20TEN, Vienna

I remember 2010 well. I separated from my ex-wife, changed jobs, moved house, and came back to my own country after living abroad for six years. It was a year of upheaval, change and uncertainty.  Stability was a stranger to me. So when Prince toured through Europe in summer, playing another greatest hits package, I found myself devouring the shows as soon as they became available.There was a satisfaction in hearing the comforting songs I knew so well, and it was reassuring to know that those songs still existed as they were when my life was on steady ground. I often dismiss these hits shows, but these songs tie us back to a time when Prince was on top of the world, and his songs were the soundtrack for every aspect of our lives. Thirty years on they remind me where I came from and who I am as the world swirls around me in constant change. Sometimes it good to have that rock in our past that we can anchor ourselves to.  I have  rarely listened to the 2010 concerts since then, they are just on the wrong side of vanilla for me, but as a live package presenting some of Prince’s most well known material, they serve their purpose well.

13th July 2010, Vienna, Austria

Of the summer tour of 2010 this was the only concert to be played in doors. The assumption is that ticket sales weren’t as strong as expected, and from that we can further infer that Prince isn’t playing to a strong fan base here, there are more fans that fall closer to the casual end of the scale rather than the hardcore end of the spectrum. If that is indeed the case, then “Purple Rain”  is the ideal choice to open the concert with. A song that appeals to the most casual of casual fans, it immediately sets up the greatest hits show as it unfurls its away across the first minutes. The introduction itself is almost seven minutes, the tide slowly rising with the trickle of keyboards that slowly rise to a river. The first fingers of Prince’s guitar wraps themselves around the song, crushing the delicate and intricate lace of the keyboards and giving the song an extra power and emphasis. In this case however, the song doesn’t belong to Prince, but rather to the crowd who are involved throughout. Prince knows he is onto a good thing and doesn’t give them anymore than they need – his final guitar solo plays within the flow of the song, and instead of an emphatic exclamation mark it is little more than than a pleasant outro that equals the introduction of the keyboards several minutes previous.

 

“Let’s Go Crazy” is little more than a thin veneer over the insistent beat. With chants, the scantest of guitar riffs, and a quick verse and chorus, there is no real meat to the song. Its recognizable, but is an anorexic version of the Rocky-Balboa-punch of a song we know so well from the 1980’s

I prefer “Delirious” in this case, it is longer with punchy drumming and some added harmonica which brings a different flavor to a familiar tune. It is hardly a pulsating performance, but it keeps the show bouncing forward and provides me a chance to sing along.

The “Let’s Go Crazy” coda with it’s “Oh no, lets go” chant isn’t worth mentioning, but “1999” certainly is. I often underrate “1999,” and I have been dismissive of it’s live performance more than once on this blog. If “1999” was a person I would  apologize to it right now. Prince and the band play a lean and cohesive rendition of it at this concert, and to my ears it has never sounded better. With a sense of purpose it brings the concert onto an even keel, as well as satisfying the old school fan inside me that wants to hear these songs as they should be heard. It’s an exhilarating few minutes, and if it is nostalgia you want to hear then this is the place to start.

The opening stabs of “Shhh” contain far more keyboard than drums, and it doesn’t come as the intoxicating rush as we so often hear. The vocals though are far more noteworthy, Prince is in his element as he weaves his vocal magic through the song before topping it with the beguiling guitar work I have been waiting for. I am almost sick as he plays a head-spinning few minutes, the sound and the emotion perfectly enmeshed making for an alchemy that can be only found on live recordings.

“Cream” comes from the other end of the scale. Where “Shhh” had depth and emotional weight, “Cream” is shallow and narcissistic.That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable though, and with Prince’s guitar still adding body to the song, it does come across better than I expect. A lightweight and creamy sounding song, here it has a bolder sound that Prince will carry forth for the next few numbers.

That punchy guitar sound stays front and centre for “Dreamer.” No real surprises there, but it is an arresting few minutes as Prince and the band up the intensity and assault of sound from the stage. The only time this assault eases is when the harmonica makes an appearance and Prince eases the band back to allow the  crowd to clap. This merely signals things about to get a whole lot better, as Prince takes up his axe to deliver several killer blows that close the song on a murderous high.

“Stratus” is forceful and makes it mark with plenty of purse and direction. Sometimes I find it meanders, but not at this concert, Prince and the band play a tight version that contains several key elements – Prince’s guitar, the harmonica of Frederic Yonnet, and the drumming of Cora. Taken as a while they become a feast, and I dine on each of them individually as they have their moment on stage.

Sheila E. is on board for “The Glamorous Life” and although I love the song, I find this rendition just a little too thin sounding. It may or may not be the recording, but other songs have sounded strong, so in this case I’m going to assume it is indeed the performance. Prince isn’t on stage, leaving plenty of space for Sheila to get some shine. The singing is good, but it is the final percussion that makes the song valid and real, bringing something to the show that only Sheila can bring.

The natural pairing of “The One” and “The Question Of U” stands alone as the towering landmark at the centre of this concert. Building from Prince’s quiet lyrics it becomes an intricate maze of delicate vocal performances before the strident guitar builds architecture around  these more organic moments. It doesn’t have to be loud to be the most captivating part of the concert, I am completely enthralled throughout as the music continues to intrigue and swirl. Forget the rest of the recording, skip straight to this song and stay there.

I feel completely deflated as “Musicology” plays, the preceding song has sucked everything out of me. It doesn’t help that the recording sounds distant at this point, and a lot of the emotional tension that Prince has build up dissipates as the band rumble through the song. Sheila on percussion is a positive, but overall the song feels hollow and empty, leaving e hoping that the following numbers will raise the ante.

The hits arrive in the form of “Take Me With U.” Confident from the start, it sounds like a different concert entirely as Prince does his best to recreate his 1980’s sound. He’s not quite there, it harks back to the sound of his 2007 concerts more than his 1984 concerts, but it still retains an energy that gets the crowd moving. I think it sounds good, until I do actually compare it to a rendition from 1984. It’s at that point that I realize that it is missing a spark that lifts it from an energetic performance to an exhilarating ride.

From the same place comes “Kiss.” All the key components are in place, yet it remains flat when compared to its younger self. It’s dangerous to always look back and compare ourselves to the people we were 20 or 30 years ago, but when I hear “Kiss” on the radio I have no choice but to compare it to the more recent versions. Its still a great song to sing along with, and this performance has plenty to recommend it, but its not what it once was.

With Shelby J. singing with him, Prince plays a version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” which again consigns Sinead O’Connors version to the dustbin of history. With Rosie Gaines in the 90’s and Shelby J in the 2000’s, Prince’s live version has consistently eclipsed the more well known version, and he has clearly stamped it as one of his great songs. At this particular concert we get a solid rendition that still stands head and shoulders above Sineads rendition, Prince and Shelby invest themselves in the song making it much more than just a greatest hit.

