a big bonus, making even the most mundane of shows a pleasant listen.

31st December, 2006. 3121 @ Rio Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas

Any reservations I may have had about the setlist or recording are swept away by the opening onslaught of “3121.” The bass is well rounded, and Prince gives a forceful performance that is matched by the quality of the recording. I may be too invested in the moment, and for a second I think that this would be one to play to those who remain unconverted to Prince. The flurry of horns that appear out of the mix add to my sense of thrill and excitement, and even though the song runs its full length I still feel disappointed that it ends. Even Prince’s typically dubious opening comment of “There’s no such thing as time – we count down nothing, except the funk” fails to dampen my enthusiasm.

The recording doesn’t let up on this opening funk assault, and “3121” is matched by an equally thrilling “Girls And Boys.” It is the horns that bring the drama to the song, every time they are heard it is with something new and unexpected, while maintaining the funk and momentum.

And then comes the dip. There is no denying that “Satisfied” is a fine song, but I do question it’s position in the setlist here. The initial blast of funk and energy dissipates in an instant as “Satisfied” begins, and the show feels like someone has suddenly jammed the brakes on, sending the concert into a slow-motion slide into a ditch. Maceo does charm me with his contribution, but I am still left wondering if one more uptempo jam would have been better before this languid stroll through a ballad.

“Down By The Riverside” is busy but it’s not Prince, and as such it leaves me just as unsatisfied as “Satisfied.” I wanted an uptempo song, and this certainly is, but it feels out of place and is bereft of the funk that I so desperately crave.

There is very little funk in “Purple Rain,” but at least it is Prince, and the crowd sound happy to have their man back on the mic. The recording is very good indeed at this stage, and “Purple Rain”  has the full majestic sound that we have come to expect. There are no twists, turns, or surprises to be heard, but once again Prince gives an impassioned rendition of his signature song. I usually find a hidden gem in the tail of the guitar solo, but in this case it comes straight as heard on record, there is nothing to complain about there as Prince plays it powerfully and with purpose.

I have mixed feelings about “Lolita.” Sometimes it’s just on the wrong side of pop for me, the sweetness of the song leaving me cold. However, the balance of this recording is much better, and the stabs of the keyboard give the song much more impetus and drive. Prince’s final coda is far more aggressive and strong than on record, and overall I find this a rewarding moment on the recording.

The final minutes of “Lolita” lay the heavier foundation for “Black Sweat.” With it’s heavier groove and darker keyboards lines it would have been a good match for the opening “3121,” and coming after “Lolita” it brings some shade and contrast to the concert. Prince draws it out nicely, letting the music build naturally into yet another very good performance on this recording.

It is “Kiss” that follows, and it feels light against the darker “Black Sweat.” It does get a bonus point for it’s familiarity, but its not the best song on the recording, and even as I sing along I find I am not as fully engaged as I was with some of the earlier songs.

“Shhh” has me fully engaged. Its not a perfect recording or performance, but that matters little as the music envelops me and for the next five minutes I am transported into Prince’s world. It’s a strange,beautiful, violent sea that Prince paints with his guitar, every note carrying a mood and tone that builds the song into a storm of a finish. It’s sickeningly good, and as it finishes I feel I should turn off the recording and sit in contemplation the next few minutes and reflect on what I have just experienced.

I don’t, and the next song that follows quickly on is “Musicology.” It brings the concert back into the here and now, the music a statement of what Prince wanted to achieve at that time.  The waves of horns is contemporary, but the Prince comment of “not bad for a girl” is a throw back to an earlier time. The song is relativity short and gives way to a fun rendition of “Prince And The Band” It is Maceo who elevates the song above a mere run through, and his final solo is a genuine music moment that makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

With Maceo to the forefront there is very little surprise to “Pass The Peas.” As much as I like it, again I find it detracts from the Prince concert, and coupled with the previous two songs, there is the general sense that the show is meandering without delivering us Prince at the eye of the storm. It is Renato Neto who provides the most electrifying moment, his keyboard solo a lightening rod for all the preceding funk and energy.

Renato Neto is also my unlikely hero for “Joy In Repetition.” His opening gives new colour to the familiar opening strains, and the song has an extra depth from the start. Prince and the rest of the band live up to expectation, but it is this opening minute that sets the scene for all that will follow, and Renato Neto deserves all the credit he gets for his contribution. Even the Twins vocals can’t break the spell that is cast, and the magic is woven to the last, with Prince’s final guitar solo both beguiling and blustery.

