I am happy to say I have finished work for the year now, and I am looking forward to three weeks of rest and relaxation. The summer is hot, the beer is cold, and I have more time to listen to some of the longer shows in my collection. Today I am going to take a listen to the longest show in circulation from 1986, a show from the Warfield Theatre, San Francisco. The shows from this year follow a formula, and this one differs in the inclusion of a couple of interesting moments. ♥ or $ is in the show, which is always good to hear, and we have a long version of America, something I am looking forward to hearing very much. Also an appearance of Andre Cymone playing Dance Electric gives this show a buzz, and adding another good reason for me sit down and give it a listen.
23 May, 1986. Warfield Theatre, San Francisco
No surprise at all as the show opens with Around The World In A Day. What I immediately like about it is the noise and passion of the crowd. There is a great roar as Prince is introduced, and some immediate chanting, which helps me create a virtual concert in my mind. However the recording is an OK audience recording, and at first doesn’t sound great on my speakers. I switch to my headphones and it becomes much fuller and I am rewarded right away with the band playing up to their impeccable standards.
Christopher Tracy’s Parade doesn’t have me quite as enthralled. The vocals aren’t as tight as I would like, and some of the momentum of the previous song is lost. I do like the bass I hear later in the song, and Prince engages the audience with some hand waving near the end which sounds like fun. Unfortunately the sound quality drops off a little at this stage too, which leaves me feeling disappointed and underwhelmed at the end of the song.
The drums and bass are the best thing in New Position. The sound is still uneven on the recording, so I don’t get as much out of Prince’s vocals as I would like. The song is still very good though, and any problems I am having are definitely down to the taping rather than the show.
I Wonder U also has rather murky sounding vocals. I do like the vocal play between the singers however, and the song is so short that I don’t really have too much to complain about, or indeed praise.
Prince counts us off, and the band steamroll into Raspberry Beret. With the crowd clapping and singing, it’s easy to overlook the sound quality. This song sounds light and easy every time, and there isn’t anything fancy required to get it across to the crowd. It does have its classic pop sound here, and Prince takes a minute near the end to do a little spiel to the crowd about a girl who is looking fine. There’s not anything more to it, and with a final fanfare we more on.
Alexa De Paris is the best sounding song so far, mostly due to the fact that there are no vocals, and the recording does a far better job capturing the instruments rather than the singers. Prince always has a nice balance to his songs, and in this case I really like how the horns offset the guitars. It’s a nice dynamic, and its small things like this that I notice more and more as I listen to Prince.
The beat of Controversy begins, and as that funky guitar line starts I already know that this is going to be my favourite part of the recording. This feeling is heightened as Prince says “Frisco, tonight you’re mine” The introduction is just brilliant, with Prince telling the audience that tonight they are going to be Uptown, before having them do the Holly Rock chant. I turn the volume right up on this one, and switch back to the speakers, but again I find it much better when I am listening with my head phones. The bass is great right before the breakdown, and what comes next is a highlight, as Prince stops the band as they segue into Controversy and introduces Miko Weaver to the crowd. He has him play just the guitar line, and this is what I have always wanted to hear most, just that great slippery guitar. Prince quietens Miko, and speaks to the crowd, asking about his suit, before Wendy starts her guitar line. Prince calls Miko to join and it’s just heavenly, it’s these spontaneous moments that make live recordings worth listening to. A few more Holly Rock chants and we kick back into Controversy proper.
The good times roll on as the band next plays Mutiny. Prince is feeling the funk now, and so am I here at home. I go to turn the volume up again, but I am already at maximum, and there is nothing more I can do but bob my head along like a grinning idiot. The groove is a monster, and Eric Leeds puts his mark all over it. I don’t know if Prince is pulling his funk face, but I certainly am as the song gets better and better. Eric’s breakdown seems to go for an age, the band stop, and just Eric and the chanting of the backing singers is heard. It is hot, oh so HOT. Prince is in fine form, stopping the band and asking Jerome “what you wanna do” and then letting the band loose, cutting him off just as he begins to answer. It’s funny, funky and great to listen to. Prince drops in the chorus of Dream Factory, giving us a little treat, especially 30 years on and we know the full story. Even the outro gets the full treatment, with the band winding down for a good minute with the horn riff. The last ten minutes has been magnificent, and if the show ended right now I would be more than satisfied.
How Much Is That Doggie In The Window seems a strange choice, but it segues beautifully into Lady Cab Driver. It’s a shame we don’t get to hear Lady Cab Driver in all its glory, but this show is already so crammed full that I can’t complain in the slightest.
