Miami Soundcheck 1985

David Bowie once sung “Gee my life’s a funny thing, am I still too young” and I know exactly what he means. After the last few weeks I have had I feel like I am watching my life from a distance, I have moved house, had no internet for two weeks, and on top of that I have been battling bureaucracy with Immigration trying to keep my girlfriend in the country (should we fail, the next blog post will be coming out of Tokyo). It’s now that I have discovered the great power in music. Today’s recording is simply astounding, and as I listen to it with headphones on I find all my troubles fade away as the real world disappears into the background. I have written about rehearsals and soundchecks before, and I decided that in future I would shy away from them. This one though is so mind-blowingly good that I find I am compelled to write about it. A soundboard from 1985, this soundcheck has The Revolution playing an amazing set, and within minutes of beginning to play it I was captivated. Already there is a lot of internet buzz about it, and I will say this – believe every word you read, this one is one of the greats.

7th April 1985, Soundcheck, Miami

As soon as the recording started I wanted to talk to someone about it and share the experience. All the elements I love are present right from the start, a crystal clear soundboard, a pounding beat, some delicate funky guitar and then the sax shows up on the scene and I am mouth open and eyes bugging. The Controversy/Mutiny combination is so perfect, you need to hear it to believe it. The Controversy riff is full and dirty, I sweat just listening to it, and the sax playing the Mutiny riff, well it’s just unfair that anything could sound so good. Add in some lead guitar from Prince and this thing is TNT. No more writing here, I am going to spend the next few minutes strutting around the room with this blasting.

PandW

From funk to blues, Prince next shows his blues chops with I Got Some Help I don’t Know I Need. The Revolution shows their versatility as they turn their hand to this, in a heartbeat they go from a funky monster to a laidback deep blue’s groove. I love the feel of it, and once the singing stops and the sax and guitar take over it becomes something else again. Prince lets the sax play before upping the stakes with a stellar guitar break that leaves me with my eyes closed shaking my head, oh yes The Kid can play.

Erotic City is heavy on the drums, as it should be. It’s not much more than a minute, but those sixty seconds I am holding my breath hoping the packaging was wrong and we’d get much more.

The ‘much more’ that I had hoped for comes next. I read someone commenting that Something In The Water here is the best 12 minutes of your life, and they weren’t far wrong. Its 12 minutes of brain melting music that is The Revolution at their very best. It’s a combination of things which make it such a standout, I don’t know where to start, the funky guitar groove that runs for several minutes as the song builds, the melancholy keyboard swells, or the surprising saxophone that leaves me floored. It’s not what’s played, it’s how it is played, and I soak all of it up, not wanting a single element to ever end. I keep coming back to the saxophone, it’s got such a feel to it that it stays with me for hours after I have finished listening. The guitar picks up seamlessly from where the sax finishes, and I swear I have never heard anything so beautiful in my life. It a close run thing, but I think the guitar just tops it.

Prince 1985

The obligatory James Brown cover (Bodyheat in this case) gives the saxophone another chance to get front and centre as it holds down the groove through the song. The band is just on fire at this point, and it amazes me that they can play such a variety of styles right after one another, and inject some much life into each one. A few minutes ago I had tears in my eyes as they played the emotion heavy Something In The Water, now they are a classic funk band, complete with horn section, and jamming on a groove that demands I get up and dance. Don’t let anyone ever tell you The Revolution couldn’t do this or that, listen here, they can do it all.

I wonder what could possibly come after all this, and for the third time in the evening I have to pick my jaw up off the floor as the band play Strange Relationship. For real. I read it on the cover, but I don’t believe it until the song is deep in my ears.  It’s not as funky as it would become, but asides from that it is 98% the same song that would later be released. Did I mention it sounds good? Oh yes it does, the keyboard swells rather than grooves, and there is a piano solo mid song that pulls it  all together. There is a part of me that wants to write “this is the best thing on the recording”, that would be a lie, there is many great moments on the recording, and this is right up there with the other ones. As a bonus though it does have a great Eric Leeds solo that gains it a few more credits in my book.

Lisa

We get another rare treat next as High Fashion is heard. What a pleasant surprise, I smile as soon as I hear it begin. This is much more of a jam, and I love that distinctive rumble of Brown Mark. He has a great chugging sound, and it’s almost as unmistakable as the funky sound of Wendy’s guitar that plays over top. It’s got an undeniable summer sound and I sing along enthusiastically, much to my girlfriend’s dismay. As the riff plays over and over, I find I never tire of it and I am surprised as the song comes to an end.

With the horns playing the riff of 17 Days, it has a different sound and leaves me off balance. The heavy keyboards feel safer as they begin and the song takes on its classic sound. The instrument that I pick out for special attention is Wendy’s guitar, she is something else, and the song has plenty of her sound that I love. The song becomes a jam, and it spins off in a direction I hadn’t expected. The bass and drums pick up a different groove as the sax solos, and surprisingly I like this even more.

Groove In A is an even better jam, with everyone contributing something. Listening to this, I find myself thinking that it’s a shame that The Revolution didn’t play aftershows like Prince started doing a few years later, jams like this demonstrate to me that they would have killed it. In fact this whole soundcheck would have worked brilliantly as an aftershow, just close your eyes and imagine hearing this at a small club. Groove In A has a nice funky thing going, with a sax riff, before Prince plugs in his guitar and begins to let loose. I say let loose, but in reality he is playing well within the song, and nice and tight. It’s a claustrophobic sounding jam at this point, and I am still with it, every beat and pop, howl and squeal. The song ends with an exchange between Prince and Wendy that has Prince telling her “say into the mic, “I’m weak””, which sets us up nicely for the final song which is a Groove In F

Wendy

It starts fast, very fast, and Prince and Wendy have me laughing as she says “I hate this kind of music”. The bass the cymbals hold most of the sound, with a final appearance from the saxophone a minute into the song. Things take off at this point, Prince responds with a quick solo, before we drop back to the groove. Its funny guy Prince, with him talking funny before the last solo fades out the recording.

I have only had this recording for 24 hours, and already I know that it is one for the ages. We will be hearing a lot more about this in future, I am sure over the coming days, weeks and months everyone will be talking about it. I don’t know how many times I have felt like a jaded fan and the excitement is gone, only for a recording to surface that makes me just as excited as the first time I heard Prince’s music. This is one of those recordings, and listening to it this evening I was transported to another time and place, a time and place where The Revolution reigned supreme. A truly amazing performance and recording, this sounds just as fresh as the day it was recorded 31 years ago.

I’m going to go listen to it again, join us next week for another classic recording
-Hamish

REvolution

 

 

 

The 1986 Box Set ‘A Year in the Life’

Late last year the beautifully curated 1986 box set appeared online and it has had pride of place at my house ever since. The 20 disc set covers 1986 in all forms, live recordings, studio recordings, out takes and released songs. Some people collect live bootlegs, other unreleased studio tracks, and most people have a happy mixture of both. Personally I love live recordings (hence the blog) but this set has proved irresistible to me, the discs are never far from the stereo, and I am compelled to write about it. As passionate as I am, even for me 20 discs of material is too much for me to discuss in detail, so this week I will be presenting an over view of 1986 in general and how well this set covers this extraordinary year.

 

THE 1986 BOX SET BACK

 

The 1986 Box Set ‘A Year in the Life’

In 1987 I was 15 years old. Everywhere I went I carried Sign O The Times under my arm, not the cassette tape or the CD, but the full vinyl album. It was statement about who I was and what I was about. Obviously I couldn’t play it when I had it with me but I used to love the feeling of it in my hands and I would spend hours poring over the art work and lyrics. I had never seen such a beautiful piece of complete art in my life. It’s only 30 years on that I fully realize that although Sign O The Times was released in 1987, it is actually a product of 1986’s extraordinary body of work. I may have listened to Sign O The Times all through 1987 but it sprung from the fertile ground of 1986.

It was not alone- a great many other creative ghost albums from 1986 have slowly revealed themselves over the years- The Flesh, Dream Factory, Camille, Crystal Ball as well as the genesis of The Black Album. The breadth and scope of 1986 is phenomenal, Prince touches on many different genres and seems to be at the peak of his powers in all fields- performance, song writing, command of the studio, creativity, as well as productivity. The 1986 Box Set brings together all these different strands and presents them in way that I get a better feel for what was happening. I can see clearly how it all ties together, the moves and motivations in what I am listening to. When I see it all laid out I can see that at the heart of it all is a lot of humanity and for me this is key thing to remember as I listen to all this music.

There are several things that immediately spring to mind when I think of 1986. Firstly is the feeling of joyful camaraderie and humour. It’s well that Prince filmed Under The Cherry Moon in France, for its two French words that are at the front of my mind as I first begin to listen to this set, joie de vivre and esprit de corps. There is a joy and playfulness in the music, and in the band’s performances. It won’t last all year, but certainly early on they look like they are having a great time together. Have a look at Wendy’s face as she plays at the Shelia E show, she is strutting and having a great time, definitely one funky lady, as Prince was fond of telling people at the time. You can see that smile fixed upon her face, and the rest of the band is following suit. Again in the Cobo set you can clearly see it, I too feel uplifted as I watch them all play together as a tight unit, especially when standing in line playing Mutiny- the music is flowing easily, and they seem to be close to family. It’s the same all through the first half of 1986, the band is smiling and laughing, and you can hear that in the live recordings in this set. In Prince’s singing it’s there, and you can see it in the live clips. They are a close knit unit, and it seems that Prince has reached the point where he trusts the band, and they have a lot of freedom under his direction. He certainly calls all the shots during the tour, but the band have freedom to jam and play their own thing, Eric Leeds in particular seems to propel the music in new  directions, and who doesn’t love that moment in the shows where he gets to play solo before being cut off by Prince “Eric, shut the fuck up!” My mother used to hate it as I stomped around saying this- I sure was a strange kid when I was younger. Even scripted ‘impromptu’ moments like this as he talks with the band, or the audience, reveal his feelings towards the band, and raise the curtain on a performer that previously seemed a little cold and clinical.

This new humane aspect to Prince’s music for me makes it much more accessible, and long lasting. The thing that first attracts me is the humour, it runs all the way through 1986, firstly with The Revolution-both live and in studio, and then later in the year when he goes it alone. Listening to Data Bank for example, we can hear the good times in the studio, and whether it is scripted or not, there is no denying that it is done in a very light mood. Who doesn’t find it funny as the band plays on ignoring Princes instructions- something which I imagine would never happen in real life. Later in the year, after The Revolution has crumbled and the dark clouds have gathered, Prince still retains his humour, and expresses it in his lyrics. Whatever is going on in his personal life, there is still moments to make you smile. A lot of these songs are on the unreleased CD from the second half of the year, as well as the Black album, and of course Sign O The Times still has plenty to make me smile.

