Detroit 1982

It has been two years since I listened to a recording from the 1999 tour. I know this because I wrote a blog post last time I listened to a concert from that tour. So, with that in mind, it is well overdue for me to revisit the tour. I have written disparagingly of the tour, and subsequent bootlegs, previously. Not that the shows themselves are bad, but when compared to the wider selection of bootlegs available they lack some of the sparkle of other eras. The 1999 tour doesn’t have the naked intensity of the previous Controversy tour where Prince and the band are playing with the blazing fury of underdogs. Neither do the shows have the unpredictability and rotating setlists that Prince will rely on later in his career. What we have instead in a neatly packaged show that runs just over an hour, Prince choosing to present the 1999 album in the most efficient form, rather surprising given that it is a sprawling double album. There is no extended guitar solos, no songs thrown into the setlist, and no chance for something spontaneous to happen. Yet, the shows do have their own charm, and when I first started to collect bootlegs I listened to them often. The concert I have chosen to listen to today comes from early in the tour and is slightly more interesting for the unusual appearance of “Head” and “Uptown”. It is also one of the longer shows of the tour, so while not entirely representative of the 1999 tour, it does present an unique listen. It has been a while since I dipped this far back, and I am looking forward to listening with fresh ears and reliving my youth.

30th November, 1982. Masonic Temple Auditorium, Detroit

From the very moment that the spoken intro of “1999” begins I  am swept up by the quality of the recording. The introduction is merely used for the beginning of “Controversy” and for the me the most thrilling aspect is the wonderfully crisp and clean scratchy guitar of Prince. The quality of the recording is astounding, after listening to so many audience recordings recently this really is bliss. The song is powered along by the rhythm guitar and the solid platform provided by the drums and bass, they really are rock solid. The lightness comes with the vocals of Prince and the women singing, it is a song of layered contrasts that simply works. It’s a great start to what promises to be an outstanding bootleg.

Things stay on the dance floor with “Let’s Work”. It isn’t as insistent as “Controversy”, but there is no denying the groove that it has and like the previous song it keeps the show moving briskly along. The synth squiggles provided by Dr Fink give it a lift and with the rest of the keyboards it floats much easier than “Controversy”. The brief guitar break by Prince reeks of his purple touch, and paired with another keyboard solo it lifts the song far beyond what is heard on album.

The hit of the moment comes with the synth rise and fall ushering in “Little Red Corvette”. I do enjoy this version, but to be honest it is played straight down the line and the difference between this live version and studio arrangement is barely perceivable. Sometimes a good song is a good song, and it doesn’t need anything extra to make it work in the live setting. That is exactly what we have here, and although there isn’t anything new it is still every bit as good as anything else in the concert.

“Do Me, Baby” has an innate richness to it, and that richness is emphasized with the long chocolaty introduction that Prince lavishes upon it. One can almost hear the sweat dripping off him as the opening music hangs, stretches and draws out, teasing the listener in the promises it holds. We talk of music being timeless, or classic, and never has it been more true than in this case. It has a smoothness and soulfulness to it that could have come from anytime, one can almost picture Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye singing the same song. The rest of the song lives up to all that it promised and the following minutes are some of the finest seduction balladry that Prince has ever performed.

From seduction we need move on to something much more nasty – “Head”. It isn’t quite the barn burner I expect, Prince underplays the song and although the required funk is there it doesn’t get the time it needs to properly marinade into something substantial. Four minutes of “Head” is good, ten or eleven minutes would be better. It does,however, finish on a high with yet another outstanding solo from Dr Fink.

The second surprise comes with an rousing rendition of “Uptown”. This lifts the energy levels of the recording immensely and takes us back to the previous Controversy tour when Prince and the band where playing as if that had something to prove. It is short and vibrant, but it does herald in the second part of the show where the following five songs are played over an hour – giving you some idea of how much more of a jam the latter part of the show will be.

Things start slowly with a relaxed rendition of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?”. It has an easy sashay, and is in complete contrast to the previous “Uptown”. Prince’s piano playing is the centre of attention, but even better is how much the song spotlights his vocals. Naked out on their own, one can hear the not just the range of the vocals, but also the inflections and character he sings with. He is able to channel plenty of personality into his vocals and this carries the story just as much as the words he is singing.