Automatic doesn’t have the ominous cold sound I normally associate with it. It this context the horns lighten the feel of it, and it’s actually a good fit into the show. The song is kept short, with some horn vamps near the end to round it out.
I like the horns playing the intro of D.M.S.R and there is a fantastic scream just before Prince speaks the opening words. The song is shaping up to be another funky jam, but things become even better than I could possible imagine as Prince rather simple says “Ladies and Gentlemen, Andre Cymone” as the beginning of The Dance Electric begins. I don’t know what I love more, the song it’s self, or the fact that Andre is playing it in the middle of this wonderful show. The song surpasses its novelty value, and I can’t express enough how good it sounds hear. There is some flaming hot guitar sound, and the bass matches its intensity. To be honest the band plays this to the hilt, and everyone holds the groove so tightly as the guitar is let loose. Its eye watering good, and as soon as it finishes I hit the repeat button, several times.
After the intensity of The Dance Electric, Under The Cherry Moon is a nice contrast, and also a sign of how far Prince had come in his sound in just a few years. He is clearly at the top of his game here, to have the confidence to present a song like this straight after the funkfest we have had so far, and I applaud and admire him for that. The song works well as a break in the furiosity of the show, and a chance for us to collect our breath. It’s also a chance for someone near the taper to find their seat, all beautifully recorded for prosperity (seat 7 for those that are interested).
The guitar whine that introduces Anotherloverholenyohead has me perked up, and Prince doesn’t disappoint at all, his vocals are perfect and I get the same feeling that I get every time I hear it on record. The intensity is back in the show, and I feel the song as much as I hear it. I love Eric Leeds and Atlantic Bliss for their contribution, and just as much I find myself listening to and enjoying the keyboard of Lisa. I am not sure if I am imagining it or not, but she seems to get longer to play, and I lap it up here at home. There is a false ending that throws me, Lisa plays a keyboard run that I expect the song to end with, but then she picks up again for another minute of playing as the chant continues “You need another lover, like you need a hole in the head”
What follows is a kicking beat that I can’t quite place, even as Prince tells us it’s a blast from the past. He puts me out of my misery as Soft & Wet is heard, and I am very happy to have it the setlist. This setlist is light on pop songs, and this and Raspberry Beret carry the load in that respect. Dr Finks solo is mind-blowingly good, only half a minute it comes out of nowhere and floors me. I wait until my partner leaves the room and then I sing along for the last minute, it’s just too catchy to resist.
You wait all day for a pop song, and then two come along at once. I Wanna Be Your Lover is ever youthful, and still sounds like a sunny day. I have long since forgotten about the quality of the recording, I am just enjoying these songs and this show too much. The bass and keys hit the groove in the latter part of the song, and I find this just as enjoyable as the opening couple of minutes, and in addition there is the realization of what song will follow- oh boy, I can’t wait.
The horns signal the beginning of Head, but something is missing. There doesn’t seem to be the nastiness and dirty sound to it that I expect. I may have spoken too soon, Lisa’s vocals add the sound I am looking for, and paired with Dr Fink they nail that old school sound I am looking for. For the second time today Dr Fink delivers the goods, and I love that sound he gets out of his keyboard. The song progresses through to its “head, till you burn it” stage and Prince works the microphone like a pro with plenty of croons and squeals. Some of this good work is undone as Prince introduces the wooden leg, luckily I can’t see it and I just keep on listening to that slippery guitar sound underneath. Things get worse as I hear the word “oaktree”, but again the music is still strong and keeps things balanced. Things get very interesting as I hear Prince say “I wish Morris was here to see this, would he be mad or what” as he chops the oak tree down. I had never noticed that before, and I find it very interesting to hear.
There is an interlude as the keyboard play and Prince address the crowd, before a very cool sounding Pop Life follows. The keys sound laid back, and Princes delivery is equally relaxed sounding. The song still has its pop, and I enjoy hearing the girl’s voices singing with Prince. Eric’s flute solo is very good, and the sharp sound goes well with the song. The bass isn’t as strong as I have heard on other recordings, but the song doesn’t seem any worse for it.
Another favourite of mine next with Girls & Boys, I don’t know what it is about this song, but I think it’s the quirky keyboard sound with the deep sax of Eric rubbing up against each other. I could enthuse about every member of the band here, but there is only one star, and that’s Eric. His signature sound drives the song, and I could easily listen to him play all day. Prince gives him space to play, before come back strongly with his own vocals near the end of the songs. Yet I again, I find I can’t help but sing along – I guess I really am a fan.