There is another enchanting moment with a tender rendition of “Gotta Broken Heart Again.” The keyboards are fragile, and Prince almost broken as he sings. It’s an unique performance, but it doesn’t live up to it’s potential, if not for it’s rarity value I wouldn’t rate it at all. The audience chatter certainly doesn’t improve on my opinion, and overall I am left feeling deflated by it’s appearance.

I am much more onboard for “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” It is loud and proud, the nuance of the Sign O The Times version sacrificed in the name of funk and a live performance that is strident and bold. The recording is unbalanced, but that doesn’t alter my enjoyment of the song, and as uneven as it is I would still recommend it to most fans.

“Cream” keeps with this bold outlook, and it too is much stronger than what is heard on record. It comes at a quick pace, some of it’s sheen of coolness gone in a windswept performance. Prince’s guitar solo emphasizes this point with its brief fury, a flash that is quickly reined in by Prince before it blow torches the rest of the song into the past. “Cream” is often too creamy for me, but I warm to this bold new vision and as it finishes I make a note to return to it at a later date.

There is a natural fit with “U Got The Look.” This time Prince does let his guitar off the leash, and we are rewarded as the sparks begin to fly later in the song. It doesn’t offer up any surprises, but it is a cocky performance that carries the energy of the show.

It is Shelby J who tackles Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You).” She is no Aretha Franklin, or even Rosie Gaines, but she is undoubtedly a powerful singer, and she has never sounded better than she does here. Her performance is breathtaking, Prince’s powerful guitar break still managing to sound limp next to the awesome power of Shelby’s vocals. Normally my interest wanes when Prince isn’t on the microphone, in this case I am enthralled by Sheby J and I am more than happy as we stay with her for the next song.

“Love Changes” features more Prince on guitar duties, but it is again Shelby J that I enjoy the most. She dominates the soundscape with her scorching vocals sweeping back and forth across the song with heat and intensity that is unparalleled elsewhere on the recording. It is rare for me to say this, but these two songs with Shelby’s vocals, and Princes guitar work, are easily the highlight of the concert for me, there is nothing else on the recording that comes close to this raw untamed power that creates a firestorm of passion and emotion.

The last five minutes of the concert see’s Prince playing a quickfire medley of funk tunes. He elects not to sing “Play That Funky Music” instead providing the funky guitar lines that morph easily enough into a truncated “Love Rollercoaster” Nothing is giving long enough to marinate, “What Have You Done For Me lately” is equally brief before the concert ends with “Partyman” There isn’t much to these final songs, it is only Prince’s funky guitar that is worth hearing, and the real climax of the show was the previous Shelby J songs. However, it’s not a disappointing end, Prince is going out with a funky blast and the crowd is no doubt dancing their feet off. “It’s Alright” ends this medley, it’s lyrics neatly summing up exactly what these last five minutes have been about.

I was enthusiast in my praise for several of the songs on this recording, however I can’t deny it is just a standard performance of a fairly mundane setlist. It can’t be considered a classic, but there are enough moments there to make it a worth a listen. There are better recordings of better Las Vegas shows circulating, and this is a younger sibling to those stronger recordings. However, it should not be forgotten, and I thoroughly recommend listening to Shelby J’s performance at this concert, she certainly delivered the most memorable moment. Next week I will take a listen to hopefully one of those better Las Vegas concerts, the early morning show from January 1st, recorded just hours after this concert. I don’t remember much about the recording, so it will be with fresh ears that I take a listen.

Until then, happy New Year,
look after each other
-Hamish

Austria 2014

It feels like a long time since I started listening to the concerts that Prince payed in Austria. After a diversion through the latest EYE releases, today I finally come back to the final Austria concert featuring 3rdeyegirl.

I have had a lot of interesting feedback from fans who were at last weeks 2010 concert in Vienna, a rash of fans declaring vehemently that it was the best concert they ever went to. And not just casual type fans either, some of these people have seen 50+ concerts, making me wonder if Prince really did play the best concerts in Austria. The concert from 2010 sounded good, but not great as those attending tell me, which serves as a reminder that these bootlegs only give us half the story, and there is no replacing the experience of actually being at the concert.