Prince continues to reclaim his songs from other artists with a feisty performance of both “The Bird” and “Jungle Love.” They are watered down from what we have come to expect from The Time, nevertheless they fit well with the set Prince is presenting, giving the show a push towards the all dancing, all singing last half hour that Prince was doing at the time. With a couple of funk tunes thrown into the mix (“Play That Funky Music”, and “(I like) Funky Music”) Prince makes it quite clear where he is coming from. Neither excite me, but the blowtorch of a guitar break does have me raising my head with a smile.

I am fully on board for “Controversy.” It is another exercise in nostalgia, and one I happily buy into as Prince plies us with lashings of scratch guitar. The performance is tightly focused, and even with the audience interaction and harmonica solo it remains insistently on course and funky. It may not be as dry as some early performances, but it works well in it’s updated form.

It is Princes guitar that introduces “A Love Bizarre,” and if there was a song that was going to get me on my feet, this would be it. The crowd evidently feels the same, there is a noticeable increase in crowd enthusiasm as the song begins and this is maintained throughout. At only three minutes, it comes as a short, sharp shock, a feeling that is only heightened by the high voltage guitar break that short-circuits the song and introduces the next number.

Ah yes, “Dance (disco heat),” I had forgotten that this was a regular on the setlists through 2010. At the time I found it unappealing, and as I listen to it now I find that that feeling hasn’t changed. The clapping and guitar are relentless, but they never build to anything rewarding and I feel shortchanged by the performance. I want to like it, I really do, but this just isn’t for me.

The inevitable come down from this mad party follows, and that comes in the form of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” The concert is transformed again as Prince takes us from the stomping dance numbers to a revealing piano confessional. I revel in the contrast and am rewarded by the backing singers joining Prince in the final minutes to lift it into the realm of spiritual music. A surprise package this late in the concert, it was well worth the wait.

An out of kilter lilt to “Mountains”  leaves me off balance as the band begin. It isn’t helped by the left turn late in the song as they veer into “Shake Your Body” Much like “Let’s Go Crazy” earlier in the concert, it is shorn of its cohesive sound as Prince breaks it down to a collection of ear grabbing soundbites, none of which work as well as the song as a whole.

There is something entirely predictable about “Everyday People” and “I Want To Take You Higher” Neither are show stopping in their intensity, they keep the show simmering rather than bringing it to a boil over. The show still sounds as if it has more to give, but these songs don’t bring us to the climax I crave.

I was looking forward to hearing “Ol Skool Company” again, and I am more than happy with the feisty performance on this recording. It has sass and attitude that elevates it beyond a mere recap of all that has come before. Even the “funky” chants in this climate sound better, and to my ears this is better than the funky songs that Prince played in quick succession earlier. Prince is indisputably better when he sticks to his full renditions of his own songs, rather than watered down covers, or abridged arrangements of past glories.

The last song on the recording is “Peach.” A late encore, we miss the first minutes, but it matters not as the joy lies in the unbridled guitar flurry that makes up the back end of the song. Prince doesn’t dominate though, as he has throughout the concert he lets Fredric Yonnet have time to come centre stage with his harmonica. The final burst though is pure Prince, and just as regal a guitar solo as we have ever heard. The final slash from the guitar is only fleeting, but a timely reminder of who Prince is and what he could do.

All in all, an enjoyable show. As you can see, I wasn’t enamored by every song in the performance, but at two and a half hours, there was plenty of something for everyone. Three songs stood out above all others for me, “The One,” “A Love Bizarre” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore.” All three had an emotion to them that appealed to me, and played on my feelings of nostalgia. Prince was often at his best when he was looking forward, in that aspect these concerts from 2010 don’t serve him well. But they are a fitting time capsule of how far he had come, and as a look back these concerts do serve a purpose. 2010 is a year I would prefer to forget, and these concerts will probably go back in the vault now for sometime. They served their purpose and got me through at that time, but like Prince I too am at my best when looking forward. Sometimes it’s good to glance back, but it’s dangerous to spend too long there.

Thanks again, next week I continue with my Austria concerts and will be taking in an aftershow.
-Hamish

La Cigale 2009

Prince didn’t play a great number of shows in 2009, there was no tour, only a selection of one offs scattered throughout the year and throughout the world. The shows he did play are smooth and streamlined, and surprisingly interesting. Of the twenty or so shows played that year I have already covered almost a quarter of them in this blog. Notable shows of 2009 include his  Nokia  trio of shows, his appearance at Montreux, as well as the Oscars afterparty. He also played a string of shows in Paris in October, and that is where today’s recording hails from. The show at La Cigale is fairly typical of shows of 2009/2010, a setlist peppered with hits and some not too challenging covers. The newish songs that feature are of the greatest interest, and any show that features Shhh is a show that I want to hear.  The show also runs at more than two and a half hours, so I am look forward to losing myself in the music for the next few hours

12th October 2009, La Cigale, Paris

The show begins with the misleading introduction of Purple Rain. It does sound rich and luxurious, but there is only half a minute of intro before Prince and the band kick the show off proper with Old Skool Company. With a solid groove the song is a better representation for what will follow, and as I listen I can feel the my feet begin to shuffle and move with the music, always a good sign. Frédéric Yonnet is present,and it is his harmonica sound that elevates the song early on before, after an extended introduction, Prince begins to sing. The groove isn’t heavy, but it is insistent and keeps the song moving for the eight minutes it runs for.

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The following Crimson And Clover could have been lifted from any show during this time period. With the rise and fall of the music, the band pushes forward and back,  never demanding even as Prince injects his Wild Thing lyrics into the song. I find I enjoy it greatly, without being able to explain why. It doesn’t rock, it lacks any sort of sharpness or vitality, yet I find I listen to it easily and enjoy the performance of Prince and the band. Perhaps its the clean guitar break that Prince plays that makes it all worth while.

Stand! is uplifting, and with the band playing clean and smooth its a feel good song that the audience responds to, especially as they sing the chorus. The song changes towards something more interesting in the final minute, the pop subverted by some extra funk from Prince which in turn brings Turn Me Loose to the set-list. Prince gives a funky guitar break which underlines his funk credentials before it takes a u-turn into the pop realm again with a surprising cover of the Jackson Fives’s I Want You Back. The only time Prince played this, it immediately elevates to the show to a more interesting status, and even more so as Shelby scats over the back half of the song. The dry sound of Prince’s horner guitar is what I focus on most, bringing more of his own sound to someone else’s song.

The following two songs are also notable for being rarities. Dance 4 Me has only been played once in concert in its full form, and here it is. It becomes even more interesting as Prince plays with it and stretches it out. His first guitar break is Santana-esque, while his second guitar break is full blooded and more of his own. Naturally I love both of them. With Shelby singing (Not Just) Knee Deep and Frédéric Yonnet adding harmonica, there is a feeling that anything goes, and the song has plenty of satisfying twists and turns before Prince finishes with a neatly manicured solo.

We stay with rarities as the band play No More Candy 4 U. It’s a joyful romp, the band play with a bounce and a grin, something summed up as you can hear Prince laughing on the microphone. It’s not taxing, and although light I find myself listening carefully due to it novelty value.