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The music is infused with a new humanity as well as emotion – both positive and, later in the year, negative. Knowing what we about Princes life at the time, we can see that he is pouring a lot of his personal life into these songs. The final sessions of Parade hint at this, and it becomes much more apparent as the year progresses. Listening to the warm-up show at First Ave we can hear a mixture of all these feelings, Prince’s love songs, a big splash of humour, as well as a dig at former colleagues with Mutiny and of course his symbolic chopping down of the Oak tree and turning it into a wooden leg. He is much more human than the funk machine we know from earlier years, and the smutty imp is replaced by someone I can relate to and warm to. The music has the full gamut of emotions, and no matter what my mood, when I listen to this I can find something I relate to.

In 1986 his love songs become more meaningful, personal, and as a consequence deeper. He is obviously a happy man in love, at least before April of that year. The songs early in the year speak to this love, and later in the year after his world is transformed he still writes plenty of great songs based on love lost. When I connect Princes personal life to his musical life it’s hard not to look at a song like Strange Relationship and connect it to what is happening in his world. Likewise the song Mutiny which I have spoken of previously is heavy connected to what is happening with his other personal and professional relationships. He taps these emotions to great effect, and some of his most powerful music is drawn from this well.

There is a darker undercurrent running beneath all this emotion, humour and music. There is a dynamic tension in 1986, it propels everything in the year and it’s extremely fertile. The shiny pop vehicle that he rides in on in early 1986 is not the same as the one he leaves in. You only have to look at his personal appearance to see the change. Looking crisp and clean at the start of the year in his black and whites and short cropped hair, by the beginning of 1987 he has taking on a more rough and tumble look, his hair grown out, and a more adult look. He has moved away from the timeless Peter Pan and closer to the sort of person I could expect to meet down the street. The contrast in looks is matched in the contrast of styles he produces through the year. Everywhere I look I see tensions between different sounds and movements. We have the conflicts in The Revolution, both personally and musically, then the tension between his Funk work and his Jazz work.There is the discord between his private life and his professional life. All of it gives a tightness and drive. He is moving in several different directions at once, and tension in the band and in his music can be heard. Wendy and Lisa may have railed against being “Just another funk band”, yet they still played on some of the funkiest songs he has put out to date. After the band split it gets darker and funkier as Prince regroups and is free to go where ever he pleases musically. You can hear the darkness descend in songs like Big Tall Wall, it is balanced by lighter moments, but it’s definitely there. Prince is so prolific that the ideas are bouncing off each other and the connections between his personal life and musical life are blurred. He is a driven man, and everything is thrown into the music. The Black Album bookends this set with Parade, and although dark by name and sound, the lyrics create a further tension, demonstrating a healthy sense of humour against the darker music. It’s a conflicted year, with the joy of The Revolution early on and a flowering of the music, before Prince brings it to a crashing end in Yokohama smashing his guitar on stage and signalling the end of the Revolution but not his creative spirit as he continues to deliver some fantastic music later in the year. When I listen to the studio recordings, and I mean really sit down and listen to them carefully, I can hear this tension, the light against the darkness, the deep against the shallow, the band against the individual, the funk against the full spectrum of music. This conflict is what makes this year so interesting, and best of all Prince had the tapes rolling the whole time.

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If humanity and feeling is the most important thing I take from 1986, the second would be productivity, work ethic and the sheer quantity of music Prince recorded and performed in the year. This box set is 20 CDs, plus extras. Full credit to get it down to that, it could easily have been much more. If it was me it would have stretched out to 40, it all feels essential. But these 20 CDs capture the key moments perfectly, if anyone was looking for the essential must listens, this is it. I would love to take any non-believing music fan and sit them down to listen to this, it’s all here. The glorious highs of The Revolution live shows, the unreleased songs that any other artist would kill to release, the released albums, the unreleased albums, an amazing after-show full of rarities and a couple of CD’s of Princes Jazz leanings, all of it essential and all of it of the highest standard. I have been listening to this music for 30 years, and I am still shaking my head that all of this could have been produced in one year. Prince may have sung “You don’t have to watch Dynasty” but he obviously didn’t spend much time watching TV himself, and I am surprised he even found time to sleep. If I could have heard all of this in 1986, it would have blown my tiny teenage mind, it’s probably just as well that a lot of this music has leaked out slowly over the years.

Live bootlegs are the thing for me, and the ones presented here are among the very best from Princes career. Sure, there are better recorded bootlegs from other interesting periods of his career, but most people would agree that the ones in this set are among the most essential. The show from the 3rd March I have written about before, it may not be the best, but it most certainly is my favourite. The old Prince is fused with the new, and he delivers a show that touches on everything I love about him, his showmanship, he ability to play a mixture of instruments well, his great vocals, and most of all his song writing skills, it all starts and ends in the songs themselves. Then there is the beloved Cobo show, I don’t think I have ever met a Prince fan who didn’t own a copy of this and cherished it. It is indeed ‘untouchable’. The next live shows each capture a moment of the evolution of the band and Prince, the Stockholm show shows them at their peak, the Le New Morning show captures what we would consider the start of Prince’s after shows (despite its dubious recording quality) and then a beautiful soundboard of the Paris concert where It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night was recorded live for Sign O The Times. Each one of these shows is worthy of its inclusion, and I rate them all very highly. Don’t be put off by the sound of the Le New Morning after show, the amazing set list more than makes up for it – what I wouldn’t give for a set list like that nowadays. Finally to top it all off we have the final show of The Revolution. An interesting historical document, the fact it is their final show makes its inclusion a must. Prince smashing his guitar brings the end to an era and the live shows in this set.

The unreleased music and albums in this set throws up a great mix of style and flavours. Prince is experimenting here and pushing himself. The things I first gravitate to are the jazzy flavoured CDs, The Flesh shows Prince dipping his toe in the water before immersing himself more fully with Madhouse later in the year. I rate both highly and for me Junk Music is the must listen track, if you haven’t heard it I suggest you skip straight to it now. The two CDs of unreleased tracks throws up all sorts of interesting tracks, and is a real grab bag of sounds and styles. It’s a lolly scramble with many flavours and colours to try, and again I have to remind myself that this is all coming from one guy in one year. These are trumped for me by the unreleased albums presented here- The Dream Factory, Crystal Ball, Camille, The Black album (later released). Each of them has a distinct flavour and sound. The Dream Factory to my ears is the most cohesive as well as sounding the most like a band effort. It’s the album I listen to most of the four and in some ways it’s a disappointment that it didn’t get released at the time. I can understand why the record company was reluctant to release it in this flood of material, just as I can understand Princes frustration in producing all this great material and being unable to release it. Crystal Ball has an unsettled sound to it, and I feel it reflects well the state of play in late 1986. It has an unease about it and a darkness. Camille is a somewhat artificial creation, more a fan made creation than an actual album, it nevertheless is a lot of fun, and I give it a lot of play in my car. The Black album is the dark funk album of the four, but as I mentioned earlier, Prince’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek with his lyrical content. Who knows what the world would have made of it in 1986, by the time it was released times had moved on, but it’s still a great party album.

The box set opens with the final Parade sessions, and at the other end we have Sign O The Times which is a nice exclamation mark at the end of it all. It’s self a hotchpotch of everything that has come before, it encapsulates everything that has happened in 1986 and neatly sums up the year in its four sides. Love songs, live tracks, sex songs, spiritual songs, psychedelic songs, funk songs as well as some good old fashioned rock, Prince picks something of everything he has done through the year and throws it in. No need to tell you I have heard it thousands of times, yet it’s still an essential addition to this boxset.

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The final thing that marks 1986 as an outstanding year, is not just the quantity of the music, but the quality. Sure there is a lot of songs there, and honestly every one of them is worthy of its place. Prince was untouchable, and everything he tried in 1986 came off for him. He experimented with a range of styles, and mixed them into his own sound producing something unique. In 1986 he did this over and over, I could pick any song from this year and hold it up as an example. His jazz moments get a lot of praise, and then again we can’t forget he also produced the funky Black album to boot. Listening to all this albums and songs now, anyone of them would hold its place on a released album. Prince did a lot in these 52 weeks, and he did it oh so well. The band influence can be heard early on, and later in the year he is still taking on other influences as he works alone. In 1986 I knew Prince was good, I just didn’t realize how good until a few years later as these songs came to light.

Prince plays many different styles over the span of the box set, and for me the two that are of the highest standard and both worth mentioning are the Jazz stylings, and the hard funk. Again, they feed back into the dynamic tension that drives 1986, and the unsettling nature of hearing one man produce both at such a high quality in a small period of time. Parade may have had hints of Jazz, but it’s The Flesh where Prince first begins to flesh it out (excuse the pun). The Parade sessions end in January and then in the same month Prince records this collection of Jazz flavoured songs. You could argue that it’s not really a jazz album, but the intent is there, as is the sound, helped notably by Eric Leeds. I have to constantly remind myself that these are the essentially the same group of people that recorded Anotherloverholeinyohead just a few weeks previous. Prince gets a chance to do it all again later, with his Madhouse configuration later in the year. Here he strips it back to just him and Eric Leeds, and this time it’s no studio experiment, this time he is recording for release. Looking at it now it seems a mad idea, but when you look at the body of work from 1986 in makes perfect sense. Of course he want to record a jazz album and put it out, this is Prince we’re talking about. I am not a fan of everything on the album, but I am full of admiration for the fact it is done, and it does stand on its own as an album.

This being 1986 there is an opposite to this, and that would be The Black album. It’s easy to point at similarities too, the Black album is conceived as an album that focuses on one style and aspect of Princes music, and of course it does feature 2 Nigs United 4 West Compton which works as a jazz fusion funk jam. Elsewhere though, the colours are drained out and this is a lean mean funk album. The lyrics as noted earlier are fun and light, even if the music is hard edged. Again, I aren’t a fan of everything on the album, but it does hold true to his vision, and like everything else in the year it’s done to a high standard.

There is no doubt in my mind that 1986 is the peak of Princes productivity and creativity, and as such the 1986 boxset is absolutely essential. If I was to introduce a newbie to Prince, this would be the place to start. It reveals him not as a pop star or performer, but as a true artist. True, he is playing the game in his live shows, but it’s in the studio where he is pushing boundaries and himself. When I listen to this set, I don’t hear pop songs, I hear art, art that will last long after Princes star has faded. There will be those in future who won’t have grown with his music as I have, nor seen him live, and its box sets like this that will remain as testament to his genius and vision. There is more to it than this however, for me the music here is not just about Prince, it is deeply personal to me, and I carry a variety of associations with it. It represents not just a milestone in Princes life, but also a series of milestones from my own as it has sound-tracked my life for the last 30 years. 1986- A Year In The Life has actually lasted me a life time. Good times and bad, I have had this music with me all the way through my journey, providing comfort and uplifting moments when I needed it. I may have carried Sign O The Times with me all through 1987, but this collection of music from 1986 I have carried with me for all my life.