Today’s show from Vienna is the last concert of the European leg of the 2014 Hit n Run tour. I have previous written about a lot of these 3rdeyegirl concerts before, at the time there was quite a buzz about Prince playing in this smaller format, although looking back three years later some of this lustre has worn off. The concept was initially thrilling, but not strong enough to carry a whole tour. 3rdeyegirl were great for the rock side of Prince’s Gemini personality, but of course Prince wanted to push a range of genres across his concerts. The outcome of this was naturally enough an elongated sampler set, addition musicians brought into the fold, a longer piano set, and new arrangements of some songs to fit in with 3rdeyegirl’s style. None of these are a negative, but it does make for an uneven and bumpy ride through the gig. To my ears there is an odd inconsistency and the concerts never quite settle into a groove – Prince is always changing things up as the concert evolves. Still, it does keep people like me guessing and interested in these shows, something that can’t be dismissed.

7th June 2014, Vienna, Austria 

There is no explosive opening to the concert and bootleg. Skipping Hannah’s spoken introduction and a couple of songs over the P.A. the first song performed is a limp “Let’s Go Crazy.” While I admire the intent in the rearrangement of the song, with its low and slow riff, it does take away all the is good and great. The strength in the original “Let’s Go Crazy” is it’s combination of rock and pure pop, giving it an uplifting joy and energy. This arrangement strips out all the pop, and most of the joy, leaving it as a soulless plod. Prince does this with other songs too, usually to fit in with what ever mood he is creating at a concert (“1999” and “Kiss” are two that immediately spring to mind), but in the new arrangement of these songs who loses what it is that makes them what they are, the alchemy is undone and these once golden pop moments become leaden and dull. “Let’s Go Crazy” isn’t bad, but it’s certainly a far cry from what it once was, and I could happily skip over this arrangement.

The appearance of “Take Me With U” lights up the concert, even if the sound on the bootleg is rather one dimensional.  The recording has very little depth to it, and even though I can hear the music fine, it doesn’t jump off the page. Along with it’s sister “Raspberry Beret,” this is where Prince’s pop side comes to the fore, something people may not expect when they first see 3rdeyegirl take the stage. With Cassandra and Josh adding their keyboard talents to the core of 3rdeyegirl, the band is well rounded and better equipped to tackle some of these gems from the back-catalog.

“U Got The Look” is paper thin and a real disappointment. It is the weak man of this concert, and describing it as thin and sickly would be an understatement. Prince’s guitar break normally reinvigorates even the most ill of patients, in this case it is the death rattle that puts both the song and me out of our misery.

As a contrast, “Cool” is the best performance so far heard on the recording. The recording is clear, but still not strong, and it does just enough to catch Prince and the band finally giving us a song I can connect to. It is the keyboards that are the pulse that keeps this song moving, and for several minutes the rest of the concert disappears under this wave of keyboard swells and Prince’s cool.

I have previously been dismissive of the sampler set, but I must admit it has grown on me over the years. It is a nostalgic romp through some of Prince’s beloved 80’s material, a treat for those that have been with him through his musical journey. “Dove’s Cry” is the gold standard when it comes to his 1980’s output, and he matches it in this case with yet another funky version of “Sign O The Times” I can tell you both are great., and that’s not 1980’s me speaking, that is me in the here and now 2017 asserting that they sound just as good here as they did thirty years (how it hurts to to realize that) ago.

“Hot Thing” is notable for the eclectic keyboard solo that Cassandra delivers, it’s quirkiness elevating the song and bringing something fresh to the table. The song doesn’t reach any great heights asides from this, but I do recommend giving her solo a second listen.

I did yawn through the opening minutes of “Alphabet St,” but like the previous song one of the band members comes to the fore with something interesting. In this case it is Ida Nielsen with some sharp bass work that has me leaning forward to try and catch every note. She is one sharp player and I only wish there was more here for me to enjoy.

This sampler set closes out with “Forever In My Life,” the bass again being the most interesting aspect. It may start slow, but the final minutes is intoxicating as the bass comes from a variety of angles both providing something unexpected and joyful.

There is a full band rendition of “Controversy,” a song that hits the reset button on the concert as suddenly both the music and crowd come alive. There is finally some muscle to the music, and the concert rises in my estimation from this point onwards. Maybe it is because I have listened to so many earlier bootlegs recently, but “Controversy” does bring out the best of this recording, and it towers above the earlier tepid material.

Earlier I wrote that sometimes the soul of “1999” is sacrificed for the greater good of the concert, I am pleased to say that in this case that doesn’t happen. It is the full version, with all the correct sounds in the correct places, and the magic from 35 years ago is still in the air as Prince plays.