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Things change with some smoldering guitar work by Prince eventually giving way to a high powered performance of Shhh. The crowd obviously enjoy it as much as I do, they sing the verse from the first moment, leaving Prince silent for the first minute. When he does sing, it’s with a glassy smooth sound, before the crowd join him again, singing word for word. As much as I enjoy Prince, I do find the audience singing enjoyable, they are of the same mind as me and it’s hard not to sing along with them. Prince’s initial guitar break stutters and falters, but he returns with a jagged, electrifying solo that puts his mark all over this song.

 Like The Jam, Stratus is often used by Prince to introduce the band and give them an opportunity to solo. Here is no different, as Prince runs through the band as he has plenty of times before. I have heard this done plenty of times over his career, with Stratus and The Jam, that I don’t get the pleasure from it that I once did, and although it’s a fine performance, there is a part of me that wishes it would be over so we can move onto something sharper.

The following jazz infused rendition of Girl is much more my thing and I find it to be a lot of fun. So too does the audience and Prince, as he engages them with some encouragement to sing along. Its a quiet acoustic performance, with just a bare accompaniment of a guitar Prince sings this somewhat lost B-side. The mood of the recording changes as Prince sings and I wonder what direction the show will come next.

Forever In My Life is fabulous in everyway. With the stripped back beat Prince gives a performance of this beloved song, again accompanied every step of the way by the crowd. The guitar arrives for later verses, adding some richness to the performance and the sound. Even with the audience singing it is a showstopping performance, this is easily the highlight of the show thus far. The late twist of Shelby singing a furious Single Ladies is completely left field, as well as the best thing I have ever head from her.

Shelby J continues to rock the mic, with an equally furious Baby Love that has me reaching to turning it up louder. I’m not a big fan of her calls to “put your hands up”, but I am completely onboard for everything else she does, and even as Prince blazes out another guitar break it is still Shelby that holds the spotlight. A beautiful strong and independent voice, she adds a harder edge to a show that is sometimes just a little too polished.

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There seems to be an extra energy and life in Peach, perhaps the bonus of so few shows in the year is Prince playing with extra enthusiasm and energy. Peach certain bounces along, and the guitar breaks rocket by just as quick. It’s not as long as other renditions in circulation, but it does provide an extra shot of adrenaline into the show.

Sexy Dance has a similar energy, it comes at a quicker pace and has plenty of singing and dancing in the mix. The audience is again singing under Princes command, and Frédéric Yonnet can again be heard adding his contribution to the song. The band is relaxed and having fun, something that translates into the recording, it feels just as relaxed and fun on the recording years later. The All Day, All Night, chants that end the song underline this and ends the first part of the show on a high.

The All Day, All Nigh chants continue for a couple of minutes until Prince returns to the stage for a slower and enchanting rendition of I Want To Be Free. Prince’s opening sprinkle of guitar sets the tone, before singing an impassioned take on the lyrics, suitably accompanied by Shelby, Liv and Elisa all the way. The guitar solos come from another place altogether, a completely different feel from the lyrics and verses, nevertheless they are enjoyable and add an extra element of interest to the song.

The next section of the show is the usual run of Sly and The Family Stone songs. Sing A Simple Song has an extra brightness to it that the crowd responds to. The following  Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again) is equally popular with the audience, especially one woman who is close to the recording device and gives several earsplitting shrieks as the song begins. I can forgive her however as the song is indeed a great rendition that has the speakers pumping here at home.

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Be Happy is all about the band and the audience, with Prince taking a back seat on vocals the girls lead the way, before the audience pick up the “All day, all night’ refrain again with great gusto. Things are shaping up to go on for sometime,so it comes as a complete surprise as Prince wraps it up with his “Vegas” call.

I wasn’t expecting too much from 7, so I am pleasantly surprised by what we have here, a couple of minutes that are faithful to an old hit. It does segue into Come Together, another song that got more than it’s share of concert time in the late 2000’s. This version is much as it is usually heard, although the speech by Prince mid-song is interesting and revealing. Talking about America he mentions that his music is no longer on the radio, and says America wants to make him a slave. I’m not sure exactly what to make of it, but it is interesting to hear.

Dreamer follows on, and it is similar in style to the preceding Come Together.  It does gain from some louder guitar and more harmonica, but asides from that it doesn’t make much of an impression and ends before I can really get a feel for it.

I am re-enthused with hearing The Bird, not only does it push my nostalgic buttons, it also sounds like a lot of fun. The crowd is feeling it as much as I am, and the guitar has plenty of funk. The final minute has me smiling as Prince speaks with a repeat effect on the microphone, which has him saying “turn this repeat off, what are you doing?”

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Jungle Love has him asking “Who wrote that” before playing a version that makes it quite clear. A short, sharp version it has plenty of punch to it, and I am surprised by how strong the guitar solo is. It maybe short, but it is efficient and conveys plenty in the time it plays.

The performance of Glamorous Life is one of the most satisfying parts of the show. After first taking some time to get the sound right, Prince tells the audience that he wants to live in France, because it rhymes with his favorite word “dance”. The band live up to the moment, and once again I am turning them up louder. It sounds classic, live, and fun all at the same time, and although Shelia E is missing it still manages to capture some of her sound and influence.

3121 returns with a steamroller of a  heavy groove that is mind crushingly good. Ten minutes of heavy, and heavenly, funk follows- only lightened by the reappearance of the harmonica. All Day, All Night chants, soul claps, lyrics that hint at something dangerous, and unhinged harmonica all add to this behemoth of a song, all killer groove and funky rhythms. The audience do become intrusive on the recording, but I am prepared to overlook this as the song rolls on in its own unstoppable way. This the moment where I am finally swept away by the music and I truly lose myself in the moment.

And suddenly we are back to where it all started with the the soft drizzle of an introduction to Purple Rain. The recording has been good until this point, but it’s now that it finally loses some of its polish with some mild distortion and crowd noise. Maybe it’s the crowd noise that ruins the levels, it is as the crowd sings that the distortion is most noticeable. As for the song itself, it’s a humdinger, with Prince electing to go with the guitar saturated version rather than drawing out the verses he cuts straight to the chase early on. This makes the distortion of the crowd singing all the more frustrating, especially as Prince revisits the verses and sings with a whole-hearted fullness.  With the vocals and the guitar being top notch it really is a shame the recording lets it all down at this stage. Still, it is what it is, and the show ends just as good as it begun.

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Another excellent show from 2009 and what is proving to be a very fruitful year for bootlegs. All the shows I have heard from 2009 are clean sounding and offer plenty to the careful listener. This one had plenty of high points, and even at two and a half hours it never let up, giving plenty until the very end. The Paris crowds are always knowledgeable and fun, and Prince acknowledges that with another show that is outstanding. I had doubts before I listened, I thought it maybe too clean cut, but it has proved otherwise and is a great listen. With a cold beer in hand it has been the perfect way to end the week.