The coolest song of the set is “Lady Cab Driver”. It is one of the key songs that attracted me to Prince, and this performance lives up to all my expectations. There is a driving groove that is sharpened by the rhythm guitar that brings it into sharp focus. Prince’s vocals sit in the background, it the the funk of the song that is important, and nothing gets in the way of that. Dez may provide one of his trademark rock solos, but the song is pure groove and continues on in its own way all the while he is playing. The second half of the song is sensational with Brown Mark coming to the fore with his bass warm and full, while the guitar continues with a chug – upping the intensity from the smooth first half into something that is forceful and demands attention. It is a firm pointer to the longer jams that Prince and the band will play in future, and couldn’t be further from the neatly packaged songs played earlier in the concert. I can’t emphasis enough, this is the strongest song of the set and I would happily pluck it out for any mix tape I was putting together.

“International Lover” is good, but I have an urge to return to “Lady Cab Driver” a few more times. It is played to the hilt as the seduction piece it is, although Prince does tend to go over board with the cheese in this case. I like the music, and the overall sound, but I can’t get past the nutty things Prince is saying. Tune out the words and it’s a masterpiece, with the words it is a giant piece of cringe worthy cheese. That would be fine if it was only a few minutes, but we we have here is ten minutes of Prince laying it on thick, almost (but not quite) ruining the moment.

The opening fanfare of “1999” washes away a lot of this and as soon as the vocals begin all is forgiven. After listening to so many abridged versions of late it is refreshing to hear a full unadulterated version, Prince playing it as it was meant to be heard. The synths have more time to fill out the sound with a dense curtain and there is plenty of vocals to be heard all over the track. They are easy to hear on the soundboard recording, and one can admire that every member contributes to the band and to the highest standard.  The final minutes the song descends into a guitarfest that has my inner rocker all a flutter and by the final flurry and howl I am completely in my element.

It is “D.M.S.R.” that finishes the show, and what a way to finish. There has plenty of dance and funk on display already in the show and once again Prince and band deliver a platter of funky treats. The bass that moves the feet, the rhythm guitar cutting through, synth stabs that punctuate and accent the beat, and lyrics that you can’t help but sing along with (rather loudly in my case, I’m afraid). It is the synths and guitar that take control of the song and they drive it strongly though the final minutes as the music spiral ever upwards. This brings us to the end of the concert and it ends as it begun – with the spoken “I don’t want to hurt you, I only want to have some fun”, before the sound of an explosion puts an exclamation mark on it all.

I find my feelings on these types of shows are often the same. I say that the show doesn’t really appeal to me and is rather staid, then once I start listening I find the thrill and excitement sweeps through me and I am just as enamored by it all as I have always been. This bootleg can’t be, and shouldn’t be, compared to the long freewheeling shows of the 90’s and beyond. It doesn’t come close to the quiet intensity of an after show, yet this concert was just as enjoyable as anything else I have heard recently. This is the Prince that I first fell in love with all those years ago, and these concert reassert those feelings. A short and sweet concert that barrels quickly through the essential songs of the time, this is always going to be a bootleg we can return to again and again.

Thanks for reading,
-Hamish

Purple Rain – Uniondale Pt 2

The new Eye records release of the Uniondale shows was just too much to digest at one sitting, so today I return to the second show featured on the recording – Uniondale March 23rd, 1985. It does differ from the other Uniondale concert in several ways. There is a performance of Head that has me a gasp, as well as “Condition Of The Heart”, “Raspberry Beret” and “America” all making appearances, pointing towards the release of Around The World In a Day later in the year. Like the previous concert there are edits throughout, in particular “Raspberry Beret” is missing its second verse,  I am prepared to overlook that for now and enjoy the recording for what it is, a passionate delivery of one of Princes most beloved concert tours.

23rd March 1985, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum,  Uniondale, NY

We’re now 32 years beyond the Purple Rain tour and yet I have still not tired of the “Let’s Go Crazy” opening. This rendition captures my imagination, the guitar touches on the raw sound that appeals to my punk rock roots and it has a similar energy. The recording is nice and clean, and this emphasizes the dirtiness of Princes guitar. I may have had reservations based on being overly familiar, yet I am sold on it from the start.

Likewise, “Delirious” gets a firm pass from me. It has never stood out to me as a great song, the performance though has me seeing it in a different like, especially as I can hear a wonderful funk guitar playing in the background. The soundboard recording is paying dividends and I get much more out of the song at this concert than I normally do. There is much more to it than I previously thought, and the bootleg nerd in me revels in all the small details I can hear.

There is a natural pairing of “1999” and “Little Red Corvette”. Although both from the same album they come from different places and “1999” is as much a celebration as “Little Red Corvette” is a sensitive moment in a concert that is otherwise bombastic. I am drawn to both of them, but at the end of the day it is “Little Red Corvette” that has me pushing the repeat button. There is plenty of great guitar work in “1999”, yet it is the synthesizer in “Little Red Corvette”  that places me at the concert. There is also some notable guitar work in “Little Red Corvette” as the song provides something for everyone and I think by the time it ends most people would be well satisfied with the preceding ten minutes.