Prince sticks with the 1999 album for an electrifying performance of “Little Red Corvette” It has a rather conventional opening, but there is an appearance of the “slow down” refrain midsong that is captivating and goes for sometime, enticing the listener with it’s warmth while retaining a sense of regret. The song disappears and leaves Prince and the crowd singing, a poignant moment that hangs a veil of sadness across the show.

“Nothing Compares 2 U” stays with this sense of regret and loss, but doesn’t quite scale the same heights as the previous few minutes. Again, Prince has the crowd singing with him, but it doesn’t generate the same heat as the previous number. I find redemption in Cassandras solo, and I am again surprised at just how much of herself she injects into the performance, all for the better of course.

The is an extra kick in the bass of “Kiss” that has me listening carefully. It is another different take on this well worn classic, and although it doesn’t sparkle like the original it still has its own attention grabbing way. Laid back, with only the merest sprinklings of guitar from Prince, it is a deeper and darker listen. It has me eating my words from earlier, with it’s own soul it is a nice rework of a song that has had more different live arrangements than any other. The climax is the extended coda when the funk guitar appears, reminding us of the original sound on record.

There was the sampler set earlier, and at this stage of the concert Prince again takes a seat with the piano set. No surprises to hear “Diamonds And Pearls” first, the audience lapping it up and offering up their backing vocals early. The segue into “The Beautiful Ones” is also equally predictable, and although Prince sounds heavenly on vocals, the song itself suffers for being part of this set. Abridged, it is stripped of the climatic nature of the original, and there is no pay off for the pretty opening verses. The song rises, but never boils over, even with Prince’s final yelps there is a sense he is holding back.

I sit transfixed as Prince plays “Empty Room.” It’s a delicate trap, Prince drawing me in with his floating keyboard riffs, before Donna smites all with her axe. The guitar playing is sublime, filling with an intensity without overwhelming at any stage, Donna strikes her blows with maximum impact without overexerting the guitar. If there was a song on this recording that needed to be turned up to eleven, this would be it.

Guitars stay at the front of my thoughts, and Prince’s, with an energetic performance of “Guitar.” Although lightweight in it’s subject matter, and carrying no emotional baggage, it is still a worthy listen. It can’t match any of the previous songs on any level, but keeps things moving and brings 3rdeyegirl to the fore as we move into the rock orientated section of the concert.

The energy levels drop for “Plectrumelectrum,” although there is the feeling that Prince is merely using this as a warm up for the next few songs. There is plenty of guitar, but no heroics, and my overall feeling is that it is a couple of minutes too long.

I was no great fan of Prince’s cover of “Crimson And Clover” when he first started playing it (although I do have the Tommy James and the Shondells version on 45,somewhere). However, his take on it has grown on me the last coupe of years, and the version heard on this bootleg is a fair representation of what his arrangement sounds like. The “Wild Thing” chorus works well, and the final cascade of guitar is undemanding yet has plenty of fireworks for guitar aficionados.

Things have been building up to these next two songs, and Prince and the band deliver first up with yet another great rendition of “She’s Always In My Hair.” The recording is nowhere near as good as the performance itself, the two dimension sound of the recording sapping a lot of the intensity from the song. The music sounds intoxicating, but I feel like I am watching from a distance with the flat sound of the recording rendering Prince a paper doll. Still, the song is what is important, and it is another chance for 3rdeyegirl to rise up and make it their own.

“Purple Rain” is alluring from the outset, the first guitar runs glistening in a newness that I haven’t heard before. It meanders for a moment, before setting off in a new direction, the introduction briefly covering new ground before Prince brings it back with his first line. I am almost disappointed, but Prince is too good to give us just another version going through the motions, he injects what he needs to into the performance and the crowd respond as they always do. It is not one for the ages, but it does maintain Prince’s high standards, and again the only disappointment is the flatness of the recording.

After the highs of these two rock songs, “Play That Funky Music” as the first encore is a come done. It has never been one of my favorite songs, and the blandness of the recording certainly does it no favors here. On a positive note, Cassandra provides yet another excellent solo, and there is just enough slippery guitar to bring a smile to my face.

I am far more enthused for “Screwdriver.” It has a kinetic energy about it and Prince sounds far more youthful than he really is. It doesn’t stand on the same pedestal as Prince’s classic hits, but it is a modern song that fits well into these setlists.