-Hamish

For more on this extraordinary collection visit: 1986boxset.blogspot.com

THE1986BOXSET Flyer (2)

 

 

 

 

 

Warfield Theatre 1986

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.

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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.

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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.

San Fran 86d

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”
San Fran 86

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.

San Fran 86e

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.

San Fran 86a

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

 

Lakeland 1983

This week I am rolling back the clock to 1983 for another 1999 show. Although the shows are all very similar, I still love listening to and watching young Prince in action. What the shows lack in variety, they make up in energy, showmanship and pure enjoyment. I have written of other shows from the 1999 tour, and this one doesn’t differ much from those, so this will be a shorter entry. I haven’t heard this one for a while, so I can’t wait to hear a few old favourites.

Lakeland 1983

1st February, 1983, Lakeland Civic Centre, Florida

Its classic Prince as the spoken intro of 1999 intones before a thunder roll opens the show. The sense of anticipation builds as the drum beat of Controversy plays before the sound of the guitar and Prince appears in silhouette, astride the action on his high perch. He plays the whole song like this, just silhouetted and singing, and I find it really suits the song and the mood of the song – Prince the mysterious figure appearing in the mist to lay his funk upon us. The song has an air of causal professionalism, the band sound laid back in places, and it’s Prince’s guitar as well as some clunky piano that add the tension to the song. I appreciate that Prince calls out Bobby Z, and I love that there is a nice little guitar moment just as the song comes to a close.

Lakeland 1983b

 

Let’s Work has Prince back in the spot light literally, while Brown Mark takes the spot light musically. I think when most people think of Prince, this is the image that comes to mind, him resplendent in his purple trench coat and finely coiffured hair piled high upon his head. The band all get moments on this song, and I enjoy hearing them all individually. I am surprised that Dez gets a solo too, in the 1999 shows his role is diminished, and the sight of him and Prince playing shoulder to shoulder in the Controversy tour is now just a memory. He still plays well, and his performance is fun, but that close knit look of previous tours is gone.

Lakeland 1983c

Dez shines early on in Do Me Baby, his guitar line off setting some of the lushness, and for me it greatly enhances the performance.   As always, Prince plays the showman on this one, and his performance is visual just as much as it is vocal. The highlight for me is Prince standing atop a little side platform and unleashing a couple of howls, it’s something the teenage me enjoyed, and I still get a kick out of it today. Somehow it’s not as down and dirty as it looked on the Controversy tour, Prince has toned down his performance somewhat, nevertheless still very enjoyable.

D.M.S.R almost has me on my feet, but I am just a little too repressed to leap straight up and dance to it. The start of the song is great, with Prince, Brown Mark and Dez all playing together and pulling a couple of moves. Again it feels like a band performance, rather than Prince backed by a band. This is heightened mid-song when the three of them again play together and slide easily back and forth in unison. The song finishes and I realize that I have just been watching in awe, it’s a great performance.

Lakeland 1983d

Lisa’s shimmering solo is always a pleasure to listen to, and although different in tone from what we have been listening to, it never feels like it has been shoehorned into the show. The crowd however are here for Prince, and there are plenty of shouts and screams as he appears and begins to play at the piano.

A brief introduction of With You before he grooves easily into How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore. I wonder what he can do with it this time, and after a couple of minutes of playing he begins his shtick. Prancing across the stage, lying on the piano, and a couple of good screams is par for the course here, and he delivers it all with aplomb. It gets better as he goes, and it peaks as he tells the crowd that as he was making love to another girl he screamed out your name. Obviously the crowd lap it up, and it’s all done with a nod and a wink that gives it a fun tone. The tootsie roll line has been done to death, but the intro of Lady Cab Driver comes right on top of and doesn’t give me a chance to dwell on the moment.

Lady Cab Driver sounds effortless smooth, and seeing Prince singing and playing his guitar on this song is a definite highlight for me. The song is very smooth sounding with the exception of Dez’s scorching guitar solo. Shirtless and throwing shapes as he plays, there is no mistaking he is the rock in Princes sound, both figuratively and literally. The song somewhat disappointingly ends here, leaving me hungry for more.

Lakeland 1983f

I am surprised at how quickly I Wanna To Be Your Lover starts. The beat doesn’t stop, it just segues straight into it. I Wanna Be Your Lover is kept very short, a verse and chorus before Head gets even less, with a single line and a riff.  Its nice to get even that, and it’s a nod to those in the audience that have stuck with Prince, from his dirty days through to now as he is on the cusp of pop stardom.

Again the music doesn’t let up as Little Red Corvette follows straight on the heels of the previous two songs. There is nothing in the ways of build up, Prince starts singing right from the start. What I really like about it though is the bass is nice and fat sounding, and it’s much more to the fore. As always Dez’s solo is great, and yet it’s the bass that I keep coming back to, especially as his solo finishes. It’s as heard on the 12 inch version, and as the bass loops over Dez comes back with another solo. I would say this part of the show is essential, Dez’s solo is fierce before the band drops out leaving the bass line playing and Prince encouraging the crowd to clap. The song continues with the full band and that fantastic bass for another couple of minutes, and I could dine on this all day long.

Lakeland 1983e

Chants of “We want Prince” bring our Casanova back to stage for the overworked International Lover. Prince plays his part so well, opening the song shrouded in smoke, before turning on the seduction as the song progresses. This song highlights how much a Prince concert has become a “show”. It’s not longer Prince and the band playing their songs in a furious assault, now the performance matters much more, and certain songs are tightly choreographed and done for show. This is the most staged of the songs, with Prince climbing high on his stage to the infamous hydraulic bed. There is plenty of screams as he performs a striptease before lowering himself to the bed. As he sinks from view I can’t help but think “what a great way to end a show!”

There isn’t too much time to consider this as the familiar opening riff of 1999 begins. Prince reappears, looking every inch a pop star in his shiny purple coat. This song sounded great on the radio, and it sounds just as good live. It’s a lot of fun seeing Bobby Z standing behind his drumkit, playing to the drum track, while Jill Jones and Lisa share a microphone and vocals. It does have a triumphant sound to it, and it’s the right song to end the concert with at this stage.  There is no better sight and sound than seeing Prince and band dancing and playing some great rhythm towards the end of the show. As smoke engulfs the stage the guitars begin to howl and one last pose Prince ends the show.

These older shows are always great, the freshness of the music, and the extra spring in the step of both Prince and Revolution. Even though the shows don’t vary much, I always enjoy listening to them, especially with The Time playing as well. It was about this time that I first became a Prince fan, so there is always a heavy dose of nostalgia when I listen to these shows-they may not be essential, but they are definitely a lot of fun.

Thanks
Hamish

 

 

Kansas City-Welcome to 1999

1999 is to me Princes best album. Many would disagree and say Sign O The Times, but for me 1982 and the 1999 album is where Prince finally delivered on his potential and recorded the first master piece of his career. 1999 is the album that cemented my fandom, and it’s still much loved by me today. So it’s somewhat of a surprise that I don’t hold the 1999 tour in such high esteem, and although I listen to the 1999 album a lot, the tour itself is often over looked by me. This is for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the 1999 concerts don’t concentrate on the 1999 album as much as I would like. Only about half the album is played, and it’s not until well into the shows do we first get a song off 1999. The 1999 songs miss that cold electric feel in the live setting, and there is more warmth to them. Secondly Prince firmly has his eye on reaching a larger audience. There is nothing wrong with that, but I feel the band has a little less fire and freedom then they do on earlier tours. There is no wild guitar breaks, and Prince has toned down his look, as well as doing away with some of his racier songs such as Head.  The shows are now streamlined, and a lot more predictable. On the plus side, the 1999 shows clearly sign post what is coming next with Purple Rain, and there is a newer professionalism evident that is required to reach the next level. Also the piano set makes its first appearance at these shows, and although short, set the standard for the future. An exciting transitional period, it’s worth hearing these shows as they capture Prince just as he is reaching a wider audience.

1999-7

19 March, 1983 Kansas City, Missouri

The first thing heard on this recording is the “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you” voice from the beginning of 1999. However it’s not 1999 that opens the but instead the electrifying guitar riff of Controversy. It may seem strange, but one of the things I notice is the reaction of the crowd is different from previous tours. The response is loud, but not wild, and there is more of a sound of expectation rather than wild abandonment. The recording is an audience recording, and it has aged well. The music sounds strong and bold, and Princes vocals are clear and easily understood. He calls to the crowd “welcome to 1999” as the band plays a polished version of Controversy. All Princes bands are well rehearsed, but here there seems to be an extra sharpness. They are very lean and polished sounding. The song is very tight, and even Dezs backing vocals are right on the money. It’s not a 1999 song, but it is a good opening song for the show. I really like the guitar sound through the song, and it gains extra emphasis in this tight arrangement. The song isn’t over played and doesn’t get played out quite as much as I would like.

Sticking with songs from the Controversy album the band play an equally tight version of Lets Work. This elicits a more wild reaction from the crowd and there are many squeals to be heard. This song also seems to have a very strong sound to it, and it pumps through my speakers nicely. Prince’s vocals are out front and strong and he is well matched by the synth. I normally hear the bass much more when listening to recordings of this song, however here it seems to be lower in the mix. As per Controversy the song is kept short, and Prince doesn’t jam on it in anyway at all. It’s got a good party sound to it, and Prince can be heard winning over the audience and working them well.

Third song in and we get the trademark slow song. Do Me Baby has a long intro and it quickly quietens the audience. Prince has changed since the Controversy tour and he doesn’t over work the song as he did on that tour. He is far more restrained in his vocals, yet they are still great and very strong, just he doesn’t pour as much emotion into them. Perhaps being a longer tour, or playing in larger arenas, he holds it in and just sings it straight down the line. The song itself is great, and I do enjoy it immensely. I love the long opening sequence before he sings, and as always his vocals performance and screams hold my attention. Performances like this are timeless.

Finally we get a 1999 song as the synths play the synth horn-line of D.M.S.R. The bass and the drums lock into step and it’s hard not to smile listening to it. It’s a little quicker than the album, I’m not sure if it’s due to the live performance or the tape recording. I can hear the audience clapping along, and that’s normally a good sign. The whole middle section is present complete with sirens and female shrieks, before some very funky rhythm guitar plays. Prince encourages the “White folks clap on the two and four”, acknowledging the changing colour of his audience. I could have happily listened to this song much longer (I was clapping on the two and four) but it ends in a wave of shimmering synths before things quieten again and there is another change of pace.

1999-4

Next Lisa plays a lovely interlude. There is more shimmering synths that come in waves adding layer upon layer of sound. It’s a good couple of minutes and I am happy to hear Lisa showing some of her talent.

The sound of the piano marks the return of Prince and he takes a solo turn at the piano. He warms himself and us up with an instrumental arrangement of For You. It serves as a nice introduction to his piano playing and is a sweet couple of minutes. It’s a good chance for Prince to showcase another one of his talents to the crowd, and they do show their appreciation with applause.

