Today’s entry is gong to be a little different from anything else I have written. I have written about some great recordings previously, and some significant gigs in the world of Prince, but this one is special to me for another reason. Today I will be writing about the first night of the 21 nights at the O2 London. Not only is it the first night of that series of concerts, it is also the first time that I ever saw Prince playing live. For me it is impossible to detach the recording from being at the event itself. I normally try to be fairly objective in my writing, but today any semblance of objectivity will go out the window. A lot of my memories and feelings are tied into this recording, I can’t listen to it without all these coming to the surface. So with that in mind, let’s take a listen- the CD is in the player, my cup of tea beside me, but in my mind I am coming up the escalator at North Greenwich station, and the excitement in the air is electric.
8 August 2007 O2 London
Opening the show is a video of the UK Hall of fame introduction. Prince is definitely marketing himself as an Icon/legacy act at this stage, and the video serves as a useful reminder to the fans there that he has had an outstanding career. I find it a little ho-hum, but it very much sets the scene for what comes next, and definitely gets the excitement levels rising in the crowd.
I am not convinced that Purple Rain is a great song to open a show with. Although, once again, I have to concede I do understand exactly why it is here at the beginning of the show. Prince is making a statement, opening his 21 night stand with the song that is most closely associated with him, and from the most stellar part of his career. On a personal note- this is not one of my favorite Prince songs, it has been played at 100’s of concerts over the years, and has long since lost its sparkle for me. But, this was my first time to see Prince after being a fan for 25 years, and as he rose out of the dry ice, singing his signature song, I have to say it was pretty emotional. There may well have been a tear in my eye (I am sure it was just from the dry ice). On listening to the recording now I find that away from the hype and excitement, it is actually a good rendition of the song. Instead of the hanging guitar chords at the beginning, we get a nice little piano intro. It’s not drawn out at all, and Prince starts singing without too much intro. The drum beat isn’t as strong as it used to be, and the music sounds very much in the back ground, this is all about Princes vocal delivery, and its nice and strong right from the start. To his credit, he does play a full version, every verse is there as it should be. I am always pleased when it gets the full treatment, and the crowd is in fine voice for every chorus. The guitar solo has a fine sound to it, it’s not muscular as it sometimes sounds on the symbol guitar. There is nothing extra or unheard in the guitar break, but it is very decent sounding. It is a little strange to hear the crowd singing “oww, owww, owww” and knowing that this is still the first song, and we have a long way to go yet. I found it enjoyable, but perhaps a much better measure would be what a more casual fan thought of it- immediately after the song finished my friend, who had rather reluctantly come along to the gig, turned to me with a massive grin on his face and said “That was brilliant- I got my moneys worth right there with that song”.
Girls and Boys ups the tempo, and for me the gig begins now. Although the recording isn’t soundboard, it still is good, and Girls and Boys sounds great. Prince has a great funky sounding vocal delivery and the keyboards and horns propels it along in a non-stop fashion. This is the funky Prince I enjoy most, and it is an early highlight. The best part of it is when Maceo takes over and delivers a killer solo. It just takes off, and has a life of its own. There is also a trombone solo, which although not as good as Maceos solo is still a different addition that I really enjoy. Prince does break down the song at one stage for some audience singing of Dance, Music, Sex, Romance- it does break the momentum, but things ramp again with some more great horns and singing straight after. This song has lost nothing of its funk after all these years. It finishes with Prince yelling “Somebody scream!” It’s an excellent start to show after the slow start.
Third song in and things really pull back with a smoky version of Satisfied. It’s quite a change after the stomping Girl and Boys, but as Prince says- he’s got two sides and they’re both friends. There are plenty of roars from the crowd as Prince performs this one in typical seduction mode. It sounds like the ladies in the crowd are hanging on every word as there is screams and yells after almost every suggestive line. Maceo gets a nice lead break, and he shows of another side of his playing- completely different from the previous song. He is definitely a master, and I love listening to this one too. Maceo finishes up and we return to the seductive sounds of Prince. It sounds like he could deliver this easily all night, but he winds it up after just another minute.
Normally I would readily dismiss Cream, but this one is a more up-tempo, and the drums and horns are more to the fore. It strengthens the song a lot, and I find I enjoy it much more than I have in years. Prince reminds the audience midsong that he wrote this one looking in the mirror, and the crowd gives an approving cheer. The guitar break is worth mentioning, the sound is not as weak and thin as the album version, and although it’s very short, it is an improvement in my opinion. I also find the horns add a lot to it, they aren’t playing anything extra, but they do fatten out the sound.