Take care
Hamish

Return to First Ave 2007

In 2007 Prince played three shows in a day at his hometown of Minneapolis. I have already taken a listen to the matinee show at Macys and the main show at the Target Center, so to round out the trifecta today I will have a look at the aftershow at First Ave. It’s notable in that it was the first-time Prince had played there in 20 years, and anticipation was at an all-time high with queues snaking around the block with fans desperate to see their hometown hero. The show doesn’t disappoint. There are some uneven moments, but it is beautifully recorded (the bootleg sounds great) and the opening 3121 is so enormous in its heavy funk that any other weaker moments are immediately forgiven. I have listened to this show a couple of times this week, and I can’t wait to tell you about it.

8th July 2007(am) First Avenue, Minneapolis

3121 has a steamroller of a groove that rolls heavily over everything from the first moments.  It’s hard and heavy and reminds me of Days Of Wild on a good day. With an insistent bass and horns early on, it puts me in mind of the performance of Days Of Wild from Belgium in 2002, dark, heavy and feeling like it might roll on for days. 3121 builds with cheers from the crowd before some chopping guitar heralds the arrival of Prince. His vocals emerge from the fog of the music, ghost-like yet full and with a darkness of their own.  It’s as hard as nails, with Prince’s guitar adding plenty of venom later in the song, it too emerging from the morass of music with a piercing whine. The song rolls on for ten minutes, I could happily put it back on repeat and listen to it all day long, the show is worth listening to just for this song lone. It encapsulates all that is great about the aftershow experience and puts me right in the moment.

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We go from dark to light, with a bright and sharp Girls And Boys following immediately after. With plenty of honks from the horns and keyboards it keeps the show moving at a clip, each stab adding to the momentum. Prince himself is sounding great, and I must again point out that this is great sounding recording. It may be an audience recording but it is full and rich sounding, with the crowd audible but not the least bit intrusive.

I Feel 4 U is sprightly, with Shelby adding her infectious energy to the show. She is reasonable restrained, and nicely focused. The song itself is short, and as Shelby begins to call “Put your hands up” things quickly move onto Controversy.

In recently times Controversy has been played with and thrown into crowd pleasing medleys, and I am happy to say that the rendition here is faithful to the original. It may not be the bare funk of the album, the band is bigger and fuller, but the song is the same arrangement, at least until the final minutes as Prince calls for the audience to jump up and down. It’s not my favourite part of the song, but there are plenty more positives I enjoy listening to, especially the frenetic horn solo that adds a sense of urgency to the song. The closing guitar break from Prince is equally fine, it takes a while to get to it but it is well worth the wait.

Things slow for Beggin Woman Blues.  The groove is the steady sound of Satisfied, as Prince sings Beggin Woman Blues. The lyrics are hilarious, and the crowd are quiet as they listen carefully to catch the jokes. The real surprise is Princes vocals, they sound fantastic, especially the first few minutes. There is plenty to enjoy on the keyboard front too, with both Morris Hayes and Renato Neto taking solos before things really cut loose with a wild sax solo from Mike Phillips. Prince brings us back as he returns the song back to its roots with his vocal delivery of Satisfied. Morris Hayes does a great job of filling the sound out behind him, and it highlights Princes vocals further, his high squeals contrasting with Morris Hayes deep organ swirls.

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I can’t say I am overly impressed by Down By The Riverside. It’s a breather, and a chance for me to grab another drink (this is thirsty work).

Gotta Broken Heart Again is a standout moment. It has a stillness to it, with Princes vocals being the back bone of the song. I can’t speak highly enough of his vocals, they are outstanding and listening is a reminder to how much of a pure singer Prince was. He even matches the horns for shrill and intensity as the song reaches its climax, an impressive feat.

Shelby takes on Love Is A Losing Game, a tough job as it is a song that in my mind is indelibly associated with Amy Winehouse. I’m not sold on the performance, although Prince provides several guitar breaks that do elevate it, but not quite enough. The guitar does sound sweet and has a zesty sound to it, on another song it would be a whole lot more.

I enjoy Shelby’s performance of Love Changes a whole lot more. She is soft when she needs to be soft, strong when she needs to be strong, and I think it is a great match for her vocals and personality. Prince adds his input with some more guitar work, and this hits all my sweet spots, they complement each other well and this is further highlighted as Prince sings alongside Shelby. It may not be a lot of peoples’ cup of tea, but for me this is as good as anything else heard on this recording. Princes guitar in the final minutes underlines the performance and seals the deal.

We have all heard Thank You (Falettinme  Be Mice Elf Again) plenty of times, and this rendition contains no surprises. Larry Graham adds his deeper tones to the song, and it does have an energy that is sometimes missing in these performances. Things heat up near the end as Prince stops the band and we get some real rumble out of Larry and his bass.

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This rumble settles into Hair, and with the keyboard playing a retro sound we are cast back to the Seventies. Larry starts out on vocal duties, but he gives way to Shelby who doesn’t do a bad effort of the song herself. It does become a medley with some funky guitar running things into Sing A Simple Song before things quickly change again, this time with Everyday People. Everyday People ends the medley on a high, it is feel good through and through and one can almost hear Larry Graham smiling as he plays and sings.

Alphabet St may start off as expected, but soon enough it is spinning off into all sorts of weird and wonderful places. Greg Boyer is present for a trombone solo, before Larry Grahams bass settle things back into a groove. Shelia E playing percussion is easily the highlight, she is the right person at the right time and her input is timely and welcome.  It’s unfortunate that things come to a sudden end (due to curfew restrictions), but it is a fine way to end the recording, as Prince thanks the crowd as he explains why they are stopping, demonstrating that he is a law-abiding citizen through and through.

I had heard good things about this bootleg, but to be honest I wasn’t expecting much from it. On the surface it seemed to be the same old songs brought out again for the aftershow. I was caught off guard by the funk of 3121, and the appearance of Larry Graham wasn’t what I had come to expect, the show had a lot of energy when Larry arrived on the scene and provided his input. Of the the three shows from this day I would easily rate this as the best of the three. A short, sharp show played with intensity and energy, and I can’t really ask for better than that.

Thanks again
Take care
Hamish

 

The Hi-Fi Brisbane

I shouldn’t like today’s show, but it is one that I actually listen to quite a lot. On paper it doesn’t have much going for it, it’s an audience recording, the set list is rather ho-hum, and it’s only just over an hour long. But I find myself coming back to it again and again- I guess there is no accounting for some peoples taste. An aftershow from the Australian tour of 2012, it’s more recent than some of the gigs I have dusted off over the last couple of months. So before I begin, please bear in mind that although I enjoy this one, it’s probably not to everyone’s tastes.

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19 May, 2012 (am) The Hi-Fi Brisbane, Australia

There is an unusual start to this recording and show, as the first thing we hear is a couple of minutes of the PA, while there is a live sound check. While ‘I Know You Got Soul’ plays you can hear various instruments being checked, a few drum beats here and there, and a bass run or two. Often I find that the beauty of listening to these recordings is that I listen carefully and imagine that I myself am at the show. And with the band sound checking with the PA I can well imagine the excitement in the room, as that is the feeling I get here listening at home. And to give you further insight to my world, I often dance around the room listening to these songs, before forcing myself to sit down and listen again and write about it, and believe me and was and truly dancing around the room for the first portion of this show.