From the same place comes “Funknroll.” It doesn’t do it as well as the previous “Screwdriver,” there is a sense of purpose missing, and the song feels like it is by the numbers in places. An uneven performance that perhaps would have been saved by a better recording.

The bass and drum of “Housequake” are strong, and wash away any recording limitations. It has a lot more backbone than “Funknroll,” something that is highlighted further as the song progresses, especially as Prince pulls it back to “listen to the drums.” With the bass rooting the song in funky soil, the music blooms and grows into a sprawling vine of sounds and rhythms. This is easily the best part of the last thirty minutes, and something of a surprise with 3rdeyegirl.

The is further surprises with a strong electric version of “Sometimes In Snows In April.” It may not be to everyone’s taste, there is very little that is delicate about it, and it is in stark contrast to the original. It still has a softness to it, but it is more fleshed out and certainly a lot louder. I still rate it, especially the guitar break which shines new light on a song that is often constrained by its own history.

“Bambi” is far closer to what we expect from 3rdeyegirl, and the version heard here comes as a hammer blow placed as it is near the end of the concert. With guitars fighting over each other to be heard, it is a gleeful romp that at times descends into a cacophony of guitar white noise. I revel in it’s sound, and although I know it is old and almost a parody of itself I still find it excites me.

“Stratus” twists and turns through an array of eclectic movements, all of them highlighting the bands collective talent pool, and Prince’s prowess as bandleader. The guitar break may grab all the headlines, but there is much more to this performance that that one lightning bolt moment. It is a chance to sit back and reflect on the abilities of this band, a band that is sometimes underrated while a closer listen reveals they do what they do very well.

I haven’t done enough research to tell you how often “What’s My Name” was played on this tour, but I do know that it sounds fresh whenever I hear it and comes as one final surprise at the end of the concert. It still has a lingering sense of anger about it, and retains the sense of outrage first heard on the original. Twenty years on it still sounds biting, and Prince spits his lyrics with plenty of venom. There is still a fire burning within him, and it may have taken two and a half hours, but here it is in full effect, the concert ending on a note of real intensity.

The recording finishes with the “Funknroll” remix playing over the P.A. Good for the completists, but I don’t really need to hear it, the previous “What’s My Name” the blazing finish that raises everything to the ground, there is nothing more to hear after such a rendition.

I would like this concert a whole lot more if the recording wasn’t so flat. Looking past that through, and I can see that this is a great way to finish the Hit N Run II tour of Europe, and it neatly encapsulates all the shows that have come previously, while highlighting the continuing evolution of 3rdeyegirl as they adapt to new styles and songs. Normally I wouldn’t give my time to a recording of this type, especially as there are so many good recordings of these later tours available, but like the fans say, Prince always put on a good show in Austria. A hidden gem, I might just play this a few more times before I put it back into storage.

A wordy entry, congratulations if you made it this far.
Join me next week when I’ll have something festive for the season.
-Hamish

 

First Ave 1982 Revisited

Recently Mace2theO commented that this bootleg from 1982 was the equivalent to his first girlfriend. We all have a similar first girlfriend experience – she may have had braces and carried some puppy fat, but she will always be special by the fact she was the first and painted in nostalgic hues forever more because of this. It was our first proper relationship, and doomed to a crushing teenage ending, but always conjures up warm memories that do not fade as time passes.

I’m sorry Mace2theO, but  in this case your first girlfriend got around a bit. Not only was she your first girlfriend, she was my first girlfriend too. Mace2theO acquired this concert on cassette (and all the nostalgic currency that that carries), while for me I found this bootleg on CD hidden away at the back of the record store. It was far from perfect in sound quality but I can assure you that when I took a listen it shook me to my core, and the fact that 35 years on I am blogging about Prince bootlegs demonstrates how much of an influence it had over the rest of my life. Like that first girlfriend, it was a formative experience. I didn’t quite know what I was doing and I have had better relationships since, but retains a special place in my heart.

A couple of weeks ago the soundboard recording of this show became widely available. It’s not always comfortable when we meet ex-girlfriends later in life, a messy divorce behind them, a couple of kids under their arm, and the first signs of a drinking problem hiding behind their forced smile, but in this case my first girlfriend has grown up into somebody I want to spend a lot of time with. The roughness of the audience recording is gone, replaced with a shiny soundboard, all slender legs, short skirts and long luxurious hair. Oh yes, my first girlfriend is now the hottest chick on the block. She is has grown up in every way, while retaining all the charms that I first fell in love with all those years ago. I may have talked about this first girlfriend before, but now she is in full bloom and stirring up those old feelings in me. It’s not very often that I spend time with ex-girlfriends, but in this case I am going to roll back the clock and wine and dine this girl one more time.