Life Can Be So Nice comes as a rush after Girls & Boys winds down. I can’t catch Prince’s vocals very well, and neither can I pick out some of the other band members. Things sound better in the chorus, the band pulls back and the recording sounds better, it’s only during the verses that the recording can’t match all the sounds that are there to be heard.
It’s untalked about in the fan community, but I find that Purple Rain is the odd man out at Prince shows, and especially in a show such as this. There is no other song like it in the Prince canon, and its sound is completely different from anything else we have heard at this show. I find it strange that the most well known song of Prince’s, indeed his signature song, is also the most unrepresentative of his sound. For all that, it is a song that I still enjoy, even after hearing it thousands of times live, and the version played here is pretty darn good. There is a long intro with Prince playing soft lead, and although the beat sounds weak and thin on the recording, his guitar playing makes up for it. There is plenty of time for the crowd to get their “ooh, oohs” in before Prince begins to sing at the four minute mark. Again, any issues with the recording are forgiven, as Prince delivers a sublime vocal performance. In particular when he sings “I know, I know, I know times are changing” I can feel the weight and emotion in his voice, and I am sold on it. The guitar break picks up right where his vocals left off, and there is flurry of guitar work in the middle that captures my imagination. By the time the song ends with the cascading keyboards I am more than satisfied, and I can’t believe how much this show has given us already.
There is no time to dwell on that thought as the driving beat of America comes right in over top, and some furious guitar work from Prince opens the song. This show just keeps giving and giving, the first salvo from Prince is great, before he hits the main riff and Eric and the band come and drive the beat home. I have used the word intensity many times already, but it’s entirely appropriately, the band is playing everything with intensity, and this one is no exception. I shake my head at how good this all is, we have Atlanta Bliss in the mix, and some fiery guitar work from Prince. The band gets into the groove, and there a few stops and starts from Prince as he puts them through their paces. He throws in some funky chants as they jam on it, before a drum solo appears in the mix. It does peter out at this stage and comes to a rather limp finish.
Whole Lotta Shakin’ is short and light, and doesn’t fire my enthusiasm. What I did enjoy though is when the song abruptly stops and Prince demands of Wendy “Wendy, what’s so funny?” The crowd begin to bark and Prince picks up on it and calls for a beat to be put to it – I like the casual way he calls Bobby Z “Bob”. I hadn’t expected to hear him call on the band in such a friendly manner. The band briefly jams and it turns into Holly Rock. This gets a much fuller treatment than Whole Lotta Shakin’ and they play it for a good four minutes. The bass work is tight, and Prince has the crowd barking along all through the song.
Love Bizarre starts very suddenly with Prince calling “A,B,C”. We can’t see what is happening on stage, but it is eliciting plenty of cheers and shouts from the crowd. Eric Leeds is to the fore, and his playing is on point throughout. The best part for me though is when Prince starts the chant “whose house? Wendy’s house” and Wendy obliges with some great guitar work. Prince stops the band, and as the crowd cheers Wendy calls “Yeah, wasn’t that great!” Prince starts to talk, and at first I think he is going to diss Wendy, instead he praises her to the sky. It fantastic to hear him speak so highly of her, and I agree with everything he says.
It’s a tepid sounding Kiss that follows, but I think we can blame the recording for that. The actual song is an extended version and has the classic long ending with plenty of funky guitar and groove. Wendy lives up to all the praise Prince has just given her, and along with Brown Mark there sound holds it down for the latter portion of the song. There is plenty of horns and the rest of the band, but its Wendy and Brown Mark holding it all down.
♥ or $ closes the show, and it’s a great demonstration of how good this band is. Every member of the band can be heard clearly dong their part, and without being individually showcased you can still hear the valuable contribution each member is making. I love the sound of the horns in the mix of this one, they are all scrambling over each other to be heard, and it gives it a little more energy. The song comes to a sudden halt and the show ends with applause and more barking from the crowd.
With the recent appearance of the (unofficial) 1986 boxset, these concerts have been at the front of my mind. The amazing part for me is, not only did Prince play these amazing shows, but he also recorded and lay down a fantastic catalogue of songs all in a single calendar year. It’s an unmatched achievement, and listening to these shows in that broader context is mind-blowing. This show, although not the greatest recording, is just as fantastic as anything else from this era. The warm-up show is always my favourite, but this one matches it in many ways. The setlist is great, and there is plenty of interesting bits as Prince acknowledges his past with the appearance of Andre, and also in his telling comments about Morris. Musically brilliant, historically interesting, and contextually essential, I have gushed about this show, and for good reason. Every show from 1986 is a must listen, and this is one of them.
Thanks to everyone who has been in touch this year, your words and comments keep me motivated
Same time next week -Hamish