Still Waiting has him singing, but its slight and his vocals are soft sounding. I get a lot of enjoyment from the song, but I am mostly listening to the piano and Princes vocals don’t make much of an impression on me.

How Come You Don’t Me Anymore is much stronger, both in his piano playing and his singing. He can be heard playing the keys much harder, and his vocals are sung with more gusto. This song is still a regular in the piano set to this day, and listening here I can see why it’s made such an impression all these years. The vocals are playful, and tell a story most can relate to, while the piano has a lilt and swing to it that is irresistible. It also contains some great screams near the end, as well as a hint of Princes smutty humour as he asks “Don’t you want to play with my tootsie roll?”

1999-1

What follows next is my personal highlight of the show as they play Lady Cab Driver. They manage to capture the dry sound it has on the album, and the bass and synths are excellent. Prince has a detached sound to his voice, and for the first time I really feel like it’s a 1999 show. Prince also has a brief but fine moment with his guitar near the end of the song. The only let down is it’s nowhere near as long as it is on the album, and as an abridged version it sounds far more like a pop song. I do like it though, so I play it twice in a row.

The ‘pop hit’ follows next as Prince and the band play and upbeat and sharp version of Little Red Corvette. It’s almost perfunctory in it’s delivery and it’s not the highlight you may expect. I would have thought Prince could do more with it, but he shuts it down right after the guitar solo, we are denied even hearing the album version.  I feel cheated as even the introduction keyboards are very short before Prince begins singing. The song does sound OK, but as it ends it seems like a wasted opportunity.

The sound of a woman moaning heralds the return of the Prince I know and love as the band swings into a raucous version of Dirty Mind. For the first and only time in the evening we hear Prince and the band play in a style I am used to from previous tours. There is a lot more energy in the song, Prince is singing his dirty lyrics, and the whole song has an exuberant feel to it. It also gets the jam treatment, which I like. There is a long bridge with plenty of keyboards, before a rough sounding guitar is heard underneath. The song comes to an end in a cascade of keyboard and guitar and I couldn’t be happier.

“Fasten your seatbelts” and the seductive sounds of International Lover begins. Another professional performance follows as it played almost note perfect to what’s heard on album. The stand out moments for me is as the music fades and quietens Prince delivers up some great vocal work and especially some excellent shrieks. There is plenty of crowd noise as Prince goes through his stage show and it’s obviously going over very well with the audience. The recording is very clean here, and I love that I can hear every instrument and sound so clearly. Amazing sound for a 30 year old audience recording.

1999-3

The song fades and instantly the synth riff of 1999 sounds. It’s got a good driving sound to it, and I like it that it’s the synth that is driving it, rather than the pounding drum beat we hear on later tours. Prince’s vocals aren’t as clear as the other singers, but the music is the hero here, and that is perfect. The synth trumps everything, and at times it’s almost too much for me. Things become more balanced later in the song as the guitar sound becomes more prominent, as well as Princes vocals becoming clearer. It’s no surprise at all that this is the party song of the evening and it closes on a high note with Prince and the crowd singing together. There is one final refrain before a glorious keyboard riff and the howl of a guitar wraps it up. The final crescendo is magnificent as Prince shreds the guitar over a wall of keyboards.

My earlier assessment of the 1999 shows was perhaps overly harsh. I can’t deny, I greatly enjoyed listening to this show. There was some flashes of greatness from Prince, and I can’t deny the band was so tight and well-rehearsed that they were flawless. My only problem was it was too professional, too dry. I liked the looseness or Dirty Mind, and again the final couple of minutes of 1999, but for the most part it was following a pretty tight script. Still, an interesting listen to the evolution of Prince, and a big step towards Purple Rain and world domination.

Take care
-Hamish

 

 

The Ritz 1981

After listening to recordings from more modern times recently, I have today decided today to dig back all the way to 1981. I like these early shows- no Purple Rain, no dancers, no sampler sets- just the music. The word that always comes to mind is ‘raw’ and although it’s almost a cliché, it is entirely true. Prince is raw, both musically and visually, and I can connect to the younger him on stage. I will be watching a show from 1981, and there isn’t too many shows circulating on video from this time, it’s certainly not like nowadays when there seems to be a camera at every show. I love this show, but it’s been sometime since I last saw it, so I look forward to reacquainting myself with it.

Ritz 81

22 March, 1981, The Ritz, New York

The first thing I hear is the bass snap of Do It All Night and the simmering synth riff. Prince appears bathed in dry ice, and I already love this show. It’s got such a classic feel to it, it’s hard not to be swept along on a high. Prince’s vocals are nice and pure, and the bass in particular sounds great. The whole recording is very clean, it really is a treat to listen to. The band certainly looks like they are ready to rock, however the song doesn’t require it and they are nicely restrained. There is a cool moment in the show when Prince calls Andre and Dez to walk and the three of them pull a nice little move off together. Prince is a little quiet, that is by no means a criticism as his vocals are so crisp.

Ritz 81a

The rock part of the gig starts next as Dez throws himself energetically into Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad. There are a few squeals from the crowd as Prince sings his lines, but it’s at the chorus that the song really takes off. Both Andre and Dez put a lot of energy into it, and I feel it elevates the song considerably. There is also a nice moment as Prince and Dez strike their classic guitar gods pose. I can just about sing Princes guitar break note for note as I have heard it so many times, and it gets my heart pumping now just as much as it did 30 years ago. It has been a good while since I last heard this song, and I had forgotten how much enjoyment I get out of it. Prince’s second guitar break is more interesting, he is backed by the keyboards, and they ably match him. The song isn’t as long as I have sometimes heard, and it leaves me wanting more as Prince brings it to a close.

Ritz 81b

“We’re going to do something for the rude people” has me wondering what he is going to play next, and I am pleasantly surprised as Prince croons his way through Gotta Broken Heart Again. Not only is his singing gentle on the ear, but there is also some delicate piano and guitar play which has me paying close attention. The song doesn’t contain anything in the way of surprise, and that is a surprise in itself and Prince keeps it simple. He does indulge in some vocal play at the end of the song before it comes to a close with that piano again. This song is great, and I’m doing it a disservice by not writing more about it.

I wrote about Broken when I covered his 81 show at Sams Minneapolis, and here it once again appears. Its rockabilly style feels a little out of place, but in retrospect it’s nothing like the stylistic jumps later in his career. I like Princes vocals, his singing at this time is a nice falsetto, it’s just the music in this song is so slight it leaves me feeling hollow.

Ritz 81f

Bobby Z gets to play a nice long intro to When You Were Mine, before Prince comes in with his guitar. The song isn’t as strong as I like, there is certainly much stronger versions floating around. It’s played well though, and I can’t fault it in any way. Prince looks incredibly young, and it’s hard to believe he’s lived the experiences he is singing about. The break down is normally longer than what we hear on this recording, and after a quick line Prince jumps back into the song. It’s all very fine, but I get the feeling that something needs turning up to 11 to make the song jump.

Ritz 81d

Gotta Stop Messing About sounds good, so I am surprised to see how static the audience is. Andre’s bass is the star for me through this song, he has a nice pop going in my left ear. Dez and Andre both contribute backing vocals to Prince and it does add a more manly sound to the song, although the synth squiggle undoes some of that. Prince does bounce and bob, and yet the song never really ignites and comes to an end leaving me wishing it was something more.

I hear a funky guitar play and the rhythmic pattern of Sexy Dancer played on the cymbals and my spirits lift. The main elements of the song are Princes guitar and his vocals, and that’s no bad thing at all. There is a keyboard solo, but I find myself still listening to Princes guitar as it plays. The song becomes a dance after about half way, plenty of bass, guitars and a nice easy chant rolling over and over. There is a brief guitar break from Prince that becomes more and more and we get a good couple of minutes of him playing rhythm guitar centre stage. I was about to dismiss the rest of the band, but Dr Fink plays a really cool solo, complete with bobbing head and jerking motions. I love ya Doc!

Ritz 81h

I don’t recall the last time I listened to Sister. Some days I love it, and some days I dismiss it as a throw away piece. I like seeing the performance here, but truthfully I could probably live without it. It’s hard to be critical of something that’s so brief, so it’s with pleasure we move to the next song.

I Want To Be Your Lover is a slab of pure pop, and it’s hard for me to reconcile between the look of Dirty Mind era Prince, and the pop sound of the song. In later years he would joke with the lyric “Ain’t got no money (now that’s a lie)” but I have to say looking at him here, he definitely looks like he’s got no money. As good as his vocals sound, for this song it’s the rhythm guitar of Dez that I focus on. Not just the chorus, but also the verses his guitar sound is fantastic. I don’t think I had noticed it earlier, but now it’s all I can hear. As befitting a pop song it finishes after three minutes and we move onto something much darker, and funkier.

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There is no better sound than that of Prince and the band grooving on the intro of Head. That opening synth stab and the delicious sound of the guitars before Prince intones his opening lines, all of it is great for me. I would love this even if it was a bad performance, but then again how often does that happen? This one is great, and right at the start there is a fantastic shot of a very young Lisa Coleman singing her lines, the show is worth seeing just for that alone. Another highlight is seeing Dr Fink doing what he does best, and I swear one day I am going to learn how to dance like that. Prince looks somewhat like Mick Jagger as he leads the crowd into singing “head”, and there is plenty of strutting and prancing. The band hit their straps at this point, and all of them look like they are feeling the groove as the play. Andre in particular puts on a great show. For many years the highlight of this song has been the second half as Prince engages in his guitar noise and showmanship. Seeing it as well as hearing it is a bonus, and even though I have heard it a lot I still find myself watching transfixed as Prince plays. The last few minutes are epic as Prince plays lead, rhythm and masturbates with his guitar. I can’t help but think of the word ‘raw’ again. And ‘awesome’

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Things take another change as Still Waiting is the next song played. Dr Fink again is a star with his piano playing carrying the song early on. Prince is once again at his crooning best, I may not catch all the words but I catch his meaning. The song has a gentle elegance to it during the chorus and the lights come up slightly as the music rises. Prince steps out from behind the microphone stand and engages with the audience with his looks and vocal performance, and I find myself warming to him much more here. Prince shows more of his star power as later in the song he sings under a single spotlight and we hear some of his great falsetto. Prince directs the band to finish the song and with a final vocal flourish it ends.

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The show does go for longer, but sadly the video footage ends here, and so must my blog entry.

It’s very hard for me to write objectively about any show from this time period. I am a life long fan of Prince, and I listen to all sorts of shows, but some years are better to me than others. Give me anything from 1981, 1986 or 1995 and I am about as happy as I can be. This isn’t the best from this time, but seeing it does give it some extra merit. There are only a few shows documented on video from this time, so I do treat this one with reverence. A good show, and a nice video, it’s got plenty going for it, it’s just a shame it wasn’t the whole show or a more impassioned performance. A worthy addition to the collection and worth watching a couple of times a year.