We segue easily into a rock number next as U Got The Look gets an outing. With only Prince playing guitar it’s a less rocky than usual, but he makes it for it with some extra oomph in his vocals and the drummer does give it plenty too. His lead break is good, but does sit low in the mix. We can perhaps blame limitations in the recording for this, but his guitar sound does sound a little lost amongst the other instruments. It’s a shame, as it I have often felt that this song hinges on the sound of his guitar breaks in it, and here it comes across as much lighter.
I don’t think I have ever heard a version of Shhh that I didn’t like. This one is no exception. Again I am somewhat limited by the quality of the recording, but Prince sounds just as good as ever. This song dates from my favorite era of Prince, and I only wish that more songs from this period were played live now. Of course he delivers the verses with plenty of passion, but its the guitar playing where the emotion really comes through on this song. His guitar says what his voice can’t, and sitting here today listening to it I find it brings all sort of emotions out of me. A fine performance of one of his greatest songs, this one is only let down by it being an audience recording. The song ends with a half a minute of furious guitar work, and I am already reaching for the repeat button.
Musicology sounds like a song that was purpose written for shows like this. A throw back nostalgic song in both sound and lyrical content, it’s very much tailored for audiences like this, as well as serving as an introduction to the band. It’s a party song, and you can hear the audience responding to it, it very much lightens the mood. Again, Maceo is very much a highlight in this for me, his playing is exceptional. The other band members all play well too, no slight against any of them, but Maceo is the one I enjoy most. There is some chanting of ‘Funky London’ and the audience does seem to get behind this a lot. It does perhaps go on a little long for my liking, but I always prefer that rather than having songs cut short.
Prince takes the time to talk to the crowd between songs at this point. It’s a nice couple of minutes, he asks about his stage, how’s the band, and then mentions his excitement of playing in London again.
The up-tempo beat of I Feel For You has me back on board. Prince doesn’t have to try too hard with this one, it has a nice inner energy to it, and pushes all the nostalgia buttons to me. This isn’t the greatest version I have heard, Shelby (love her) is just a little too strong on it, and although she doesn’t drown out Prince I definitely hear her voice more than his. If anything, it feels there is a little too much on this one. It doesn’t have the cleanness that I like about it. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s not as great as it could have been.
Staying in the era, Prince calls for Controversy next. It’s got that great pounding beat, and what I like most about it, is the beat doesn’t overwhelm everything, as per other recent versions I have heard. The bass is nice and prominent, and it’s a great throw back to his early years. The horns are another nice touch and give it some color. The only problem I have with it is when Prince calls for people to jump up before the main groove. It seems to derail the song somewhat. But more than making up for that is another appearance of Maceo. His sax is sharp sounding against the neat, and it works very well. Later in the song the rest of the horn section join for a horn break, but it doesn’t seem to work quite as well. But I do like that they played around with it. And there is a nice break when just the trombone plays that I enjoy.
Things slow down as Prince leaves the stage and Renato Neto and Mike Phillips play an instrumental What A Wonderful World. I have been effusive in my praise of the horns so far on this recording, but here is a bridge too far for me. With Prince not on the song at all I find my attention quickly waning. Although it all sounds pretty, I find this one bland and am bored with it before we even get half way.
Somewhere Here On Earth, although sounding good, barely gets my pulse going again. I am not going to dismiss it though, Princes vocal deliver on it is excellent. I would like to hear more ballads in this vein as he ages. It’s got an easy listening sound to it, with a nice gentle horn playing in background. Prince has a nice croon in his delivery and I could well imagine him singing like this in a piano bar well into old age. And that is the reason I don’t like it. The quality is excellent, there is no denying that, but it’s too safe, too middle of the road for my tastes. It’s a nice deviation in the gig, but in the end I find it to be a side dish, rather than the main course.
Lolita has questionable lyrics, but an upbeat pop sound. I have seen a variety of opinions on this song, it’s very much a song you either love or hate. I enjoyed it on record, but here it doesn’t match that. Prince’s vocals are easily heard, but not easily understood. I can’t make out the words, and this time I’m not sure I can blame the recording. The O2 does have some sound issues, and I am putting it down to this. The song is OK, but it does finish before I can form a strong opinion one way or another.
Prince then engages the audience with “I got more hits than Madonna got kids” I have heard it plenty since then, but at the time it was still quaint and funny. I am expecting him to then play one of these hits he is alluding to, but instead we get a reprise of the last chorus of Lolita.
We are back on track when steamy groove of Black Sweat begins. It doesn’t have the dark sound of the album, but it still sounds good to my ears. It could have been much funkier and heavier, but the crowd seems pretty happy with this arrangement, and so am I. The only things that count against it is Prince shouting “I got too many hits” midsong, and the fact that it barely reaches the three minute mark before it ends. After the last few songs dragging us down, it would have been good hear this one worked up more and injecting a bit more funk into the evening.