So with my first bootleg love rekindled, lets douse ourselves in cheap cologne, grease up the hair, and head straight to the heart of 1982.

(all photos by Mike Reiter)

8th March 1982, First Avenue, Minneapolis

There is a heat between the thighs from the opening minute, a few quick words by Prince and then a rage of guitar pulled down by Dez. With a punk rock assault Prince and the band hang it all out in these first minutes with both power and panache. In a frenzy of guitar scuzz “Bambi” storms into the room. It’s a wild eyed performance that bounces of the walls in a maelstrom of fuzzed up guitar and shrieked lyrics, capturing the listeners attention from the start. It is much cleaner than the previous audience recording, and the soundboard brings the musicianship to the the fore while retaining the fierce sound of the more familiar recording. That first girlfriend has cleaned up her defiant punk-rock hair style, but still has a fiery intent in her eyes that hints at an underlying violence that could bubble over at any second.

“All The Critics Love U In New York” is the most Princely sui genius song of the evening, and clearly maps out the territory that he will roam in the next few years. It wears its uniqueness proudly, face melting guitar work grafted to the undeniable beat that appeals to both my gut and my feet. I am never quite sure if I should be dancing or punching the air, the music insisting that I move my body in any way possible as Prince gives us perhaps the greatest performance of this song ever recorded. The keyboard solo gains on this pristine recording, Fink’s solo standing out among the more forceful blazing guitar and holding his own calm centre at the eye of the storm. For a minute we are in another world, before the hurricane of guitar solos return and swallow up the all the sound.

There is a glimpse of the first girlfriend I used to know in the opening of “When You Were Mine,” both the title and the sound taking me back to youthful summers that were equally long and lost. It is easy to project these feelings back on a song that has been with us so long, but even at this show it has a nostalgic feel – although it was only recorded just two years previous. This is the most comfortable song of the concert, and captures the exact feelings that I first had when I heard it all those years ago.

There is a world of difference between the audience recording and this soundboard recording when it comes to “Sexy Dancer.” A far more nuanced performance emerges on this recording, and whereas before it was strident and bold, here it becomes much more of a sassy walk rather than a march into battle. Both the bass and the keyboard via for attention, each adding to a show that I am already eminently familiar with. While the bass remains holding the song together, Dr Fink spins off into an intergalactic sound with his keyboards, making me draw a sharp breath in the thrill of it all. It is Dez who gets to put an end to these flights of fancy, his solo serving as an exclamation mark on all that has come before.

Things slow, sex and lust temporarily forgotten as Prince dips into a song of love and yearning with “Still Waiting.” Prince is on lead vocals, but it is Sue Ann Carwell who is the star attraction with her contribution. At almost ten minutes long there is plenty of time for the candles of love to flicker and flame, and musically one can hear the lights being turned down as the song slows to a velvety and warm breakdown. In this circumstance it is grating to hear Prince saying “I got cause to celebrate, because my girlfriend died” but as Brown Marks bass rises up from this crushed velvet sea all is forgiven, and I am again transported away on the winds of Sue Ann Carwell’s voice.

The recording slaps me in the face and snaps me out of this reverie with a furious “Head.” On the previous recording it was nasty and slutty, on this recording it is far more sexy and erotic. While the audience recording sounded like a blowjob in the Walmart carpark, this one speaks in the language of fellatio and sex on the hood of a Porsche at a Beverly Hills party. The outcome is still the same, but it doesn’t threaten to be as dangerous, and despite some superlative bass work I am comfortable that when it is all over I won’t be visiting the clinic in the morning.

If there is a moment that demonstrates how much better this new recording is, it is the final minute of the “Head” when we can hear Prince preparing the band for “Sexuality.” We have heard his yell into the microphone before, but this time we can hear him say it a couple of times earlier to the audience. It’s not a big thing, but it does show just how good the sound is. “Sexuality” is relatively short, most of the song is given over to the audience sing-a-long that dominates. It does lose some of it’s impact on this soundboard recording, the audience recording obviously doing a far better job of capturing this moment with the audience. This is crying out for someone to combine the two recordings in a matrix mix that would better give us that electrifying live sound that makes this recording so vital.