Have a great week,
See you next week for another great recording ‘off the record’
-Hamish

Ritz 81k

 

Le New Morning 1986

 

How does this sound for a set list?

I Can’t Get Next To You
Love Or $
Purple House
An Honest Man
Strange Relationship
Last Heart
Head
Anotherloverholenyohead
Soul Power
Controversy
A Love Bizarre
Jazz Jam
Do Me, Baby
17 Days
Susannah’s Blues

Looks great, doesn’t it? And played by the Parade era Revolution. Oh, and did I mention that Prince’s father plays piano on the jazz jam? It’s beginning to look like one of the greats. There’s just one thing- it’s not a great recording. In fact it’s decidedly average- plenty of distortion through the whole show. So, where do I stand on the quality of the show versus the quality of the recording? Is the trade-off worth it? For me it’s a definite “Yes”, but this one isn’t for the faint of heart.

24 August, 1986 Le New Morning, Paris


Right off, the recording is distorting. The bass has an annoying buzz to it that I just can’t shake. It is an audience recording, and I certainly have heard a lot worse, but the constant distortion on the bass is a distraction. Prince and the rest of the band can be heard quite clearly, so it’s not all bad. The recording begins with the band playing a cover of I Can’t Get Next To You. It has a hypnotic beat and bass line, but I have to listen carefully past the bass and its buzz to catch the nuances of the song. Prince is sounding relaxed and playful, and has the crowd with him early on. The verses sound fine with Prince and the girls backing him, and the choruses has him and the male voices which have a nice strong sound. Prince calls for Miko to play a lead break, and he plays a break that I really enjoy. On a better recording I would be raving about this, but it is what it is. Miko always has a great tone to his guitar, and here it’s a clean sound which I really like. For I long time I underestimated Miko, but now I have come to really admire his sound. The song returns to its steady blues sound, and Prince and the rest of the band blend in well together. I had expected this song to go on and on, so I’m am caught off guard as it finishes at this point.

♥ Or $ next and any reservations I had about the quality of the recording are forgotten. The band hits their straps on this one, and I get swept up along with it. They settle into the steady groove, and even with the distortion they sound sharp. There is plenty horns and sax, and I can hear the crowd cheer, as I am doing here at home. The band sound tight, and yet Prince and the horns sound nice and loose, and there is an air of anticipation that is heightened when Prince threatens “we about to get funky in here”. He is as good as his word as he unleashes Eric Leeds, and as a lifelong fan of Eric I am deliriously happy. There is a funky little guitar line too, you have to listen hard to hear it, and it adds a little more funk to Eric’s horn. There is very little in the way of singing, just plenty of Eric and groove. The song ends with the girls giving a sharp “love” as the crowd shows its appreciation.

Prince Parade 86

The first live performance of Jimi Hendrix’s Red House (appropriately re-titled as Purple House) follows next as we swing back to the blues. Prince claims the song in the first line as he sings “There’s a Purple house yonder” The distortion isn’t too bad, it’s unfortunate that it does hide some of Princes vocals. The song isn’t as guitar heavy as I thought it may have been, Prince gives the singing plenty of attention before he begins his guitar playing about mid-song. There is some horn swells which round out Princes guitar playing, and he doesn’t linger too long with his playing. I am two minds about this, I do love it when he plays, however the song has a nice balanced sound as it’s played here, so I am more than happy with what I am hearing. Again it’s not stretched out or jammed on, and the band is still pretty uptight.

What attracted me most to this recording is the set list, and what we have next is another treat with Prince playing An Honest Man. With just him and the piano he catches just the right side of vulnerable. I love hearing tracks like this, and this one is made even better by the fact that the distortion is absent now that the bass isn’t playing. Prince gives it some flourishes on the piano, before he calls Eric and the two of them play together. I close my eyes and enjoy the moment. The recording isn’t perfect, but this is the reason I listen to bootlegs, rare moments that only happen once. The song ends with Prince crooning and a gentle twinkle on the piano, before another special moment begins.

Next up is a steady beat that sounds very familiar, yet not quite as I know it. This is the first airing of one of my most beloved songs – Strange Relationship. It’s played slower, and is missing some of the energy of the finished product, and yet is fully formed pretty much as we know it. The intro is long and elastic, before Prince starts singing the “do do do do” lines. Unfortunately the distortion also makes a return, but I refuse to let that ruin this moment for me. At the slower pace it lacks the funky dancing vibe, however my head still bobs along with it as it plays. This is very much a highlight for me, I love hearing this version and the horn lines give it an extra touch of class. There is a piano break that I am guessing is Prince, and at this pointing I am cranking the volume way past 11, it’s just the sort of thing I want to hear, and it’s a real treat for me. Prince calls to Miko, but I can’t make out what he is saying, and I don’t hear Miko contributing anything sonically either. I give up trying the pick all the pieces and instead focus on Princes piano and singing, before Eric Leeds plays again and demands my attention. His solo here adds a lot to the song, and it does give it a completely different feel. The song stretches out past the seven minute mark, and Prince begins to sing Last Heart. Oh boy, what a treat this is. The piano is prominent and after a few lines Prince jams on it some more. As the song ends I am in heaven, despite the distortion this is amazing to listen to, I don’t know why I haven’t had this on constant rotation.

Prince Parade 86c

Head starts of very quietly and builds to a steady groove.  There is no synth early on as the bass and the guitar build up, the bass bobbing along while the guitar picks out a string of funky lines. The horns finally hit a stab and the snare cracks as the song suddenly comes into focus. There is a loud shout from the crowd, especially in my left ear, which both excites and irritates me. There is an interesting mix on this one, its normal, bare the guitar which is playing a funky line that is very clear throughout. I enjoy it in this way, and appreciate the different sound it brings. This is obviously a favourite with the crowd, there is a lot of yelling and cheering as the song progresses. Prince asks if the crowd is having a good time as Atlanta Bliss plays a trumpet break, thus adding a further interesting dimension to the song. The song takes its usual twists and turns, and it’s the horns and the piano lines that I get the most satisfaction from. Prince has the crowd doing soul clap as Bobby puts a harder beat on it and the piano gets funkier and funkier. The song ends here with a final horn flourish and an appreciative audience.

The opening sound of Anotherloveholeinyohead has a very thin shaky sound, and the song really picks up when the band come on board. The distortion is again a distraction, and I am grateful that I can hear Prince and the band singing loudly which takes my attention from it. The crowd sings loudly and the funky levels certainly go up a notch, and that’s saying something coming on the heels of Head. The horn solos punch over the top of the distortion, and I am more pleased as just after this things briefly quieten and I can for a short time hear the band clearly. The recording fades out at this point, which is almost a relief after the distortion.

Next we hear Price say “and for my next trick” as the band strikes up Soul Power.  This band is well suited to this James Brown groove, and the song is led by the guitar and an organ groove. I love grooving along to it here at home, and I am dangerously close to getting off my seat and dancing along to it. It’s given even more of a James Brown sound as Eric Leeds puts his trademark horn to it. His playing is quite frenetic, and it’s a shame that it’s kept relatively short. It’s not so bad through as Prince leads the band through some chanting of ‘soul power’ before encouraging them to play faster. Later in the song the bass becomes more loose and wild, and it’s something I would love to sing the praises of, if not for the distortion that comes with it. I start to grin as Prince gets the crowd singing “oohhhhhhh, shit!” I guess there is still a bit of teenager still in me. Prince plays with the crowd further by having them bark and meow for the last minute of the song. A lot of fun is had, and even though not much is happening musically it’s still good to listen to.

Prince Parade 86a

A very Parade era sounding Controversy follows next. There is that great pounding beat that starts it, while a funky rhythm guitar plays. The horns blast in, and I am immediately transported back. Prince runs through his lines easily enough, but as always it’s the music that I really listening to here. The song is kept short as per the Parade tour before a natural segue into Love Bizarre.

“A, B, A B C D!” is followed by a fantastic horn riff and a massive shout from the crowd. Excitement and energy levels are obviously very high in the room, and this song goes over very well. The distortion levels also rise, which is disappointing. It’s not too bad in the choruses, but it does ruin the verses somewhat. The horns are nice and airy, and they come across good in the recording. Prince’s vocals are deep in the sound of the song, and I have to listen pretty hard to hear them. There is a respite from the extra noise when the band drop out as Prince and the ladies sing “Love Bizarre” before a glorious sounding Eric Leeds plays with the organ behind him. Wendy also gets some shine next as Prince sings “whose house, Wendy’s house” over her rhythm. There is a break for Brown Mark to play, unfortunately as it’s the bass that’s causing the distortion it’s not an easy listen. The band really rumble at this point, the bass and the drum hit that beautiful groove and the band all fall in. This gives Prince a chance to do his best James Brown, and he gives plenty of screams, before working the band through a series of stops and starts.

When the song ends there is a loud cheer from the crowd, before the recording takes a sudden cut to the middle of another song. It’s listed as Jazzy Jam, and that is a very apt title. Its only half a minute here, we are obviously only catching the end of a song, but it is heavy on the sax and trumpet and does indeed have a Jazz sound to it.

Do Me Baby is far more recognizable, and the arrangement played here is gorgeous. Prince elects not to sing, instead playing the vocal melody on his guitar. It’s just as good as you might imagine, even with the quality of the recording. The melody is only the start point as Prince stretches it more and more out, before beginning to really branch out on the guitar. The horns come in and ground it, and everything seems to click together just right. There is a break down mid song, when everything strips back, and it’s a nice opportunity to catch our breath. The horns again play a nice fat sound, and fill the song out nicely. I rate this version highly, there is plenty here that I haven’t heard before. It not until the six minute mark do we finally hear Princes voice, as he sings a series of “Do me baby, all night long”, before again playing some delicate guitar.

Prince Parade 86b

The tempo and mood is again uplifted as the band play 17 Days.  Prince plays with the song a little, calling “bass and drums” only early on and just letting the rhythm carry it. A funky guitar is thrown into the mix, and the band play this bare stripped sound for quite some time. Brown Mark is prominent, the song is grounded on his bass, and there is also a minute where we get to hear him play with a more loose sound. Prince does sing, later in the song, and it doesn’t sound quite as catchy as it did on record. He only sings a verse and a chorus before the horns play a delicious break that leaves me wishing I could have been there. Prince does call out to the band, again due to the recording I am unable to make out what he says. However the song does strip back for the guitar, and I love hearing that.

There is one final surprise as Prince calls a change and the band segues into Susannah’s Blues. It’s very loose, with Prince chatting to the crowd and introducing Miko. It’s just a gentle riff, and Prince scats a little before the piano plays a jazzy sounding break. The recording fades here, and leaves me to consider what I have just heard.

This show is really something. I can’t state enough how brilliant the set list is, so many interesting arrangements and rarities in there. Likewise I can’t dismiss the fact that the recording itself is far from ideal, and something that the average fan would generally avoid. My overall thoughts are that the good points about this show are so brilliant that they do overshadow the poor quality recording. In even slightly better sound this would be one that all Prince fans would be talking about, and even as it is it’s still a worthy boot.