There is another interlude as Prince name checks possible songs he play next. This elicits a predictable response from the audience before the strum of Kiss brings us to the next song. Prince gives the audience a few chances to sing along with this one, and they respond with a loud call. The best part of the song is very much the guitar solo, his guitar has a nice tone to it, and as I say so many times, it sounds great. Prince does have another couple of crowd pleasing moments- the lyric change “You don’t have to watch desperate housewives, or big brother” and then lets the audience finish out the song singing themselves. It’s very very short, but it is crowd pleasing.
There is some more of Prince name checking possible songs he could do next, before he decides to go old school with If I Was Your Girlfriend. Again, to leave the recording for a moment, this was the point at the gig where ‘I lost my stuff’ so to speak. This song is a top 5 favorite for me, and to hear it live was sensational. And today as I listen back to it, I realize it’s not a great version, but every gig will be someone’s once in a life time chance to see Prince, and sometimes the quality of the song doesn’t matter, the fact it’s played is enough. Back to the recording itself, it’s a light version of the song that is played. It’s very much played as an upbeat party type song. There calls from Prince for the crowd to wave their arms side to side, and Prince addresses the audience informally several times, which takes me out of the song. There is a very nice deep organ groove under it, and that is what makes the song for me on this one. Princes asks the crowd if they are having a good time, and he gets a rousing cheer in response.
The song segues easily into Pink Cashmere. I often overlook Pink Cashmere, but it is actually a very good song. It got a little lost in everything else that was happening in Prince world at the time it came out, which is a shame, as it has the sound of a hit to my ears. The rendition here is smooth enough, and Mike Phillips plays an upbeat Sax solo on it, which does lift it up a lot. As he finishes Prince says “Careful Mike, you might get someone pregnant” His easy humor always makes me smile, and it’s a fitting comment for a nice solo. There is some nice Prince talk near the end of the song, and surprisingly it’s not corny at all. I would have enjoyed it much more, if he hadn’t of then started singing “Oh funky London” again. Mercifully it’s only for a couple of bars before the band jump back in and bring the song to a close.
I hadn’t expected to hear 7 next. It’s played very straight and doesn’t seem to deviate at all from the original recording. At this point I am reminded of why I dislike audience recording, there is a loud hand clap on the recording, and for the duration of the song I find it hard to listen beyond this. The song is played well, but like I said before there’s not too much about it that stands out.
The band then moves directly onto the next song, Come Together. There was a time when I would have loved to hear a cover such as this, but in this case it mostly disappointing. It’s obviously played with the UK audience in mind, but it’s mostly Shelby that I can hear. The first half the song I mostly concentrate on her voice, and the annoying audience hand clap. The second part of the song through picks up immensely and Prince plays the best guitar solo of the night. It’s a shame the whole song wasn’t as good as that solo, but at least the solo does redeem the rest of the song. The song finishes, predictably enough with the audience clapping and singing “Come together”
Every week I write that I don’t like Take Me with U, but that whatever particular version I am listening to at the time is great. Maybe I should just face facts, and admit that I probably do love this song. The drums aren’t the strongest on this, but the keyboards are sounding very bold. They have a nice full sound to them, especially during the chorus. Prince’s voice has a slight echo to it, and that is not due to any of his doing, it’s the sound in the venue that is at fault. The song gets the energy levels back up and this continues as the next song starts quickly after.
Guitar is one of those songs that always sounds ‘up’. It’s hard to imagine Prince playing this without a big smile on his face. The sound isn’t great during the song, his first break does sound a bit muddy and lost, but the second break is much more clear and crisp. I always think of this as being a very short and sweet song, but it does seem to go on for a while here, there is more verses than I remember! But the playing on it is good, and I always enjoy anything that showcases Prince guitar playing. The end of the song is when he goes deep into it, and there are some nice moments during his playing.
Another 360 next as Prince puts down his guitar to sing a beautiful rendition of Planet Earth. Yes it’s beautiful, but it fails to engage me emotionally. I think this song could sound better and he could do more with it. This sounds good to me, but I just can’t connect to it. There is almost too much band in it, and I do wonder if it would be better served with a stripped back arrangement. I should point at that the song does also suffer from being a less than ideal recording. Listening to this I am reminded of my teachers comments at school “Shows potential, could do better”
A longer break ensues, before we get an encore. Shelby J leads the band through a fairly robust version of Gnarls Barkly’s ‘Crazy’. It’s redundant and doesn’t add anything to show, asides from giving Prince a break and showing off Shelby’s vocals. There is no denying she’s got talent, but like many people I do tire of her extolling the crowd to ‘Put your hands up’. I do like the funky break when they start to sing ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ and I would have preferred to hear a full blown cover of that rather than Crazy. It is however of its time and place, and in 2007 that was THE song, so there is no doubt that the audience at time enjoyed it.