I find “Take Me With U” to be highly enjoyable, although again, I gravitate towards the later section of the song as Prince dresses it up with some lead guitar and the hook of “All The Critics Love U In New York” Catchy and fun, this moment comes as a lightness before the following “Yankee Doodle” drags the show down.

I want the following “Do Me, Baby” to be great. I want it to ooze out my speakers and fill the room with love and lust. It shapes up well, but like most of these Purple Rain performances, it  is abridged and runs at only a couple of minutes. Despite its brief appearance, I still find it to be a highlight and it is certainly a lot better than “Yankee Doodle” that came before it.

The guitar is sharp and carries plenty of funk for  “Irresistible Bitch”. The guitar is subverted for the following “Possessed”, where the horn of Eric Leeds dominates. He is in fine form, and Prince introduces him to the crowd with a humorous “He just got out of college”. That comment belies the immense talent that Eric is as he interlaces his style all through the song, making it another standout.

The piano set at this show is a highlight and for me is the best part of the gig. “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” has some very ‘Princely’ ad-libs in the final minute, in particular I get a kick out of “How come you don’t screw me, anymore?”. However, this is merely the appetizer, it is “Condition Of The Heart” that serves as the main course in this delightful treat. He may wrap it up after a couple of minutes, but it leaves an aftertaste that lasts with me long after. Prince coyly introduces “Raspberry Beret” with “You wanna hear some more new songs? Can you keep a secret?”, before the now familiar piano riff plays. Princes vocals stand out alone in front of the music, I find this adds a lot to the song. It sparkles in its freshness and Prince is obviously relishing sharing his new music with the audience. Sadly, the second verse has been edited out, but what remains still sounds good.

“Head” is introduced as “Something nasty” and it is a piano driven, rhythm and funk monster. Prince works the crowd with his chants and piano riffs as it becomes a stop start jam. With Eric Leeds playing over Prince’s bare piano it becomes different from what one would normally expect, making it something special that is worth coming back too. Even with the rest of the band, the song comes as a stripped back groove. Eric does lead it off to a lighter and more ethereal place, giving the song a lightness I have never heard before.

The band are again the focus for “Lets Pretend We’re Married”, both Wendy and Eric get a shout out. Eric can be heard all over the song, but for my money Wendy is the star. Even though she only gets the briefest of solos, she is sounding fierce and raw, two attributes I look for first when listening to guitarists.

It is hardly worth mentioning “International Lover”, barely 20 seconds of singing and a minute of crowd cheering, but “God’ follows and that deserves a much closer listen. It’s a fine rendition, with Prince taking some time with this introspection. As much as I like the song, it doesn’t fit well with the overall concert and as it gives way to “Computer Blue” there is the feeling that it is misplaced.

I enjoy both halves of “Computer Blue”. Usually it is the guitar fueled first half that I give all my attention to, but in this case the song is well balanced and I find I give equal credence to the delicate piano playing in the second section. That is, of course, eventually overwhelmed by the heavier groove, but not before it has made a lasting impression on me.

Some of the heavier guitar from “Computer Blue” bleeds through to “Darling Nikki”. The guitar have an extra crunch to them which gives the song a different texture against the wall of synthesizer. The music is good enough that I forget the lyrical content, which is normally the main focus, and instead just sit back and swim in the groove of it. This is another song that is resurrected by the soundboard recording, new nuances can be picked out and the song heard in a new light in this context.

“The Beautiful Ones” may have an alluring beginning, but it is the epic finish that stands out. Prince works the audience and the song into a climax that sounds as intense on record as it must have been onstage. “The Beautiful Ones” gets plenty of credit for being beautiful, but it is the intensity of the moment that marks this one as a great performance.

It is “When Doves Cry” that follows, no surprises there. It begins and ends with a great guitar performance from Wendy, who nails her part with a rock solid drive. The opening riff and squeal throwing down the gauntlet, the song staying as a groove, before Wendy accepts the challenge with her guitar solo and a solid riff that carries the song to the end. It is much less pop than heard on record, but I for one love it even more for its relentless drive and cold percussive sound.

Three minutes of pure pop joy follows with “I Would Die 4 U”. Its lightness comes as a great contrast after “When Doves Cry” and the concert again soars as the band plays.

“Baby I’m A Star” is heavily edited. There are still moments to enjoy, just try not to think about what isn’t there. As always, Eric Leeds gives plenty over a great rhythm groove, the piano and guitar both propelling the song forward.  As much as I enjoy it, I can’t help but think about what isn’t there. An audience recording of the same show reveals it to run at a longer 13 minutes, so what we have here is barely half the song. Still lets be positive, better to enjoy what we do have and appreciate the soundboard recording.