Thanks for reading,
Next week, something from the 21st century.
Hamish

 

Making of Rain-Minnesota Dance Theatre benefit show

I am very intimidated about writing about this recording. Some shows are so legendry, so much part of the Prince mythos, that they are almost untouchable. This is very much one of those shows. Recorded between the albums 1999 and Purple Rain, it captures the genesis of what will follow in the coming years. It is legendary on so many different levels, and offers something for everyone. First of all, its Wendy Melvoins debut with the band- that in itself is a key marker for the storm that will follow in the next few years. Next, there is six new songs introduced, and three of them recorded for the basic tacks on Purple Rain (I would Die 4 U, Baby, I’m a Star, and Purple Rain itself). Again, a mouth-watering proposition for any fan. And one of the songs played here is the unreleased fan favourite Electric Intercourse. The most famous song that Prince never released? Perhaps, but I aren’t going to pass judgment on that. I can barely bring myself to write about this show, least I do it an injustice. I am not one for hype or hyperbole, but this show more than lives up to every expectation heaped upon it.

Minnesota Dance Theatre benefit show, August 3rd 1983

The opening keyboard of Lets Go Crazy is the first thing heard on this recording. The crowd cheers, but there isn’t the frenzied anticipation we see in later years. As a new song I am sure most of the crowd are unsure of what to expect next. Prince quickly shows them as he finishes his after world speech and goes into the now familiar riff of Lets Go Crazy. The vocals on the recording are a little fuzzy, but the song is already being played very tight, like all Prince bands there is many hours of rehearsal to back them up. Despite hearing this song hundreds of times, it sounds fresh to me here- perhaps as its fresh to the band themselves, and they certainly look like they are having a lot of fun playing it. Prince still has his 1999 look about him in terms of clothing and hairstyle, and he plays with a big grin on his face. I find myself smiling with him and I love it when he plays alongside Wendy and there is some nice interaction between them. Wendy makes an immediate impression, and she more than holds her own on this song. At times she does look a little stiff, but overall she kills it on the guitar and already has good onstage chemistry with Prince. It’s a great opening song, in fact it was so good I went back and played it twice.

Prince 8.83

The audience is much more familiar with the next song, When You Were Mine. I was going to write that this is another favourite of mine from this recording, but then I realized that I love all the songs on this one. It’s a good rocking version here, but Princes guitar is a little more buried in the mix, it sounds much noisier, and it’s not as clean as other versions. It’s a short song, but here it’s even shorter, as when the music stops and I expect Prince to do his unaccompanied singing before a reprise, the mood changes and he instead starts playing a slower song on his guitar. I have to give a shout out here to Dr Fink, his robotic handclaps are very entertaining.

Prince 8.83a

That song is of course a cover of Joni Mitchells A Case Of You, and what we have here is outstanding. Prince delivers a knock out in this one. His singing is beautiful and his guitar playing compliments his vocals fantastically well. The only other instrument is a keyboard filling the background, but I am totally entranced by Prince and his delivery. It’s only a minute and a half, but it’s one of my favourite minutes of his whole career. This one is otherworldly in its beauty. Although the lyrics aren’t Princes, he delivers them with total conviction, he more than does justice to Joni’s words. In particular the opening lines he sings are obviously heartfelt

Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I’m frightened by the devil
And I’m drawn to those ones that isn’t afraid

Prince 8.83b

Things change completely as Prince introduces the next song “This song is called Computer Blue” As much as I love this song, I find it jarring coming in right after A Case Of You. But soon all is forgiven as Prince and the band play a rollicking version. A lot of the audience looks pretty stunned at this stage of the gig, and who could blame them. For all his history of guitar work and rock sensibilities he hadn’t played a song quite like this before. It’s not just the guitar I am referencing here, the overall tone of the music is darker and heavy, from the drum beat to the keyboards. All of it has a foreboding sound. The band is pushed right back on the stage, and Prince stands the edge of the stage pulling all the guitar licks and tricks he knows. Like the last song, it’s all about Prince, and he holds the centre of attention all song. The keyboards are strong, and aren’t drowned by the guitar as you might expect. Wendy goes to her knees when Prince wails on his guitar for a bit, before the fantastic segue into the second half of the song, and another chance for Prince to get busy on the guitar. The lead is played as we have all heard before, but here once again its sounding fresh, and Prince is very much playing the hell out of it with great relish. The last guitar break in particular has some real venom in it, and has a nice heavy, almost industrial sound to it. The song ends with a big smile from Prince as he throws his guitar pick to the crowd.

Prince 8.83c

Another about face next, as Princes puts down the guitar and we hear the quirky pop of Delirious. Plenty of dancing and handclapping from Prince soon has the crowd-back on board. Although I have no great love for the song, it does seem like a very fun song to play. Freed from guitar duty, Prince does interact a little more with crowd, moving back and forth across the stage and holding the microphone for the crowd to sing. The response is inaudible most of the time, mostly because the band are very loud, and at times it seems that Prince himself is almost yelling over the top of the band. That’s one thing I like about the gig, it does have that great live sound, where everything is a little louder, and little nosier, and overall a little more ‘rock n roll’. Prince does pick up the guitar near the end of the song, he is playing the main lead line, but it’s more raw, and just on the right side of loose.

Prince 8.83l

What follows is one of the most famous unreleased songs in the Prince canon – Electric Intercourse. Lead by Prince at the piano, this song was desperately unlucky to not be on the Purple Rain sound track. For many years I thought this song was over rated, but now I am firmly in the camp that considers it a great lost gem. The keyboard and piano in this one sound great, and Prince uses plenty of shrieks and screams throughout to emphasis his emotion. Between verses there is some very nice piano lines, while the band holds it all together in the background. Even Princes corny spoken word (Don’t you want to make love?) fails to take the shine off this. It’s very much a highlight, and worth listening to if you have a chance.

Prince 8.83d

Nasty Prince is back in full effect when Automatic begins next. As with the other songs on this night, it’s not as clean and smooth as it sounds on the album. Some of the robotic coldness is gone, but it’s more than made up for with the intensity of the bands playing. Prince puts a lot into this one, and the crowd responds in kind. He gets them all waving their hands mid song, and there is plenty of shouts and screams as he strokes his microphone stand. Prince doesn’t play guitar on this, but there is some great playing from Brown Mark and Wendy. As far as the band go, I think this is the song where they are at their best. Admittedly every song played tonight is top drawer- with some recorded as a basis for use on Purple Rain, but in this one I feel we get to see a little more of each band member, and as far as I can see they are all giving maximum effort and enjoying playing. Prince does lie on the floor for a minute to talk some smut. It’s pretty cool, but I just wish I could hear him a little better. The next part of the song is a long groove, and Prince engages in a few dance moves with the rest of the band. There is no let-up in the intensity though, and overall it’s a riveting performance.

Prince 8.83g

There is quite a long pause next, with the stage in darkness, before Prince introduces “This is I would Die 4 U” The distinctively drum machine immediately begins, and already I can tell that I am going to like this one a lot. Prince spits out the lyrics rapid fire, slowing down during the chorus and releasing a single note on his guitar. I realize that this song is actually pretty minimal but it’s the drum machine that’s filling all the space and giving it that immediate energy. The guitar break by Prince is a highlight for me, not what he plays, but the tone of his guitar. It’s nice and strong, and I think that’s the best way to describe it- strong. The song goes by in flash, so I had to listen to it a few times, twice because I enjoyed it so much, and once because I hadn’t written anything about it the first two times.

Prince 8.83f

Baby I’m a Star has a nice long intro before Prince throws some tambourines’ and it begins proper. This is another recording that was used for Purple Rain, so as you might imagine a lot of this sounds as it does on record. Part of the fun in listening to this one is trying to work out what he has used on the final record, and what has he changed or overdubbed. I’m impressed by the passion demonstrated by Prince on every song on this recording. Here we find him covered in sweat, putting all his energy into the singing, especially when he goes to the floor and unleashes a series of excellent screams. Back on his feet he calls “Doctor” and Fink plays the quirky sound we know and love so much. I was half expecting the song to go on way past this point, but it wraps up very quickly after this.

Prince 8.83m

The familiar strains of Little Red Corvette elicit a few squeals of delight from the crowd. Lisa is beautifully lit from behind, and every time I see this and hear her play fall in love with her a little bit more. In near darkness Prince sings the opening verse before the lights come up for the chorus. I thought the crowd would be more animated, but they are fairly subdued throughout the performance of this. Prince delivers a very raw performance of this, no choreography or tricks, he just delivers it straight down the line with fantastic backing from the band. It’s a more raw performance I would to see more, a sweaty band playing hard and delivering the song straight out. Wendy steps up to the mark and plays the solo, and I am struck by how young she was at this time, and how good she was and not the least bit intimidated. The solo again has a heavy tone to it, not her playing but the sound of her guitar. The song ends simply enough with a “Thank you, good night” from Prince.

Prince 8.83h

There is a break in proceeding next as Prince is publicly thanked and presented with a flower. Tucking one into his breast pocket he takes the mic as Wendy begins to play the public debut of what will become his signature song – Purple Rain. The fact that this recording was used as the basic track for the finished song tells you how well it’s played here. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this song is the same as the album however, there is a suitably drawn out and beautiful start to the song, as Wendy plays the opening chords over and over while Prince indulges in some nice lead guitar. Foreshadowing future live performances on this tour, it’s a good few minutes before Prince begins to sing. And sing he does, the vocals here are magnificent, it’s hard to believe that this was the public debut of the song, he sings so strongly and confidently. It’s interesting to note the expressions of the audience at the time, some of them look noticeably bored as Prince plays his new, distinctly unfunky, song. There is an extra verse sung that doesn’t make it into the final song, and when you hear it you can understand why it didn’t make the final cut. It doesn’t quite scan as well as the other verses and the song is much more cohesive without it. There is a moment in the next verse when someone from the band or audience lets out a “whooo!” which can be heard on the final album version. I’m not sure if it’s an audience member, but I kind of hope it is, that would be cool. Prince plays the impassioned solo, with plenty of suitable face pulling thrown in for good measure. The audience look muted throughout, and there is no arm waving for this new song. Only a couple of girls with hands in the air near the front seem to be feeling it at all. It’s a stunning performance of what is now a classic, and I would think this recording is worth having just for the historic value of this moment alone.