Brisbane 2012

The PA stops playing abruptly and the drums of Musicology begin. It’s got a good shuffle to it, and the horn stabs and prominent while the organ adds depth behind it. The bass enters, and then some great rhythm guitar. It’s got a funky wah wah sound before it changes and starts to play some funky sounding lead lines. I have never been a fan of Musicology but if it had hace been played more like this in the main shows then I definitely would have given it much more love. Played here as a jam with plenty of guitar and bass its sounds much fuller and funkier. The bass hits a nice loop and the singers join in with a good harmony of “I know you got soul”. Because this is an audience recording, there is a lot of crowd noise, and sometimes it does drown the band, but I feel it’s a trade off, as it does give it a brilliant live feel. This one is far from the sterile shows I sometimes hear. Prince call “Brisbane, I know you got soul”, and there is great cheer from the crowd before Prince goes on to play a lot more guitar. Its not a roaring guitar solo, just very long, funky, improvised playing. Mr. Hayes gets called for a solo, and there is a moment when you can hear Prince calling to the sound desk “Turn him up, help him, help him”. The organ then becomes noticeable louder and Mr. Hayes plays a very nice break. Shelby J follows soon after singing Mama Feelgood, and I must say it’s very refreshing to hear her singing, rather than encouraging the audience as we hear at the main shows. She does have a great voice, and is a favorite of mine, but I feel she doesn’t play to her strengths at the main shows. Here it’s all about her singing, and I am onboard as a fan. The band do all get a chance to play, there is a brief drum break for John Blackwell, and Cassandra O’Neal also gets a small solo. Both are good in their own ways, but too short to be noteworthy. Again, there is very much the feeling that its a live show as Prince gets on the microphone to speak to the crowd, and at the same time asking for the sound desk to give him “more high-end on stage, more high-end” I love that this is raw and unpolished, and they are working on it as they go. He further goes on to explain to the audience “we get it right, we can stay here all night” There is then a few minutes when the song is stripped back to Ida and John Blackwell, before the crowd start to chant with Prince “ooohhhhh, Brisbane”. The last two minutes of the song is Cassandra and John Blackwell playing, it’s a funky rhythm and has me itching to dance. The song ends, and I see it’s clocked in at almost 18 minutes- a great way to start an aftershow.

Brisbane 2012a

Ida on the bass, and some heavy organ from Mr. Hayes starts us into Days Of Wild. The first call of Prince to the crowd of “these are the days, these are the days” has them chanting along from the start. There is some heavy organ which I do like, before Prince starts to sing. As I said earlier, there is a trade off with audience recordings, and here I find I don’t hear Princes vocals as well as I expect. He’s not spitting the lyrics as intensely as he used to, and there is also some distortion in the sound which makes him hard to listen to. And of course I should mention, I have this playing way too loud for my speakers, so it’s not always just about the show! Prince comes out with his “oh by the way I play the bass guitar” but what follows is fairly muted and restrained by his standards. There is then a nice moment when the main refrain from America is played, before we return to the heavy organ groove of Mr. Hayes. I have to give further love to Mr. Hayes, when he then goes on to play a great organ break for a good minute or so. It fantastic, and adds a warm darkness to everything. There is then a great break, with just the band pulling right back while the guitar plays a funky stroke. It’s the funkiest moment of the song, before Prince begins to sing Wild And Loose. He only sings it for a verse, before there is another keyboard solo. This song is just dripping, and it’s impossible not to move to it. Liv also gets a moment to sing on it, and she delivers an impassioned and deep Ain’t Nobody. I am really feeling this one as another keyboard solo comes at us, and the heavy groove goes on and on. Cassandra plays great on the piano, but its only fitting that it’s Mr. Hayes who plays us through to the end of the song with his organ. “These are the days, these are the days”!

Brisbane 2012c

The Question Of U starts as purely an instrumental, while Prince plays some restrained lead guitar. I say restrained, as in its not fiery and loud, but it does have a stratospheric sound. He does sing, but it’s not The Question Of U, instead he sings the lyrics of The One over the music. The One is some of my favorite lyrics, and I am pleased that the recording is good enough that I can hear him quite clearly throughout this song. He pauses after each verse for some guitar play, nothing wild, just suitably mournful. After the second verse he does play with a tone more in line with what I expect from A Question Of U. Although he plays a good long break, the song isn’t totally about him and his guitar. After his solo, there is then a long piano break, played by presumably Cassandra. The surprises keep coming as Prince begins to the sing Gingerbread Man. The band is very quiet at this point, and it’s mostly Princes vocals and the crowd we can hear. I am not overly familiar with the song, but I really enjoy it here, and it’s a great fit for the song. Soon after Mr. Hayes plays another break (he sure is busy tonight) before the song comes to a soft end with the audience clapping and singing “ooohh, ohhh. ohhh, oooohh” A beautiful song, and again it’s played to maximum effect with nothing feeling rushed at all.

Brisbane 2012d

The dark bluesy arrangement of I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man follows next, and it’s soaked in a melancholy feel, especially the guitar tone and Princes vocals. I am a big fan of this slowed down arrangement, and this one is particularly smoky. Prince’s guitar playing is tight earlier on, but there is a great release when he does open up and play the first break. Like a door cracking open, the opening notes pull us in and I want to hear what comes next. Prince doesn’t unleash it right away, he returns to the verse after a few bars, but it builds the anticipation. At this point you can hear some people in the crowd commenting that this version is better, and although I don’t like hearing them on the recording, I do agree with their sentiments. After the next verse Prince does open up on the guitar fully, and this is a good one, I mean the solo is full of emotion and soul. It’s not a solo for the ages, but on this song on this night it’s just perfect. He does play faster as the song goes, but never furiously so, and as I said before, the fact is it’s a very soulful and mournful solo. The emotion continues as the music breaks down and Prince sings “I could never” over and over. Every word is full of passion, and it gives the song a vibe that is missing on the album. The keyboards play some piano and organ, before Prince sings the refrain a couple more times and closes the song with one last mournful line.

Brisbane 2012e

Prince gets a break from vocal duties next as Shelby takes the lead for a rendition of Brownskin. After the intensity of the previous song, it leaves me a little deflated. Shelby sings well, and I can hear the band is in good form with Prince on guitar, but it’s not at the same high level of the first four songs. There is a guitar break by Prince midsong which is noteworthy, plenty of sustained notes and a very electric tone to his guitar, but it’s only short and we return to Shelby. On a better recording, I would give this one a lot more time, but being only an audience recording it is hard work to listen to, and even with another fine guitar break by Prince near the end I still can’t quite give it a pass.