The opening few minutes of “Purple Rain” are heaven to me. I could quite happily listen to introduction on loop for the rest of my life. I can’t put my finger on it, but it makes me feel warm, safe, nostalgic, and hopeful all at once. The rest of the is good, but it does have an obvious cut that is quite jarring (at least to my ears). I still give it a solid pass mark, however, as the song is as we know it and it is a lot more complete than the first show covered by this release.

The show ends with one final encore, a furious run through of “America”. The edits made to “Baby I’m A Star” are all but forgiven as the band jam on “America” for ten minutes. There is plenty of guitar work for those who like that sort of thing, tempered again by Eric Leeds who comes to the party with lots of honk and sass. Prince does stop the song at one point, apparently to chastise those fighting in the audience, although it can’t be anything too serious as its only briefly before the band pick right back up on their groove. The band are relentless and the guitars derive a lot of passion and drive from the strong groove. The basic sound is supplemented by a Shelia E solo, but the real star of the performance is the song itself. There is a much stronger synth sound, especially on the left, and it gives a solid backdrop for the guitar to play. The song passes by surprisingly quick and, before I know it, it ends and I’m sitting in silence.

Somebody said to me the other day that this is their release of the year. Even with the edits and tags, its hard not to disagree with them. Both shows are fantastic, and the soundboard brings the Purple Rain concerts into sharp focus. I am not normally a great fan of Eye records, but I must admit the packaging and material here is exception. One can only hope that there is plenty more where this one came from.

Until next time, take care
Hamish

 

 

Purple Rain – Uniondale Pt 1

There has plenty to enjoy in the world of bootlegs in the last few days. Anyone who follows the blog knows how much I enjoyed the Act I video that appeared last week. I am also equally enthused by the Eye records release covering two Purple Rain shows from Uniondale. One show is pretty exciting, but to have two (in soundboard quality), is beyond exciting. I am giddy with joy. I should wait until I have a clear head before I write about them, but right now all I want to do is celebrate the Purple Rain tour and the songs of the era. There are two shows on the release, that is a lot to digest, so I will be taking in one now and the other later in the week. OK, enough words, I’m dying to get this on and crank the volume to maximum.

20th March 1985, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum,  Uniondale, NY

The quality of the soundboard recording is apparent from the opening number. “17 Days” is normally quite bassy on concert recordings and even though the bass is prominent, even highlighted at some points, it is the other instruments and players that the recording brings to the fore. I am won over from the start, Prince sounds great, the backing vocals are nice in clean in my ear and the saxophone work by Eddie M adds new textures to the song. I’m in seventh heaven and the rhythm guitar in the right speaker is just the type of sound I love to hear.

The introduction to “Let’s Go Crazy” is the next thing heard on the recording, a song we all very familiar with, especially in the context of the Purple Rain shows. Being the second song, it does lose some of its impact, but that is secondary as again it is the quality of the sound that is of utmost importance. Each member of The Revolution is heard, and they do sound as if they are still as fresh as ever, even this late in the tour. The girls voices are sensational and even through the cacophony of noise I find I focus on them.

“Delirious” is a pleasant division, the piano playing by Prince is always a lot of fun, but it is the following “1999” that again highlights the soundboard recording. With the band taking turns to sing and all contributing to backing vocals, there is plenty to be heard for the careful listener. However, the best moments when I stop listening too hard and instead let the music carry me away. With “1999” blowing in my sails I sail back to my youth, Prince and The Revolution providing a soundtrack that has been with me all my life. “1999” may not be the first Prince song I would reach for to listen to, but tonight it hits my sweet spot and the minutes it plays I am in another time and place.

The introduction is key to “Little Red Corvette”. Over half the song is given over to the opening and it plays as a soundscape that sets the mood. The rest of the song is the standard run through, no bad thing in this case as at this stage it is still fresh and exciting with lyrics that  demonstrate Prince’s clever use of the double entendre.

There is plenty of keyboard in the left speaker for “Take Me With U”, although this is offset by a sharp guitar in the right which gives it balance. The final minute of the song could go either way, a dance number or a guitar frenzy. In this case it is the guitar version with Prince playing some catchy riffs. I do like it, but I am surprised it isn’t louder or more forceful. Criminally short, it’s one of those moments that leaves me hungry for more.