Prince 8.83j

There is again another long break before the next song, but the reason why is apparent when Prince begins DMSR in his old school leg warmers, bikini briefs, long coat, hat and mirrored glasses. Wendy shows another side to her playing on this one, and her funky rhythm holds it down throughout. The song has an effortless groove to it, and Prince is nice and funky on the microphone. This is the party song of the evening (and perhaps of every evening), and Prince and the audience seem to be having a great time. Prince is constantly moving throughout the song, with lots of dancing and audience participation. As you might expect, this is the song that they stretch out, and Prince shows of how well drilled the band really is. The song ends with Prince saying goodnight, introducing the band one by one, before they kick back into the song-this time it’s all groove and Dr Fink gives a cool little piano solo. Prince clowns around a little on the mic, calling for horns as the keyboards play what would normally be a horn line. There is another false ending, and then, as per his modus operandi, he calls them back in on the beat. This happens a couple of times, and Prince engages in some very energetic footwork. Another nice touch is when he calls for just Wendy and Brown Mark, and they have just half a minute just grooving on it. The song ends rather abruptly, it stops and then without a word Prince and the band walk off stage.

Prince 8.83k

Nothing I write here can do this show justice. Everything here is a 10/10. The songs played at this stage touch on his past, his future and gives us pointers to his influences, as well as what gems still lie in the vault. The band is as tight as they have ever been, and young Wendy is a star right from the first notes she plays. The blueprint for the next few years is laid out, and it’s fascinating to see it all unfold here right before our eyes. I watched this one with my mouth open for the whole 70 minutes, and I still shake my head when I think that such a historic show has been captured for us to enjoy. Amazing.

Prince 8.83i

Everything I write about in future will pale in comparison to this, but I will be back next week with another one.

Take care
Hamish

 

Rehearsal for First Avenue Benefit Concert ’83

After claiming that I rarely listen to rehearsals, I find myself listening to another one today. Listening to the rehearsal for the 1984 Birthday show piqued my curiosity, so I pulled a rehearsal of another famous show- the 1983 benefit for the Minnesota Dance Theatre, at First Ave I will be listening to that show next week, but I thought I would take a look at the rehearsal first to round out the full picture.

Rehearsal for First Avenue Benefit Concert 1983

The rehearsal begins with Princes spoken word intro of Lets Go Crazy. The most striking thing about it is how deep his voice is as he speaks it, it’s not the voice I am used to from Purple Rain. He sounds very relaxed, and he does have fun with it as he says “there’s something else.. that’s right, something”. The second thing that hits me is when he says “so when you call up that nigger in Beverley Hills”. It seems a little out of character now, but I guess it is of its time. The rest of the song sounds light after the deep voice of the intro, even with the heavy sounding bass and guitar, the keyboards have a very bright sound that seems to permeate through the song. There is plenty of guitar in the song, but there is so much of everything else that it never really comes to the fore as you may expect. The final solo and howl is a little damp, and I have to remind myself that this isn’t a live situation, it is a rehearsal. And as such the song seems to stop dead, only a silence greets the final note.

Prince 1984 (2)

When You Were Mine sounds excellent in this situation. I warm to the song right away as the keys and guitar come in.  The playing is tight, and you can hear Prince give instruction to the sound guy. There is an innate energy in the song, even without the audience it shines. The ladies voices are very strong in my right ear, and I was going to comment more on it, but half way through Prince calls for sound adjustments, and they do disappear back into the mix. Another part of the song I enjoy early on is when Prince talks to the sound guy, and then the band play on for half a minute with no vocals. It’s got a good stripped down sound that I like. The ever reliable Doctor plays an enthusiastic solo, before the song comes to a sudden halt.

Prince’s delicate guitar playing draws me into A Case Of U, and I am in love almost right away. As the keys move easy beneath his guitar he sings beautifully. Even in rehearsal there is the touch of emotion that is needed to carry this song off. The lyrics match up great with his playing, and there is a fantastic little guitar run as the song nears the end. I would have a lot more to say about this song, but the final version played live at the show is so phenomenal, that even as good as this is, I know that there is better to come.

The introduction of Computer Blue is without the girl’s spoken piece, but that isn’t a big deal as the music is extremely cold and strong sounding. The keyboards provide some good runs, but it really is the guitar and bass on this track that makes it what it is. I had to listen to it twice, as I was so enraptured with the guitar sound the first time I missed everything else that was going on. One of the great thing about listening to Prince and his music, there is so much to listen to that I can always find new things every time I listen to a song. Prince’s vocals stray from what we know, especially as he sings “where is my baby” in a variety of styles, before ending with a throaty shriek. The change midsong is, as always, killer, and I never seem to tire of it. Here I can hear the keyboards much better than I remember, and they provide a nice layer of fills in my left ear. All the while Prince continues with his guitar break. It is par for the course, and somewhat quieter than I am used to. However just as I was thinking that he comes on with the second half of his guitar break which is much more improvised and freer, and I am happy to hear more of this from him. The song finishes with a great roll and howl that belies the fact it is a rehearsal.

Wendy Purple Era

Delirious is a complete 180 from what we have just heard and it takes me half a minute to adjust to the sudden pop bounce. The guitar vanishes at the start, and as one might expect there is a lot of light keyboards playing. Later I do hear a rhythm guitar but it is very low in the mix. I am normally dismissive of Delirious, but tonight I enjoy it a lot. It does have a lot of nostalgic value for me, and this arrangement is a lot of fun, with lots of crazy keyboard solos, and a rockabilly guitar all vying for attention later in the song. The song ends in a keyboard crescendo as Prince instructs Lisa to turn the keyboard effects up, and she in turn replies that her keyboard is dead. Then as the music simmers Prince sets his piano sound, playing as the sound comes to his liking.

It took me a long time to come around to Electric Intercourse, but its performances like this one that won me over. The bass in the right speaker is pitched just right, and Princes vocals are on point from the first line to the last. I think part of the attraction of this song is that it has never been overplayed, it still has a freshness to it, and this recording in particular catches that feeling. In fact it’s so fresh that at one point Wendy misses her cue, only to be chastised by Prince with a loud “Wake up Wendy!” The keyboard solo has a sweetness to it, and although it’s short I still give it a lot of appreciation. As the song progresses I find myself listening to Prince more and more carefully, and the way his vocal arrangement works with the girls, he definitely knows how he wants it to sound, and what is required.

We are back into more familiar territory next as Automatic begins. It has a dense sound to it, and feels somewhat like a sledge hammer following the delicate Electric Intercourse. It is a joy to listen to the synthesizers play off against each other, and it’s another one of Princes songs where he very much creates a mood with the sound of his music. The song sticks fairly close to the original, there is one stage where the keyboards get all weird and wonderful, before pulling out and Prince plays a staggered guitar break. Right after this it takes on a dance feel, and despite still having a dark sound I find myself beginning to move.

Prince 2007

Again there is a great contrast in the track list as Prince flips the mood with I Would Die 4 U. The song has a fresh and energetic sound, especially coming off Automatic. I like Princes vocals, but he does sound removed, almost as if his voice is coming from another room. It’s not that his vocals are low in the mix, just the effect on his voice. The song goes past at a fair clip, and it’s a real sweetener.

Baby I’m A Star suffers a little at the start as the tape has that ominous chewing sound that I grew up with. However it does recover by the times Princes vocals start, and it’s not a big deal. As with the previous song Prince does have the sound of being in an empty room. I like the sound of it, but it does feel as if he is coming from a distance. The rest of the band are fairly anonymous through the song, its Prince I am listening to, and the keyboard coming from the left speaker. Although unreleased at this stage, the band sound like they have the song well and truly down, and they play note perfect throughout. The Doctors solo is very enjoyable, and even though it’s as I have heard plenty of times, it’s still infused with a joyous sound.

Things once again slow down with Little Red Corvette. By this stage the band had played it many times, and it seems that they could play it in their sleep. It’s so spot on note perfect, I love it for its perfectionism. The introduction is kept short, and Prince sings the song in an upbeat voice, foregoing emotion for efficiency. Hitting the first verse he does ask for more echo, but the song never lets up, in fact the whole song seems to fly by, the guitar solo is upon us before I know it, and then the whole song wraps up a line later, with Prince dead panning “Thank you, good night”

The guitar opening of Purple Rain is what we hear next, and it differs from we know so well in that  it doesn’t have a flat drum beat. The beat has an echo on it, which gives it a double kick all the way through. I find it distracting, but I do enjoy the rest of the song. Prince sounds cold at the beginning, but he asks for more echo on the voice, and this gives him a much warmer sound as the song moves forward. I do also enjoy the extra verse that didn’t make the final cut, I can understand why it was cut though, as thematically it doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the song. The song meanders after that verse, but things get back on track as Prince gets to “Purple Rain, Purple Rain” and then the epic sounding guitar solo. The solo is as expected, although for the first minute Princes guitar sounds thin, but this is rectified, and he takes on a bolder sound as the solo progresses. It’s an interesting solo, Prince is still playing with it, so apart from the opening, and the rest of it is new and interesting to hear.

DMSR has another ad-lib start as Prince kicks it off with “Holland, London, Paris, France” before some funky bass ups the ante. The bass playing hasn’t garnered much comment from me up until this point, but now I find I am paying close attention as Brown Mark rumbles along. Again when we reach the chorus Prince reverts to calling sitting names, this time throwing New York into the mix as well. There is a rhythm break for the guitar, but its low in the mix and I don’t hear it as well as I would like to. The song catches me off guard with a false ending, before it comes back in and there is a cool little piano solo. Prince calls “Give me some horns” and the keyboards provide a nice sounding line. With another call of “Telephone” we get a quirky keyboard run and Prince taking a mock call. The song is a showcase for the band, and Prince gives them several calls and leads to follow, and they respond well. There is another piano solo, with Prince chanting “Planet Rock, we don’t stop” as well as singing lines from George Clintons Loopzilla. Just as Prince calls break time I think its all over, but there is a couple more reprises. This is one of my favorite songs on the recording, the groove is excellent and it sounds like a lot of fun is being had.

Prince 1984

I cringe when I see the next track listed as ‘Band Tuning’. These are just the sort of things a dislike about rehearsals- minutes of the band tuning up and getting there sound right while very little happens musically. There is not much for me at this stage of the recording, so I am quietly happy when the tune up is over and we move to the next musical portion of the recording.

Things get back to the music next as the band play a laid back Africa Talks To You. Its a nice groove, and there are some enjoyable keyboard played over the top of the groove. Prince ad-libs a bit too, which is fun. I especially like it when he calls out “You gotta purify yourself in lake Minnetonka. You can also hear him asking for Wendy’s guitar to be ready “that’s why we bought it for her”. The song does meander towards the end, before it peters out into some tom foolery.

Next is ten minutes of the band fooling around and generally having fun. Its primarily led by Dr Fink, who does a variety of voices as he sings a medley of tunes and plays a light organ.  I Could Have Danced All Night has me smiling, as he sings briefly with great gusto, before moving to Catch A Falling Star. There is all sorts of snippets played including Our House, and the James Bond theme. There is also a Popeye impersonation that is actually pretty good. Its really great to hear the band feeding off each other and being completely at ease. I don’t feel I ever have to listen to this track again, but it was fun to listen to once. The track ends appropriately enough with a Dolphin singing Stevie Nicks ‘Stand Back’. If you have heard it you will know exactly what I mean.