Brisbane 2012f

Prince calls for the lights to be turned up as he starts the rhythm guitar of Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). I have heard this one plenty over the years, so it fails to fire me up when I hear it here. It’s as we have heard it previously, although the break with Prince playing plenty of rhythm guitar is cool, and for me the most enjoyable part of the song. It’s at this stage of the gig that things speed up a little, and the earlier vibe of a jam is lost. This is very much a show that has two halves. The first few songs were all longer jams, and plenty of intensity, but at this stage a lighter vibe is present, and the songs are getting shorter. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) only goes for a few minutes before it ends and Prince plays the funky guitar intro of Love Rollercoaster. He doesn’t go on to play the rest of the song, we just have half a minute of him alone playing the rhythm before we move on to the next song.

Brisbane 2012g

Next his guitar playing moves to the rhythm of Controversy and the kick drum comes in behind him. There is the keyboard sound, before we have the main groove that we know so well. The crowd gets a chance to sing along as the band play, and the band do a great job of it, they sound very tight. Prince does play with the crowd little, getting them to scream and shout in a brief call and response. There is then another verse and chorus a break down and Prince doing his “people call me rude” speech. Then as the Controversy groove continues Prince asks “how many people know about the quake” and we get a minute of him and Shelby encouraging the crowd to clap their hands and stomp their feet, before the song is brought to a close. Again it’s very short, and light.

Brisbane 2012h

The party is kept going as Prince and the band start to play I Know You Got Soul, nicely taking us back to where all this begun. Prince mostly speaks to the crowd, getting them dancing, before a very short chant of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie”. The funky guitar starts again and we move to Play That Funky Music.

Play That Funky Music I have very strong feelings about. I don’t like it in his main shows, and I definitely don’t like it here. The band plays it very easily, and it feels a little throw away for them. This one is slightly better than others, in that Prince starts a guitar solo early on and maintains it for most of the three minutes. It swirls and grinds away while Prince occasionally sings a line or two to the audience. The song never really starts, nor does it ever turn into a jam, and it ends very quickly with Prince “Thank you Brisbane, and good night”

Brisbane 2012i

So there it is, an odd little show that I listen to a lot. The first part is very strong, and even though I dislike the second part of the show, it is very short and the first few songs more than compensate. As I said earlier, it’s not for everyone’s taste, but if you aren’t adverse to an audience recording and want to hear something a little off the radar, this would be as good a place as any to start.

Plenty of good shows been played here recently,
Hopefully I will get them on the blog as soon as I can.

Thanks again
Hamish

 

first night of 21 nights

Today’s entry is gong to be a little different from anything else I have written. I have written about some great recordings previously, and some significant gigs in the world of Prince, but this one is special to me for another reason. Today I will be writing about the first night of the 21 nights at the O2 London. Not only is it the first night of that series of concerts, it is also the first time that I ever saw Prince playing live. For me it is impossible to detach the recording from being at the event itself. I normally try to be fairly objective in my writing, but today any semblance of objectivity will go out the window. A lot of my memories and feelings are tied into this recording, I can’t listen to it without all these coming to the surface. So with that in mind, let’s take a listen- the CD is in the player, my cup of tea beside me, but in my mind I am coming up the escalator at North Greenwich station, and the excitement in the air is electric.

8 August 2007 O2 London

Opening the show is a video of the UK Hall of fame introduction. Prince is definitely marketing himself as an Icon/legacy act at this stage, and the video serves as a useful reminder to the fans there that he has had an outstanding career. I find it a little ho-hum, but it very much sets the scene for what comes next, and definitely gets the excitement levels rising in the crowd.

Prince 21 nights 2007

I am not convinced that Purple Rain is a great song to open a show with. Although, once again, I have to concede I do understand exactly why it is here at the beginning of the show. Prince is making a statement, opening his 21 night stand with the song that is most closely associated with him, and from the most stellar part of his career. On a personal note- this is not one of my favorite Prince songs, it has been played at 100’s of concerts over the years, and has long since lost its sparkle for me. But, this was my first time to see Prince after being a fan for 25 years, and as he rose out of the dry ice, singing his signature song, I have to say it was pretty emotional. There may well have been a tear in my eye (I am sure it was just from the dry ice). On listening to the recording now I find that away from the hype and excitement, it is actually a good rendition of the song. Instead of the hanging guitar chords at the beginning, we get a nice little piano intro. It’s not drawn out at all, and Prince starts singing without too much intro. The drum beat isn’t as strong as it used to be, and the music sounds very much in the back ground, this is all about Princes vocal delivery, and its nice and strong right from the start. To his credit, he does play a full version, every verse is there as it should be. I am always pleased when it gets the full treatment, and the crowd is in fine voice for every chorus. The guitar solo has a fine sound to it, it’s not muscular as it sometimes sounds on the symbol guitar. There is nothing extra or unheard in the guitar break, but it is very decent sounding. It is a little strange to hear the crowd singing “oww, owww, owww” and knowing that this is still the first song, and we have a long way to go yet. I found it enjoyable, but perhaps a much better measure would be what a more casual fan thought of it- immediately after the song finished my friend, who had rather reluctantly come along to the gig, turned to me with a massive grin on his face and said “That was brilliant- I got my moneys worth right there with that song”.

Prince 21 nights 2007 1

Girls and Boys ups the tempo, and for me the gig begins now. Although the recording isn’t soundboard, it still is good, and Girls and Boys sounds great. Prince has a great funky sounding vocal delivery and the keyboards and horns propels it along in a non-stop fashion. This is the funky Prince I enjoy most, and it is an early highlight. The best part of it is when Maceo takes over and delivers a killer solo. It just takes off, and has a life of its own. There is also a trombone solo, which although not as good as Maceos solo is still a different addition that I really enjoy. Prince does break down the song at one stage for some audience singing of Dance, Music, Sex, Romance- it does break the momentum, but things ramp again with some more great horns and singing straight after. This song has lost nothing of its funk after all these years. It finishes with Prince yelling “Somebody scream!” It’s an excellent start to show after the slow start.

Third song in and things really pull back with a smoky version of Satisfied. It’s quite a change after the stomping Girl and Boys, but as Prince says- he’s got two sides and they’re both friends. There are plenty of roars from the crowd as Prince performs this one in typical seduction mode. It sounds like the ladies in the crowd are hanging on every word as there is screams and yells after almost every suggestive line. Maceo gets a nice lead break, and he shows of another side of his playing- completely different from the previous song. He is definitely a master, and I love listening to this one too. Maceo finishes up and we return to the seductive sounds of Prince. It sounds like he could deliver this easily all night, but he winds it up after just another minute.

Normally I would readily dismiss Cream, but this one is a more up-tempo, and the drums and horns are more to the fore. It strengthens the song a lot, and I find I enjoy it much more than I have in years. Prince reminds the audience midsong that he wrote this one looking in the mirror, and the crowd gives an approving cheer. The guitar break is worth mentioning, the sound is not as weak and thin as the album version, and although it’s very short, it is an improvement in my opinion. I also find the horns add a lot to it, they aren’t playing anything extra, but they do fatten out the sound.

We segue easily into a rock number next as U Got The Look gets an outing. With only Prince playing guitar it’s a less rocky than usual, but he makes it for it with some extra oomph in his vocals and the drummer does give it plenty too. His lead break is good, but does sit low in the mix. We can perhaps blame limitations in the recording for this, but his guitar sound does sound a little lost amongst the other instruments. It’s a shame, as it I have often felt that this song hinges on the sound of his guitar breaks in it, and here it comes across as much lighter.