I’m going to skip over “Yankee Doodle”, it has never worked for me and here is the same. It’s a shame that it runs for almost six minutes, while the following “Do Me, Baby” gets a scant couple. “Do Me, Baby” ends just as it was building to something bigger, replaced by Wendy playing the funkiest of riffs. This brings in the funk part of the show as The Revolution groove through “Irresistible Bitch” and “Possessed”. “Possessed” is the longer of the two, a mostly instrumental jam that features plenty of Wendy on guitar and Eddie M or Eric Leeds on saxophone. The band do play a full rendition, but it sounds so good I could easy lap up another few minutes.

Prince is at the piano for “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore”, another song that benefits from the soundboard recording. Eye may have messed up the sound on the Worcester recording, but in this case they have it just right. Prince is sounding right in the room with me and ever note from the piano hangs in the air. Even his cliched speech at the end sounds thrilling and reinvigorated.

The spoken lyrics of “Temptation” serves as an introduction to “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”, a song that kick starts the concert back to life. This show is recorded only a week and a half before the widely know Syracuse concert and many of Princes spoken parts are the same as that concert, as too are the arrangements of many of the songs. Such is the case with “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and the following “International Lover”. Both could well have been lifted from the Syracuse show, they sound very close to those renditions. Due to this, I find this part of the show overly familiar, I enjoy these songs but could happily skip over Prince and his speaking to God without feeling I am missing anything.

The same can’t be said of the song “God”, I listen intently as Prince plays and sings what I feel is one of his most personal songs. The opening half of the song is deceiving, the passion and emotion all lies in the second half as Prince screams and shrieks his way to a climax.

It becomes a normal rock concert again as the band arrive with “Computer Blue”. It is a massacre, the guitar is Prince’s weapon of choice and he slays throughout the song, his guitar cutting great swaths through the song and lyrics. The best comes late in the song as the music changes and allows more room for his guitar to be heard alone. With an insistent drive the song comes to an end with Wendy and Lisa intoning their cold lines.

Things warm again for “Darling Nikki”, and although I can’t see it, in my mind the stage is bathed in reds. Most people come for the lyrics, but what really attracts me is the dirty guitar sound along with the uplifting keyboards. There is a contrast between both which creates a tension, something I can’t help but pay attention to.

I’m not really one for the spoken introduction of “The Beautiful Ones”, but the song itself has me hooked. Prince casts a spell, the vocals and music coming together in a wonderful display of song writing. Prince has written many ballads, but none compare to this masterpiece. His performance here is as good as any other, he is at the peak of his powers and the song is one of the best of the concert, if not the very best. I am a rock guy, so I don’t say that lightly, normally I am drawn to the guitar led numbers, but “The Beautiful Ones” has me in complete awe of Prince’s vocal prowess and sweeping keyboards that bath the song in soft emotion, only punctuated by Princes howls in the final moments as he ramps up the intensity.

Maybe I haven’t heard “When Doves Cry” for a while, but I don’t remember the opening guitar sounding so darn good. The guitar may lure me in, but it is the keyboard hook that lodges itself firmly in my ear and even after 30+ years I still find it as catchy as hell. Prince’s lyrics come and go and I find it is Wendy and her guitar that I am listening to most. Not just the rhythm guitar either, the solo she plays is passionate without resorting to a howl or wail. She conveys plenty of emotion while keeping the solo neatly manicured. The best is saved for last however, and the final minutes has the bass and guitar creating a funky groove that could go for days.

There is one final pop moment before the show moves to long jams. “I Would Die 4 U” never lets me down in this respect, the drum machine and keyboards creating a backdrop for Prince and Wendy to drop their melodies. It is short as always, yet just as important as any other song on the night.

“Baby I’m a Star” is the penultimate song, and it comes as a final blow out for the band. It is the saxophone that is the real hero here, as the band play their brand of funk it is to the fore providing fast and furious runs over top of the groove. I can’t stress enough, it is fantastic. Eric Leeds or Eddie M, I can’t tell, but I cling to it the whole way, it sounds beautiful to my ears. The concert is coming to an end soon enough, but what a way to finish.

The final song is obviously “Purple Rain”, although unfortunately all we get on this recording is two and a half minutes of introduction. Normally I would gush about this part of the song, although robbed of the full version it does diminish the beauty of this opening stanza. With soft, emotive guitar, it promises much more, we can only wonder what might have been.

Last time Eye records released a Purple Rain soundboard I was left bitterly disappointed. Not so this time. Prince and the band give an energetic performance that carries through well to the recording. As a record of a Purple Rain show this is a great document. However, it is not perfect. Any “Prince nerd” would notice that Eye have edited out parts of songs, the circulating audience recording of the same show clearly demonstrating the cuts that Eye have made.It’s not just one or two songs either, about a third of the songs have some sort of edit made on them.  An archivist would find this extremely irritating, a passionate fan less so. It is easy enough to over look this, sit back and just soak up the music of Prince at the zenith of his fame. It’s great to have another soundboard in the collection and I look forward to having a listen to the second show in the next few days.

