Rock In Rio II 1991

I started this blog with the expectation that I would be listening to a lot of bootlegs that I had never given attention to. That has been great so far, but now I have swung too far in that direction and there are some universally loved bootlegs that I never have time to listen to anymore. Last week I listened to one of the classic early bootlegs, Detroit 1982, and this week I will be taking a listen to one of Princes most famous video bootlegs in circulation – his performance at Rock In Rio 1991. 1991 is a very quiet year when it comes to live bootlegs. The Nude tour ended August of 1990 and until the beginning of the Diamonds and Pearls tour in April of 1992 there are only a dozen concerts played, leaving us with only a handful of bootlegs. This performance neatly bridges the two eras and although it is close to a Nude tour show, it does indicate the sound and style of The Diamonds And Pearl concerts that will come in the next year.

19th Januarary 1991 (a.m.), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The quality of the video is indisputable, it goes without saying that it looks glorious from the start. The most interest aspect of the video at the beginning is the performance of “Something Funky(In This House Comes)”. It was slated for release on Diamonds and Pearls, although it missed the final cut. One can hear how it might have fitted on there, the sound is close to several of the songs on the album, and it is led by Tony M who has the lead vocals throughout as he introduces the band. Prince cleverly uses it as an introduction to the crowd, both of the band and of the funk, before he makes an appearance in the final moments of the song.

The funk continues with a scratch guitar highlight for the first minute of “Let’s Go Crazy”. It initially sounds as if it could go either way between “Let’s Go Crazy” of “Controversy”, before the music settles on shiny “Let’s Go Crazy” that is anchored by a keyboard swirl and horn stabs. Even with Princes guitar asserting it’s authority, it is still the full sound of the band that keeps the song in this lighter pop realm. It is Michael B. who holds centre court here, his drum kit providing a solid pound that we will hear plenty more of through the 1990’s.

We have already heard “Something Funky(In This House Comes)”, and Prince introduces another song very much of the era with “Horny Pony”. It was recorded the same month as “Something Funky(In This House Comes)” so it comes as no surprise that it has the same sound and sheen to it. It is a good indicator of where Prince was at the time, but asides from that it doesn’t add much to the concert.

“Kiss” is a lot of fun, with Prince prancing and preening across the stage. This is rendition that has been heard plenty on the nude tour from six months previous, and anyone who has seen the Tokyo Dome performance would know what to expect. The music sounds good, but is the dancing that Prince really excels at in this show, and with his interaction with the Gameboyz there is a lot to hold the eye. I haven’t always championed the Gameboyz, here I find I get a lot out of there performance, perhaps it is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. They play with good humour, dancing to “The Peter Gunn Theme” and “The Pink Panther” which is a lot more enjoyable than it looks on paper.

It is a surprise to see “Purple Rain” early in the setlist, although to be honest I have written that plenty of times in this blog over the years, so perhaps it’s not that much of a surprise at all. It may be the guitar the opens the song, but the real treat is Rosie who seeds the opening minutes with sprinkles of piano that brighten the denser sound of the song. Prince too brings a brightness with his lead guitar along with his costume which one could only describe as ‘busy’. (In my head I can hear my father’s voice – “He’s wearing curtains”). The song lacks the gravitas of other performances, but Prince speaks of the Iraq war in the final moments and this changes the tone of the song immensely. With a chant of “Love 4 Love” opening the door on the final solo, Prince is dropping clues about what the future holds for him musically.

The performance of “Bambi” introduces some grittiness into the show, and for the first time on the recording one can feel some bite and aggression in the music. Even tempered by the keyboards and full band, Prince is still out front cutting a swath through the music with his razor sharp guitar riffs. It’s short, but definitely a highlight.

Prince continues dipping into his bag of past glories with a rousing rendition of “Take Me With U” that has both the stadium and the recording bouncing. The video seems rather limited on available shots at this point, and for the first part of the song we alternate between only 3 camera angles. The second half is much better and the editing matches the pace of the song, giving it an impetus that was missing earlier.