Prince is back in form with a fantastic Nothing Compares 2 U. Asides from letting the audience sing a line here and there, it is great to hear him perform on this. Like a lot of songs on this recording, it does have its positives and negatives. He does only sing the first verse, but then he hands it over to Mike Phillips who plays a very decent sax break. Prince returns after the sax break, and sounds much more impassioned. If anything he sounds too passionate, and the song loses some of its emotional clout. The audience is left to sing the last few lines before it fades out.
“Dearly beloved” followed by a long pause and organ into leaves me hanging for what seems an age. After a long tease Prince eventually follows up with “we are gathered here today, to get through this thing called life” and Lets Go crazy follows proper. There isn’t much left of the song, Prince skips all the verses and plays the first guitar break straight off, before encouraging the crowd with “lets go crazy, go go go”. There is another brief guitar break and some more singing along with audience. As I said before there is no verses and no choruses sung, it’s all guitar and sing along. It ends, predictable enough, after a couple of minutes with Princes guitar howling ending. “Thank you and good night” ends the main part of the show.
Pausing for a minute, I would like to explain what happened next at the show. All the house lights came up, there was a minute or two of cheering, a few technicians appeared on stage and the crowd began streaming out of the exits. Not being in any hurry to leave, me and my friend stood for a few minutes discussing what a great time we had, and comparing highlights. After a couple more minutes there was a shout and Prince came running across the floor of the arena and hauled himself back on stage, sending the technicians diving to get out of the way. Immediately there was a rush as people clambered to get as close to the stage as possible, and people came running back into the arena. Prince picked up his guitar and began to play solo (it should be noted, this was the best moment of my life).The lights dim and the show resumes. And on that note, we return back to the recording.
With just his Horner guitar for accompaniment Prince now plays a solo version of Little Red Corvette. In a mark of just how great this song is, it more than stands up in just this simple arrangement. The lyrics and basic melody is all that is required for this one. It seems to gain something more from the simplicity of it. Although he doesn’t play the whole song, these couple of minutes are more than enough, and this song stands out as a highlight of the recording.
Prince then calls for all the lights to be turned up and again with just him and his guitar plays a very simple, yet beautiful version of Raspberry Beret. Having been there, I would have to say it was amazing how he made a 17000 seat arena feel incredibly intimate. It was more like a camp fire sing along than a rock concert. Prince only sings the first verse and a chorus before letting the crowd sing “I think I love her” and replying with “and I love you too.
Keeping in character he then plays Sometimes It Snows In April. This is one of the better versions I have heard, the audience don’t drown it out, and with only Prince it shows off his playing and vocal skills much better. He isn’t totally unaccompanied, there is a keyboard playing softly along with him, but it still does have a lovely solo sound to it. I thought it may have had that over played sound about it as many of his songs from the 1980s do, but it still sounds like its fresh and has legs. It’s a great way to finish this mini solo set.
Next the band rejoins the stage and after a couple of “Oh funky London” from Prince (enough already) we get a nice brassy rendition of Get on the Boat. With all the horns onboard, this one really jumps. This works much better live than it does on record and it’s a shame that its cut short in its prime. It sounds great here, and it really needed to be played in full.
Thankfully another one of my favorite songs follow, with A Love Bizarre. This recording is really finishing on a high, the last few songs are all top notch. Love Bizarre sounds good, with the girl’s vocals fitting in very well behind Prince, it harks back to the Shelia E days (although I don’t want to be accused of wallowing in nostalgia). The horns again shine out, they go all sorts of places I didn’t expect during their break. Unfortunately, and it is hard to be critical about something so small, Prince does begin to chant “oh funky London” again, and it’s at this point I inwardly groan. But it’s only briefly and does lead us into the next song.
I didn’t expect to hear the music of Sexy Dancer again, but here it is in all its glory. On the downside, the lyrics are dispensed with, and instead Shelby sings Le Freak over the top of it. It’s not such a big deal, they are a good fit and the song is enjoyable enough. There is not enough Prince there for my liking, I can only hear Shelby, and then a brief but enthusiastic sax solo. The song has the vibe of a party or disco, and when Prince is heard again it is to get the crowd chanting “oh funky London”. Insert sad face here. And its on this note the show ends proper.
There is plenty of interesting moments in this show. Opening with Purple rain, the mini solo encore, and of course it is the first of his 21 nights and Prince is obviously trying to make a splash in London. Asides from being there, this show was enjoyable for me to go back and listen to. I was amazed how many of the moments and songs I had forgotten already (I had no idea he played Black Sweat, I don’t remember it at all). A pleasant recording, it was a good listen asides from nostalgia value.
Thanks for reading