Prince’s brief speech introducing The Time has been often discussed, and for good reason. His easy banter with Morris is refreshing, and its hilarious to hear him and Morris go back and forth, trading lines and barbs that belie the darker waters that swirl just under the surface. “Dance To The Beat” maintains this veneer of lightheartedness, and provides a pop twist to a show that has been thus far guitar heavy and drenched in intensity. There is a lift in the atmosphere and the recording shines bright for these minutes.

Prince continues to fire broadsides at the band between songs, this time with the comment “I didn’t like that, play something you know how to play.” The response from The Time is a taunt version of “The Stick” that would satisfy the most demanding of audiences. As much as I like The Time and this song, it does feel as if they have gate-crashed the date, and there is an awkward third wheel experience to hearing them on the bootleg. The real draw card though isn’t the music itself though, rather their dynamic tension with Prince, a tension that fuels his music and will provide some of his most dramatic work in the following years.

“Partyup” fuses these two elements together in a climatic finish that delivers all it promises. The opening talk between Prince and Morris sets the scene, the back and forth continues between them continues as Morris takes his place at the drum kit for this final stomp. Prince and his guitar lead from the front, but most fans will be focused on Morris and his drumming. He lives up to expectations, and the foreplay of the opening talk is forgotten as the the song becomes further arousing. Morris’s drum solo almost brings us to orgasm, but Prince pulls him back just in time with some great bass work from Brown Mark. The final climax comes with an inflamed guitar solo from Prince,but as with the audience recording there is coitus interruptus as the tape fades out, the rest of solo never realized and leaving us to only wonder what might  have been.

I have loved this concert for as long I can remember. I have grown older, but it has remained forever young, even with the imperfections of the long circulating audience recording. With this soundboard recording we have a chance to revisit our youth, and a chance to reconnect with that elusive first girlfriend. I have mixed feelings as I know that the first girlfriend is forever gone and never again will I listen to the audience recording. This new recording has created new memories and sparked a new love. It is time to move on and file the audience recording in my box of faded photos, yellowed love letters and yesterdays glories. I am firmly looking forward as with this soundboard recording I feel reinvigorated, my love burning with a new intensity. I have made up my mind, this is the recording that I want to spend the rest of my life with.

-Hamish

Bonus material:

Mace2theO messaged me this quickfire review when I told him I was covering this bootleg. It’s not written with public consumption in mind, but he has agreed that I could share it with you. I am in full agreement with everything he has written here, and he is far more succinct than me!

Re 82 – reasons the show is important to me, rediscovered with the SBDs

The First Ave show came the night after the main show at the Met Centre so going back to a small club, it has the feel of an aftershow. It is the first Revolution in all its glory, with Dez as a proper Keith Richards lead as the Black Rolling Stones, all pre-Purple Rain. Starting with a raw punk version of Bambi, it then goes into a monster version of All the Critics. While “Let ’em out of his cage” is great, my favourite is before Doc’s solo when Prince and Dez start soloing and Prince yell’s “Wait a minute, Dez” before ripping off a monster solo.

Sometimes audiences make the boot and I had been living with crowd singing at the end of Sexuality for so many years, it took me a minute to adjust to the soundboard. Same with All The Critics – without that kickdrum in your face, the SBD didn’t feel the power of the earlier version…although it sounds much better.

Most important – this is really the closest we will ever get the inspiration for the Purple Rain battle. Before all the controlling issues that came along in 83-84, you can feel the real affection between Morris and Prince (“We used to be friends”) – as trivia, it has the only time in bootleg history where someone gives Prince shit “You wanna borrow my comb?” Also history, as only time live Prince with Morris on drums.

I have fallen in love with my first girlfriend all over again – not looking forward to telling the wife

Lakeland 1980 – Rick James Tour

Whats better than a soundboard from 1981? A soundboard from 1980! I have just taken my first listen to the new Eye Records release I’m Just A Freak and I have to say, I am most impressed. Not so much the release itself, but the music contained within. The music is fresh and exciting, and listening to it gives me the exact same feelings I had when I first started listening to Prince bootlegs thirty years ago, I am reborn as a fan as I am baptized by the music as if for the first time. So, lets rewind the clock and kneel at the alter of this recording, and in particular pay respect to the first concert of the set, 8th March 1980 at Lakeland, Florida.