Thanks again
take care
-Hamish

Purple Rain -full show Worcester Massachusetts

Several weeks ago I wrote about a leak from part of a Purple Rain show from Worcester Massachusetts. At the time, I spoke highly of it and that I hoped for the full show to be released. Now that day is upon us and Eye records have obliged with a release of the show. After high expectations, I am disappointed in hearing the full show – it is a let-down. Although a soundboard, the sound quality is poor throughout. Not poor as an audience recording, I can hear Prince and the music perfectly well, but the overall sound is weak and all life has been sucked out of the recording. I did take the time to give it a good listen, and my thoughts are below.

28th March 1985, Worcester Centrum, Worcester Massachusetts

The opening Let’s Go Crazy is a suitable introduction for what will follow. Prince is sounding good, as is The Revolution, although the recording is lacking any depth and feeling. Let’s Go Crazy is dominated by Prince and his guitar, everything else is in the background, and although it’s an exciting opening for the show the recording captures none of this excitement and at times sounds simply as a rehearsal for the show. Cold and sterile, I feel all my energy drain away as I listen.

PandW

Delirious is better, it does a better job of conveying the feelings of a live show, although the sound is still deadened. The keyboards and horns have a fun sound to them, and bring a sparkle to the show that Let’s Go Crazy Was Missing.

The crowd is heard for the first time on 1999, again though most of the song sounds like a cold rehearsal. There is some funky guitar in the mix that I latch onto to listen, but the rest of the song fails to excite me. I know there is better to come, yet I find I am still struggling to get into the show in the early stages. The highlight of 1999 comes as the very end as Prince delivers up some thrills on the guitar, but the recording is still thin, and it lacks the muscle of other shows I have heard.

The first minutes of Little Red Corvette sound as good as ever as the band play through the long intro, and the keyboards can be heard adding their wash to the sound. This is an early high point to the show, especially as I can hear the audience cheer at one point. It’s finally starting to sound like a live show. Prince matches the keyboards when he sings, and it begins to add up to the Purple Rain shows I know and love. Despite a thin start to the guitar solo, it still sounds good and the song ends on a high as Prince sings the chorus one final time.

prince-purple-rain-tour

The keyboards are also very strong for the opening of Take Me With U. They fill out the sound somewhat, although in contrast I can hear the bass but it lacks in any real depth due to the recording. Everything is in place, yet it all sounds weaker and watered down in the recording. The end coda lacks much of anything, and the song that started so brightly fizzles out by the end.

The next section of the show I have covered in an earlier blog post, here I will reiterate some of what I have already said previously. It is easily the best part of the show as the next thirty minutes Prince is on fire.

Next on the set list is a rare performance of 4 The Tears In Your Eyes. From the outset I am lost for words. Prince introduces it as a new song “for the children of Ethiopia” and the performance of it is full of sincerity and heart. To my ears this performance sounds better than it does on record, even in this quality. With the bare guitar sounding live and raw it gives the song some feeling in the music as well as Princes well intentioned lyrics. Wendy and Lisa weave their magic into the song as we are again reminded of The Revolution in their glory days.

Prince follows up with some more lone guitar, now switching to blues riff for his take on I Got Some Help I Don’t Need (Blues In G). Prince tells the crowd he wants to get loose, and he is as good as his word for the next few minutes as he takes a leisurely stroll through the song. There is plenty of Prince’s good natured humour on display through the song as he runs through his clever lines. As fun as it is, it’s the music that excites me most and the appearance of Eddie M for the closing sax solo is certainly something I appreciate.

When You Were Mine stays with the light-hearted mood as Prince plays a loose intro while encouraging the crowd to sing “whoo hoo”. The song is perky and up beat as always, and although it’s not long it is the final few minutes where all the treasures lie – a sparkling guitar solo from Prince that isn’t overplayed and keeps the song on an up. On top of the last couple of songs it is a stunning few minutes and only makes me hungry for more -especially as he ends with an elongated howl that switches to a crunching guitar jam. I thought I was beyond fan boy freak outs but apparently not – this has me squealing in delight.

prince-piano-85-2

With Prince taking the keyboard the mood and tempo changes with Free, just Prince with backing vocals from Wendy and Lisa. The best moments come as Prince speaks rather than sings, firstly listing the things he is thankful for before speaking (briefly) about God. It sounds on paper as if it might be corny, trust me it’s not. It’s sounds heartfelt and Prince has some sincerity to his words.