“Shake” keeps with the energetic upbeat theme of the concert so far, and although I have never been a great fan of it on record, in this case I find myself happily singing along. Rosie in particular stands out with her impressively solid voice making even Michael B’s drums sound weak in comparison. “Shake” becomes an extended jam as Prince works the crowd through clapping and singing for a few minutes. As is my way, I lose interest at this point, but I can’t deny it is an integral part of the concert experience.

Rosie is the centre of attention for the next song “Dr Feelgood” as Prince leaves the stage for one of his inevitable costume changes. I was an enthusiastic supporter of hers in “Shake”, but I don’t have the same feeling for “Dr Feelgood” which to my ears is overworked and laborious. Yes, Rosie’s vocals are as powerful as ever, but the song stays firmly grounded and leaden despite her best efforts. A shame because I do love Rosie.

Everything changes when Prince returns to the stage and presents an angelic “Venus De Milo”. It doesn’t last too long, but it is a nice segue into “The Question Of U”, also played solo by Prince at the piano. As an instrumental, it spotlights Prince’s prowess with the piano, it hardly matters that the guitar doesn’t make an appearance, this version is just as good as the arrangement on other tours.

“Ain’t No Way” sung by Rosie Gaines would be a sensational song in a small venue, however the concert again sags as she sings it in this situation. Her voice is magnificent, it certainly fills the stadium, but the song has no drive to it and the energy of her voice performance seems to be swallowed up by the stadium. If I close my eyes and picture a club, its great, when I see it at this concert it becomes a weak moment.

There is several highlights in “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Princes vocals are pitch perfect, and his performance is one to watch as he screeches and croons atop his piano. It is a real surprise that Rosie doesn’t sing with him, but asides from that it is a great performance that I could happily watch again and again.

Prince and the band rush headlong into the final furlong with the effervescent “Baby I’m A Star”.  The visuals match the frantic pace, although at times the quick editing of the video is dizzying and headache inducing. As the song disappears beneath the chants and dancing the band show their chops as the keep pace with Prince and his commands. I can’t fault the music, but I do find that Prince is over the top with his performance and for me this devalues the music. Balance is restored as he takes to the piano and the Rosie belts at a passionate “Respect”. That soon becomes Sonny playing a solo on the bass, and for me this is the best part of these final 30 minutes. Tony M too has time to shine with a rendition of “Brother With A Purpose”. I normally wouldn’t mention it, but Prince tags “We Can Funk” onto the end of it and this is every bit as good as you could imagine. Its only a minute, but it banishes the previous minute of Tony M rapping from memory.

“Thieves In The Temple” promises so much with Prince playing solo on the piano for the first minute, but the rest of the song becomes a rush through the music as the band sacrifice the depth of the song for an uptempo beat and 90’s sheen. The final ten minutes of the concert are given over to the “Baby I’m A Star” beat as Prince works the crowd, firstly with call and response, then with dancers on stage. It is even worse than it sounds as “Jughead” gets an airing at this point. I am not the least bit negative about the band or the music, both are of the highest order, but as far as listening to a bootleg at home this part of the show leaves me cold. Even the final flurry of “Baby I’m A Star” can’t restore my enthusiasm and rather than finishing on a high I am left with the feeling of relief that it’s over.

This show hasn’t aged as well as others in my collection. It used to be on high rotation at my place when I was younger, but seeing it again now I realize the at the show itself is incredibly patchy. There are certainly some great moments that match anything else in Prince’s catalog, but they are more than offset by some clunky moments, less than stellar songs, and a show that is high on camp and low on emotional depth. The fact that it was one of the few proshot shows circulating at the time has given it more credibility than perhaps it deserves. An interesting show, with some high points, but not essential. Next time I watch it there will be plenty I will be skipping through.

See you next week
Hamish