8th March 1980, Lakeland, Florida

The “Boogie Intro” has me agape from the very first moment. It is a rambunctious ball of all that Prince does, a four minute blast that encapsulates all his sounds and genres. From the opening groove underpinned with the brute strength of Prince’s guitar riff, to the fantastically electric wonder of Dr Finks synth solo, we are immediately transported into Princes world. I shouldn’t read too much into this opening number, but already I can hear funk, rock, and hints of the Minneapolis sound that will come in later years. It is an engaging opening that never wavers from its unflinching servitude to the groove, no matter what euphoric sounds Prince pulls from his guitar, the dance floor is firmly in mind.

On top of the cyclone of an intro, “Soft And Wet” plays as per its title, it is both soft and wet in comparison. Its only halfway through the song that the first musical punch is thrown, and the second half is a feisty drunk in comparison to the first sober minute. It does sound gorgeous in this quality though, and it only suffers in comparison to the earlier song.

The concert takes the phrase hot and heavy, and makes come alive in the music they are playing. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” bleeds a warmth through the recording, and Prince and Dez bring a heavier sound with their twin guitar onslaught. Its not about a wall of noise however, they play with a sparkling finesse that provides wings for the song to soar above such earthly sounds. If not grounded by Bobby Z’s insistent drive the song would threaten to disappear in its own swirl of smoke and mirrors, instead Bob is the captain who keeps it moored as he underpins Prince’s flight of fancy.

Prince stakes out his genre hopping style as he tackles a ballad, in this case “Still Waiting.” He plays it with a breezy style, there is space throughout the song and Prince feels no need to over complicate it with sound. It is a thoughtful performance and has a wistfulness to it that lies just beyond my ability to articulate. Its an immersive experience, the schmaltzy synths  a canvas for Prince to paint his vocals across.

After the color and sophistication of some of this earlier material, “Bambi” sounds positively caveman like. It plays as a battering ram, Prince clubbing us early with his muscular guitar riffs, but for me the real joy comes later in the song when he shakes of these rock cliches and plays his solos with his own unique electric fury. There is the feeling that I have heard it all before, but the unhinged final minutes awakens the fan inside me and I am caught up in this wave of untamed big guitar sheen.

The band introductions are timely, especially as “Sexy Dancer” is the moment when we can hear Andre and his bass in all it’s glory. With it’s nagging hook it is all about the dance floor, and even if I can’t see it I can certainly feel it in the low end. A coherent amalgamation of all the band’s talents, I am particularly taken by the synth solo that is sumptuous, yet lies entirely within the groove, always remaining slave to the beat. Andre’s bass solo goes one better, and leaves me full of regret that it isn’t longer, but the final guitar solo on the song cleanses me of any such thoughts and makes a strident statement across what had been a disco song.

There is a clutter about “Just As Long As We’re Together” and initially I aren’t drawn to it in the same way as I am with some of the other numbers. Prince is forceful though, and already he and the band are good enough to win me over with their evolving styles and hybrid sound. The bass and guitar battle to hold my attention, and I am the real winner as both are relentless in their drive for a petulant funk sound. Andre is thrilling in the bass lines he creates, I expect this of Prince with guitar, but Andre’s finesse and blistering skills is a revelation to me – this exactly why I collect bootlegs so passionately.

 

The show finishes with a strutting version of “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” From the first riff ringing out in the darkness it is a moment to stand up and celebrate the pure pop sound that lies at the heart of Prince’s music. Infectious and uplifting, there is nothing more to wish for, this concert may only be eight songs, but it holds everything you could want from Prince. The pop sound may reignite the audience, but Prince pulls the rug from under them as the final half of the song becomes an extended jam that touches on the bases all ready covered by Prince. He touches on the first base of pop, before sliding into the second base of funk. From here it is a helter skelter sprint for third base and his strong rock sound. The home run comes as all these are amalgamated in one glorious sound that can only be described as “Prince.” The music acts as a time machine, and this final jam has me right back in 1980, I am with Prince and the band every step of the way as they bring the concert to a close.

These Rick James concerts by Prince are short, but that matters not one bit as he crams every sound and genre he can into a short sharp set list. Each song comes as a jolt as he continues to change direction, but always the music is focused and  delivers a powerful experience. Eye records has done us all a favor with this release, these concerts are part of Princes legacy and an important part of his story that the estate are not telling, He was about the live performance as much as the studio, and this raw unfiltered Prince deserves every piece of coverage he gets. This will be on my player for a long, long time to come, and with every listen I remember just how electrifying Prince was in the 1980’s.

I’m going to give it another listen now,
See you next week
-Hamish