Do Me Baby has me back to my fanboy ways, it sounds gorgeous on this recording. Princes vocals are good, but in this case it is the pop of Brownmarks bass that I gravity to, and it has my head moving subconsciously. The song ends to make way for Head, and as much as I like Head I could have done with a lot more of Do Me Baby.

There is plenty of piano and smutty talk from Prince before the song starts proper. Firstly Prince has Eddie pull his shoes off, while he talks about some girls coming over for the evening -again with plenty of his humour on display. Eddie adds the sleazy sound of his horn as Prince continues to work up the crowd. Effortlessly cool, this is the Prince I know and love. The band come in with a great push as Head begins in earnest, the bass and keyboard pushing it along. Prince is loose, the band pull back as he continues his patter and I don’t know if I should laugh or just write down his lines so I can use them myself at a later date.

Things are more romantic with the sentimental Still Waiting, both sentimental in lyrical content and in sound. With just the piano for accompaniment, Prince knows how to wring emotion out of the song, and as his vocals go from a whisper to a soaring finish we are caught up in the feel of the song.

Things are equally cool with his solo performance of I Feel 4 U. Only the first verse and a chorus, yet with only the piano it captures attention and is another highlight in this short set of highlights.

purple-prince

The following Something In The Water (Does Not Compute) is equally short, and after only a verse it fades on his fingertips, but not before my heart has skipped several beats.

Prince does his usual introduction for I Wanna Be Your Lover as he was fond of during the Purple Rain shows, with his “stomp your feet” etc spiel. It’s fun and the piano riff of the song emphasizes this with its ‘pop’ soul and innate energy. The crowd take to the sing along quickly before Prince jokes with them about getting sexy.

There comes next a segue into some funky piano playing by Prince. He keeps the rhythm going while speaking to the crowd about the press and reviews of his show, ending his comments with “I would rather have someone do me a long time than do me for a short time” in regards to reviews saying the middle of the show dragged. It’s something he could play all day long, as well as something I could listen to all day long. The payoff comes as the band jump in and Irresistible Bitch begins. It’s tight, it’s funky, it’s Prince and The Revolution doing what they do best.

There is the inevitable Possessed right after, it’s not quite as tight as Irresistible Bitch, but it still has plenty of funk of its own. The keyboards give plenty early on, before the horn swells drive the second part of the song. The count of “25” by Prince is standard practice, and the band are right on the money. There is a moment of fun as Prince speaks to the band about catching them out tonight. There’s money on the line, and the band don’t fail to deliver. The horns and the stabs are throughout, as Prince sings “I’m going to get you tonight” before calling for “63”. I lost count, as did the band – Bobby Z gives a couple of extra beats as the songs gives way to a scream and several whoops, presumably from Prince as he has indeed caught the band out.

prince-p-rain

There is more fun in the air as Prince begins to play How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore and encourages the audience to sing if they can. The song itself is kept very short, at a single verse it barely registers, but it is the final song before the rest of the show is given over to Purple Rain songs.

God is as beautiful as to be expected, with Prince and the piano holding the audience enraptured in its charms as it plays. The band add some harmonies to the vocals which is a nice touch, the only downside being the quality of the recording- on a better sounding recording this would sound magnificent, as it is it lacks a thickness and full sound. It doesn’t matter too much as the next few minutes are given over to the bath sequence of the Purple Rain shows.

prince-purple-rain-bath

The fierceness that I have come to expect from Computer Blue is lacking, in part to the thin sound of the recording. The band though cannot be faulted, and I can hear the band playing a rough and tumble version with plenty of jagged guitar from Prince. The bass work from Brownmark is to the fore, a shame that the recording lacks the richness of the performance.

The segue into Darling Nikki is predictable and entirely enjoyable. Dr Fink is a real highlight as his keyboard squiggles are all over the latter part of the song. It shines brightly after the previous Computer Blue and up’s the tempo again as we head to the last quarter of the show.

prince-nikki

The introduction of The Beautiful Ones fades in and out, but once the song starts proper it is full blooded and Prince gives another heartfelt rendition. There are plenty of shrieks and screams near the end which aren’t served well by the recording, nevertheless they add a lot to the show and the audience can be heard responding well to what is obviously a highlight.

Another show stopper follows in the form of When Doves Cry. Dr Fink and Lisa are key players, but for me the highlight is Brownmark and his elastic sounding bass. He gets plenty of time to show us what he’s got, especially the final coda which is heavy on the bass, and despite everything going on over the top, it is the bass that I gravitate to.