Things become business like again as Prince says “All right, lets go” and the organ of Lets Go Crazy begins again. This time it starts closer to what I am used to, but then Prince quickly takes it in a different tack with the final couple of lines of the intro, before the band begin right on cue. After the looseness of the previous few tracks its some what surprising how quickly they tighten up, they are right on the money for the rest of this track. Princes guitar is very faint as he solos, I can only just hear him. Even the latter solo is faint, and the rest of the band easily drown him out in the final crescendo.

After listening to this rehearsal and the one the other week, I think I should more time to rehearsals. I prefer this rehearsal to the last one, and I thought the last one was excellent. This one had the band playing the songs in a very fresh sounding way, and yet they were very tight as a unit. And also you could hear how much they were enjoying being a band and being together. If you only hear one rehearsal in your life, this would be the one I would choose. But then again I do have another couple of excellent propositions…

Next week I will be listening to one of the greats, the benefit for the Minnesota Dance Theatre.

Have a great week
Hamish

1984 Birthday show

Sometime ago I rather rashly stated that the 2002 Copenhagen recording was the greatest of all Prince Bootlegs. I have been forced to swallow my words many times since then as I listen to my collection and some of the gems contained therein. There are quite a few recordings that could lay claim to being ‘the greatest’ and today’s show I would guess to be atop of many peoples lists. The 1984 birthday show is something very special. It oozes quality at every level, a brilliant sparkling soundboard recording that sounds better than the recording on many of his albums, the quality of the performance itself, and of course those unforgettable songs played to the hilt just as Prince was to ascend to his greatest heights. Yes, this one well and truly lives up to the hype, and I’m itching to take another listen to it today.

7 June, 1984, First Avenue, Minneapolis

prince-1984-birthday

The recording starts with the PA sound, and it serves as a nice soft opening. It gives a better feel for what it would have been like to be there, and we don’t have a hard jump straight into a song. There is a classic spoken intro of an announcer saying ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Prince, and the Revolution’, and then we are off into it. 17 Days sounds just as good here as I have ever heard it. The recording is so sharp, to my ears it sounds even better than it did on vinyl. The first thing that strikes me is the bass. It’s got an elastic feel to it, and it’s a beautiful big groove that comes out of the speakers at me. It’s almost like riding a wave, it’s so full and washing over me. The second thing that I really notice is Princes vocals. His singing is so clean sounding, it’s hard to believe it’s in a live setting. Generally I try not to gush about what I am listening to, but in this case it’s very hard not just to sit back and listen to it and be a fan. It’s oh so good. Brown Mark just grooves along underneath, and there is some nice moments when I hear Wendy playing with him on the groove. By the time the song finishes I am wondering how they could have relegated something so good to a B side.

Our Destiny starts slowly. I am not immediately won over as Prince starts singing, but when that chorus hits me I am fully converted. The keyboards are the hero of this particular song, whether it be the twinkling sound under the verses, or the muscular stabs driving the choruses. Prince’s vocals are a little more casual for this one, and some of his character shines through. Also worth mentioning is the drums in this song. Not the obvious beat of the bass drum, but instead the rather glorious sounds played on the cymbals. They seem to add just the right feel at just the right moment, and serve nicely as punctuation to Princes vocals.

The band are obviously very well-rehearsed as they move easily into Roadhouse Garden. Like the previous song it is an unreleased classic.  There is an excellent crisp guitar picking away, and it gives a sharp sound while Prince and the girls sing some nice full vocals. Listening to it now I realize there isn’t really too much to the song, the keyboards are barely heard at all, there is a solid bass line, but most of the interest is coming from the guitar sound and the girls singing. Prince tells the audience “you going to have to excuse us, we just jamming’ and it does very much sound like one of the jams that the band plays endlessly at rehearsal. It does have a good feel to it, and at no point does one member of the band get the spotlight, it’s very much a band thing.

Prince takes time to chat to the audience next, and I like it when he takes a moment to tell them “you’ll came in here expecting to drive Princes red corvette, that’s not going to work. We just going to play a few numbers, some of them you’ll gonna know, most of them you won’t” Then follows one of my favourite moments of the show, Prince says “Wendy wants to live forever. Maybe she will” and the band rip into a storming version of All Day, All Night.  The bass line is heavy and right in my face, and the whole band ride on it and it’s got a feeling as if they are playing as one, as a single entity. Every aspect is so tight and interwoven, it is an absolute joy to listen to. I could quite happily just listen to an instrumental of this, I feel like getting up and dancing as the introduction plays on. Prince comes with the first verse, and he is sounding excellent, as he is throughout the show. I love the way the groove lets up just a little at the end of the chorus so the guitar and music can take a few little steps up. Bobby Z gets a moment, and plays some hard electronic sounding drum rolls, which add to the overall pulsating feel of the song. If fact the whole song feels like it galloping a long, and when it suddenly ends it’s like a sharp intake of breathe.

Prince birthday 1984 c

Things slow down next as Prince plays a gentler sounding Free. After the dense sounding All Day, All Night, it’s very sparse sound, and it serves the song well. Princes vocals are back to being the main focus, and he delivers beautifully. I thought the Free sounded light on the 1999 album, but here it is much stronger sounding. A lot of the corniness is stripped away, and it no longer has the over the top finish as heard on 1999. All in all I much prefer this arrangement, and I am glad we get to hear it. Prince ups the ante with his singing near the end, before the song closes with the solo piano again. This is not the best song on the recording, but it is a very pleasant surprise.

The drums take a few bars to find a steady beat for the next song as a funky sounding rhythm guitar begins to play. As good as it sounds, it is a little misleading as the song takes a sudden turn. Prince dedicates it to Shelia E, and the music takes on the smooth sound of Noon Rendezvous. Again, this is another song never released by Prince, and that’s a shame as it does have a very alluring sound to it. The guitar is playing just enough to draw me in, and the rest of the band create a smooth velvet sound. There is a guitar solo, but it’s in no way disruptive to the gentle groove, and it’s well tucked up inside the song. The second lead guitar break is slightly louder, and Prince is playing more of what I might expect from this time. The girls enter with the soft refrain of “sitting in this cafe, waiting for my baby”, but it’s not as drawn out as we hear in rehearsals, and the song ends soon after.

Things are much heavier almost right away, as a hard drum beat begins, and some rock lead guitar. It’s quite loose sounding, but after half a minute the band come on board and things immediately tighten up as they play Erotic City. Although not as bass driven as it sounds on record, it is still very strong sounding. Some of the sparseness of the record is sacrificed, but what we get instead is a lot more guitar, and a lot stronger vocals from Prince. It also sounds faster to my ears, and doesn’t sound as dirty and funky. It’s a fair trade-off, but only just. With the intonation of “all the critics love me” we get plenty more guitar of Prince, and I can hear Wendy step up the funky guitar she is playing. The band is heavily in the groove by this point and Prince becomes a lot wilder sounding on the guitar, but always returning to the All The Critics Love U riff. The keyboards also get stronger as the song progresses, and as time goes on it becomes denser and louder. It increases in intensity until it eventually comes to an end at the eight minute mark.

Birthday 1984

Something In The Water (Does Not Compute) has a great dark beginning. The cold keyboard initially starts before a brooding guitar riff from Prince. He asks the crowd “alright if I just play for a minute” as he then proceeds to do just that. It’s atmospheric in sound, and suitably slow and mournful. When Prince begins to sing he captures the lonely feel of the song perfectly, especially with his “does not compute, does not compute” There is even a moment when he sings “what’s the hang-up, bitch” which adds a hint of desperation and feeling to the song. The song is without the drum machine rhythm heard on record, but that barely matters as Prince is sounding so emotional, yet the music is cold and detached, much like the woman the protagonist in the song is singing to. Later in the song Prince lets his guitar do his talking. It’s not right in front in the mix, but it does sound very good, and worth listening carefully to. This song is played right out and every minute of it is worth listening to.

Birthday 1984 b

When Doves Cry is the standout track on this recording for me. Right from the first moment it has a clean sound, and the drum line is so familiar. Dr Fink plays the lead line a couple of times, before Prince comes to the microphone. At first he blows the first line, he mumbles “how can you…” before he catches himself and quickly covers with “come on, have you heard this before?”  It’s very fast and smooth, and a great recovery. He then asks the crowd to get on board, before calling for Dr Fink to play the lead line gain. He then implores the crowd further to “get down” before calling for the lead line once more before singing the first chorus. The longer intro actually works well, and I like hearing him talk to the crowd like this. Once the song starts, I notice that Wendy and Lisa are very strong on the vocals, they are much more prominent than heard on record. It’s not bad, just different. Wendy gets her moment to shine on guitar, and its good sounding, but perhaps not as clean sounding as everything else. The best is yet to come, as the band play on, Dr Fink plays a cool solo, and then there comes a great scratch guitar. I’m not sure if its Prince or Wendy, but it’s my favourite part of the song. It plays on and on, and I never tire of it. The band sing “Don’t cry” over and over as that beautiful guitar line just loops again and again. I don’t know how long it goes for, but it feels like forever, and it encapsulates the Prince sound I first knew and loved.  And just on a side note, my girlfriend told me she thought this part was boring and repetitive -looks like I might be single again soon! This last half is a song unto itself and the recording is excellent just based on this alone.

Birthday 1984 a

Of course there is the obligatory Happy Birthday sung by the audience, before the band turn up the funk levels with Irresistible Bitch. It’s not as dark as I have heard elsewhere, but it’s still a nice version. The band are playing incredibly tightly, and it’s the guitar that mostly holds my attention. It’s so crisp sounding, and the song revolves around the guitar riff. There is a keyboard solo that sounds good to my ears, but it’s a little low in the mix, I would have of liked to hear it much more. Near the end Prince stops and starts the band several times, and as always they are right on the button.

Prince birthday 1984d

Possessed is equally funky, but with a dash of pop thrown in the mix. After a Vegas sounding opening the band open up a rapid groove, again the rhythm is king here, the only melody coming from a simple keyboard line. Prince’s vocals aren’t quite as clear as they had been earlier in the show, he is a little more in the mix, but that’s not a negative at all, and the second verse I can understand his lyrics much better, so it maybe my problem more than his. There some further interesting keyboard jamming later, again it’s a too quiet for my taste and I have to listen carefully to appreciate all of it. Prince does a scat about ‘big ole soul sisters’  and its very tightly in the rhythm, so I give him a pass despite the corniness. I think that the band are going to play this one as a long funky jam, so I am very surprised when it stops suddenly and Prince tells the crowd that they got to go.

There has been a lot of talk about this soundboard recording since it first surfaced, and I can fully understand why. This show is mindbogglingly good, and deserves all the praise heaped upon it. If someone was to tell me that this was the best recording, I would have very little argument with them. This one is excellent in every way, and a must listen for any sort of fan.

Thanks again for reading
See you next week
Hamish