I don’t think I have ever heard a version of Shhh that I didn’t like. This one is no exception. Again I am somewhat limited by the quality of the recording, but Prince sounds just as good as ever. This song dates from my favorite era of Prince, and I only wish that more songs from this period were played live now. Of course he delivers the verses with plenty of passion, but its the guitar playing where the emotion really comes through on this song. His guitar says what his voice can’t, and sitting here today listening to it I find it brings all sort of emotions out of me. A fine performance of one of his greatest songs, this one is only let down by it being an audience recording. The song ends with a half a minute of furious guitar work, and I am already reaching for the repeat button.

Prince 21 nights 2007 3

Musicology sounds like a song that was purpose written for shows like this. A throw back nostalgic song in both sound and lyrical content, it’s very much tailored for audiences like this, as well as serving as an introduction to the band. It’s a party song, and you can hear the audience responding to it, it very much lightens the mood. Again, Maceo is very much a highlight in this for me, his playing is exceptional. The other band members all play well too, no slight against any of them, but Maceo is the one I enjoy most. There is some chanting of ‘Funky London’ and the audience does seem to get behind this a lot. It does perhaps go on a little long for my liking, but I always prefer that rather than having songs cut short.

Prince takes the time to talk to the crowd between songs at this point. It’s a nice couple of minutes, he asks about his stage, how’s the band, and then mentions his excitement of playing in London again.

The up-tempo beat of I Feel For You has me back on board. Prince doesn’t have to try too hard with this one, it has a nice inner energy to it, and pushes all the nostalgia buttons to me. This isn’t the greatest version I have heard, Shelby (love her) is just a little too strong on it, and although she doesn’t drown out Prince I definitely hear her voice more than his. If anything, it feels there is a little too much on this one. It doesn’t have the cleanness that I like about it. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s not as great as it could have been.

Staying in the era, Prince calls for Controversy next. It’s got that great pounding beat, and what I like most about it, is the beat doesn’t overwhelm everything, as per other recent versions I have heard. The bass is nice and prominent, and it’s a great throw back to his early years. The horns are another nice touch and give it some color. The only problem I have with it is when Prince calls for people to jump up before the main groove. It seems to derail the song somewhat. But more than making up for that is another appearance of Maceo. His sax is sharp sounding against the neat, and it works very well. Later in the song the rest of the horn section join for a horn break, but it doesn’t seem to work quite as well. But I do like that they played around with it. And there is a nice break when just the trombone plays that I enjoy.

Prince 21 nights 2007 2

Things slow down as Prince leaves the stage and Renato Neto and Mike Phillips play an instrumental What A Wonderful World. I have been effusive in my praise of the horns so far on this recording, but here is a bridge too far for me. With Prince not on the song at all I find my attention quickly waning. Although it all sounds pretty, I find this one bland and am bored with it before we even get half way.

Somewhere Here On Earth, although sounding good, barely gets my pulse going again. I am not going to dismiss it though, Princes vocal deliver on it is excellent. I would like to hear more ballads in this vein as he ages. It’s got an easy listening sound to it, with a nice gentle horn playing in background. Prince has a nice croon in his delivery and I could well imagine him singing like this in a piano bar well into old age. And that is the reason I don’t like it. The quality is excellent, there is no denying that, but it’s too safe, too middle of the road for my tastes. It’s a nice deviation in the gig, but in the end I find it to be a side dish, rather than the main course.

Lolita has questionable lyrics, but an upbeat pop sound. I have seen a variety of opinions on this song, it’s very much a song you either love or hate. I enjoyed it on record, but here it doesn’t match that. Prince’s vocals are easily heard, but not easily understood. I can’t make out the words, and this time I’m not sure I can blame the recording. The O2 does have some sound issues, and I am putting it down to this. The song is OK, but it does finish before I can form a strong opinion one way or another.

Prince then engages the audience with “I got more hits than Madonna got kids” I have heard it plenty since then, but at the time it was still quaint and funny. I am expecting him to then play one of these hits he is alluding to, but instead we get a reprise of the last chorus of Lolita.

Prince 21 nights 2007 4

We are back on track when steamy groove of Black Sweat begins. It doesn’t have the dark sound of the album, but it still sounds good to my ears. It could have been much funkier and heavier, but the crowd seems pretty happy with this arrangement, and so am I. The only things that count against it is Prince shouting “I got too many hits” midsong, and the fact that it barely reaches the three minute mark before it ends. After the last few songs dragging us down, it would have been good hear this one worked up more and injecting a bit more funk into the evening.

There is another interlude as Prince name checks possible songs he play next. This elicits a predictable response from the audience before the strum of Kiss brings us to the next song. Prince gives the audience a few chances to sing along with this one, and they respond with a loud call. The best part of the song is very much the guitar solo, his guitar has a nice tone to it, and as I say so many times, it sounds great. Prince does have another couple of crowd pleasing moments- the lyric change “You don’t have to watch desperate housewives, or big brother” and then lets the audience finish out the song singing themselves. It’s very very short, but it is crowd pleasing.

There is some more of Prince name checking possible songs he could do next, before he decides to go old school with If I Was Your Girlfriend. Again, to leave the recording for a moment, this was the point at the gig where ‘I lost my stuff’ so to speak. This song is a top 5 favorite for me, and to hear it live was sensational. And today as I listen back to it, I realize it’s not a great version, but every gig will be someone’s once in a life time chance to see Prince, and sometimes the quality of the song doesn’t matter, the fact it’s played is enough. Back to the recording itself, it’s a light version of the song that is played. It’s very much played as an upbeat party type song. There calls from Prince for the crowd to wave their arms side to side, and Prince addresses the audience informally several times, which takes me out of the song. There is a very nice deep organ groove under it, and that is what makes the song for me on this one. Princes asks the crowd if they are having a good time, and he gets a rousing cheer in response.

The song segues easily into Pink Cashmere. I often overlook Pink Cashmere, but it is actually a very good song. It got a little lost in everything else that was happening in Prince world at the time it came out, which is a shame, as it has the sound of a hit to my ears. The rendition here is smooth enough, and Mike Phillips plays an upbeat Sax solo on it, which does lift it up a lot. As he finishes Prince says “Careful Mike, you might get someone pregnant” His easy humor always makes me smile, and it’s a fitting comment for a nice solo. There is some nice Prince talk near the end of the song, and surprisingly it’s not corny at all. I would have enjoyed it much more, if he hadn’t of then started singing “Oh funky London” again. Mercifully it’s only for a couple of bars before the band jump back in and bring the song to a close.

I hadn’t expected to hear 7 next. It’s played very straight and doesn’t seem to deviate at all from the original recording. At this point I am reminded of why I dislike audience recording, there is a loud hand clap on the recording, and for the duration of the song I find it hard to listen beyond this. The song is played well, but like I said before there’s not too much about it that stands out.

The band then moves directly onto the next song, Come Together. There was a time when I would have loved to hear a cover such as this, but in this case it mostly disappointing. It’s obviously played with the UK audience in mind, but it’s mostly Shelby that I can hear. The first half the song I mostly concentrate on her voice, and the annoying audience hand clap. The second part of the song through picks up immensely and Prince plays the best guitar solo of the night. It’s a shame the whole song wasn’t as good as that solo, but at least the solo does redeem the rest of the song. The song finishes, predictably enough with the audience clapping and singing “Come together”

Every week I write that I don’t like Take Me with U, but that whatever particular version I am listening to at the time is great. Maybe I should just face facts, and admit that I probably do love this song. The drums aren’t the strongest on this, but the keyboards are sounding very bold. They have a nice full sound to them, especially during the chorus. Prince’s voice has a slight echo to it, and that is not due to any of his doing, it’s the sound in the venue that is at fault. The song gets the energy levels back up and this continues as the next song starts quickly after.

Guitar is one of those songs that always sounds ‘up’. It’s hard to imagine Prince playing this without a big smile on his face. The sound isn’t great during the song, his first break does sound a bit muddy and lost, but the second break is much more clear and crisp. I always think of this as being a very short and sweet song, but it does seem to go on for a while here, there is more verses than I remember! But the playing on it is good, and I always enjoy anything that showcases Prince guitar playing. The end of the song is when he goes deep into it, and there are some nice moments during his playing.

Another 360 next as Prince puts down his guitar to sing a beautiful rendition of Planet Earth. Yes it’s beautiful, but it fails to engage me emotionally. I think this song could sound better and he could do more with it. This sounds good to me, but I just can’t connect to it. There is almost too much band in it, and I do wonder if it would be better served with a stripped back arrangement. I should point at that the song does also suffer from being a less than ideal recording. Listening to this I am reminded of my teachers comments at school “Shows potential, could do better”

A longer break ensues, before we get an encore. Shelby J leads the band through a fairly robust version of Gnarls Barkly’s ‘Crazy’. It’s redundant and doesn’t add anything to show, asides from giving Prince a break and showing off Shelby’s vocals. There is no denying she’s got talent, but like many people I do tire of her extolling the crowd to ‘Put your hands up’. I do like the funky break when they start to sing ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ and I would have preferred to hear a full blown cover of that rather than Crazy. It is however of its time and place, and in 2007 that was THE song, so there is no doubt that the audience at time enjoyed it.

Prince is back in form with a fantastic Nothing Compares 2 U. Asides from letting the audience sing a line here and there, it is great to hear him perform on this. Like a lot of songs on this recording, it does have its positives and negatives. He does only sing the first verse, but then he hands it over to Mike Phillips who plays a very decent sax break. Prince returns after the sax break, and sounds much more impassioned. If anything he sounds too passionate, and the song loses some of its emotional clout. The audience is left to sing the last few lines before it fades out.

“Dearly beloved” followed by a long pause and organ into leaves me hanging for what seems an age. After a long tease Prince eventually follows up with “we are gathered here today, to get through this thing called life” and Lets Go crazy follows proper. There isn’t much left of the song, Prince skips all the verses and plays the first guitar break straight off, before encouraging the crowd with “lets go crazy, go go go”. There is another brief guitar break and some more singing along with audience. As I said before there is no verses and no choruses sung, it’s all guitar and sing along. It ends, predictable enough, after a couple of minutes with Princes guitar howling ending. “Thank you and good night” ends the main part of the show.

Pausing for a minute, I would like to explain what happened next at the show. All the house lights came up, there was a minute or two of cheering, a few technicians appeared on stage and the crowd began streaming out of the exits. Not being in any hurry to leave, me and my friend stood for a few minutes discussing what a great time we had, and comparing highlights. After a couple more minutes there was a shout and Prince came running across the floor of the arena and hauled himself back on stage, sending the technicians diving to get out of the way. Immediately there was a rush as people clambered to get as close to the stage as possible, and people came running back into the arena. Prince picked up his guitar and began to play solo (it should be noted, this was the best moment of my life).The lights dim and the show resumes. And on that note, we return back to the recording.

With just his Horner guitar for accompaniment Prince now plays a solo version of Little Red Corvette. In a mark of just how great this song is, it more than stands up in just this simple arrangement. The lyrics and basic melody is all that is required for this one. It seems to gain something more from the simplicity of it. Although he doesn’t play the whole song, these couple of minutes are more than enough, and this song stands out as a highlight of the recording.

Prince then calls for all the lights to be turned up and again with just him and his guitar plays a very simple, yet beautiful version of Raspberry Beret. Having been there, I would have to say it was amazing how he made a 17000 seat arena feel incredibly intimate. It was more like a camp fire sing along than a rock concert. Prince only sings the first verse and a chorus before letting the crowd sing “I think I love her” and replying with “and I love you too.

Keeping in character he then plays Sometimes It Snows In April. This is one of the better versions I have heard, the audience don’t drown it out, and with only Prince it shows off his playing and vocal skills much better. He isn’t totally unaccompanied, there is a keyboard playing softly along with him, but it still does have a lovely solo sound to it. I thought it may have had that over played sound about it as many of his songs from the 1980s do, but it still sounds like its fresh and has legs. It’s a great way to finish this mini solo set.

Next the band rejoins the stage and after a couple of “Oh funky London” from Prince (enough already) we get a nice brassy rendition of Get on the Boat. With all the horns onboard, this one really jumps. This works much better live than it does on record and it’s a shame that its cut short in its prime. It sounds great here, and it really needed to be played in full.

Thankfully another one of my favorite songs follow, with A Love Bizarre. This recording is really finishing on a high, the last few songs are all top notch. Love Bizarre sounds good, with the girl’s vocals fitting in very well behind Prince, it harks back to the Shelia E days (although I don’t want to be accused of wallowing in nostalgia). The horns again shine out, they go all sorts of places I didn’t expect during their break. Unfortunately, and it is hard to be critical about something so small, Prince does begin to chant “oh funky London” again, and it’s at this point I inwardly groan. But it’s only briefly and does lead us into the next song.

I didn’t expect to hear the music of Sexy Dancer again, but here it is in all its glory. On the downside, the lyrics are dispensed with, and instead Shelby sings Le Freak over the top of it. It’s not such a big deal, they are a good fit and the song is enjoyable enough. There is not enough Prince there for my liking, I can only hear Shelby, and then a brief but enthusiastic sax solo. The song has the vibe of a party or disco, and when Prince is heard again it is to get the crowd chanting “oh funky London”. Insert sad face here. And its on this note the show ends proper.

There is plenty of interesting moments in this show. Opening with Purple rain, the mini solo encore, and of course it is the first of his 21 nights and Prince is obviously trying to make a splash in London. Asides from being there, this show was enjoyable for me to go back and listen to. I was amazed how many of the moments and songs I had forgotten already (I had no idea he played Black Sweat, I don’t remember it at all). A pleasant recording, it was a good listen asides from nostalgia value.

Thanks for reading
Hamish