I Would Die 4 U starts off with a pop bent, but the final minutes are all about the funk as it gets an extended treatment, with plenty of Wendy’s guitar to the fore. It wasn’t a song that I immediately fell in love with, but I always enjoy these live performances. Even with the coda tagged on, it still only runs three and a half minutes, and as it ends just as I am developing a hunger for much more.

prince-purple-rain-galsses

I am disappointed with Baby I’m A Star. Some nights it runs upwards of twenty minutes, this version is considerably shorter at eleven minutes, and even then there is a couple of minutes’ introduction. his is the point of the show where the band traditionally cut loose, so it comes as a surprise to see this shortened version. The tempo does accelerate halfway into it,  this gives it an unbalanced sound and as it increases in tempo I feel left behind by it all. With the horns adding their burst of excitement there is the sound of show business in the air, the band jam on but it never feels like a groove as I have heard elsewhere on the Purple Rain tour. The sax is easily the best thing about Baby I’m A Star, and we have plenty of time to enjoy it before the song loses its way with Prince’s final few minutes of train inspired groove.

It’s been a long time since I listened to a full Purple Rain show, and I find myself falling in love with the song again all over as the introduction plays and the piano gives it an extra touch of special. By the time I hear Prince’s guitar noodling I am already sold on it and I don’t care what type of performance will follow. The following Cloud guitar sound lets me down, but that barely matters as what I have already heard is good enough for me. The final solos by Prince are long and over the top, normally something I would greatly enjoy, but here they are undone by a thin sound and although they are likable they don’t quite deliver the knockout blow. It is however the type of finish that this show required, and I must admit I was smiling all the way through the song.

This wasn’t the show I was expecting. The middle section I had previously heard is easily the best part of the show, and this alone makes the show worth listening too. In fact, it makes the show much more interesting than other Purple Rain shows in circulation and if the recording was better quality it would be essential. As it is, it is a serviceable sound board recording that documents a potentially great show that loses its way towards the end and becomes just another Purple Rain show. And interesting experience that wasn’t what I wanted or expected, nevertheless it was worth the time to take a listen.

Thanks for reading
Take care
-Hamish

 

Purple Rain – Worcester Massachusetts

I recently heard the newly leaked soundboard recorded at Worcester during the Purple Rain tour. It’s only 35 minutes long, and the first time I heard it I had my mouth wide open the whole time, it is a jaw dropping performance and recording and I can only hope and pray that one day we will hear the whole show. I am not always the greatest cheer leader for the Purple Rain shows but this one has me completely revaluating my feelings about them. I have to say if I heard more shows like this one, my blog would only focus on the Purple Rain tour, I could seriously listen to this stuff all day long. I don’t normally go for only part shows, but I am more than willing to make an exception in this case.

28th March 1985, Worcester Centrum, Worcester Massachusetts

The recording picks up mid-show, and what a way to start a recording – a rare performance of 4 The Tears In Your Eyes. From the outset I am lost for words. Prince introduces it as a new song “for the children of Ethiopia” and the performance of it is full of sincerity and heart. To my ears this performance sounds better than it does on record, even if it is mono. With the bare guitar sounding live and raw it gives the song some feeling in the music as well as Princes well intentioned lyrics. Wendy and Lisa weave their magic into the song as we are again reminded of The Revolution in their glory days.

Prince follows up with some more lone guitar, now switching to blues riff for his take on I Got Some Help I Don’t Need (Blues In G). Prince tells the crowd he wants to get loose, and he is as good as his word for the next few minutes as he takes a leisurely stroll through the song. There is plenty of Prince’s good natured humour on display through the song as he runs through his clever lines. As fun as it is, it’s the music that excites me most and the appearance of Eddie M for the closing sax solo is certainly something I appreciate.

purple-prince

When You Were Mine stays with the light-hearted mood as Prince plays a loose intro while encouraging the crowd to sing “whoo hoo”. The song is perky and up beat as always, and although it’s not long it is the final few minutes where all the treasures lie – a sparkling guitar solo from Prince that isn’t overplayed and keeps the song on an up. On top of the last couple of songs it is a stunning few minutes and only makes me hungry for more -especially as he ends with an elongated howl that switches to a crunching guitar jam. I thought I was beyond fan boy freak outs but apparently not – this has me squealing in delight.

With Prince taking the keyboard the mood and tempo changes with Free, just Prince with backing vocals from Wendy and Lisa. The best moments come as Prince speaks rather than sings, firstly listing the things he is thankful for before speaking (briefly) about God. It sounds on paper as if it might be corny, trust me it’s not. It’s sounds heartfelt and Prince has some sincerity to his words.

prince-piano-85-2

Do Me Baby has me back to my fanboy ways, it sounds gorgeous on this recording. Princes vocals are good, but in this case it is the pop of Brownmarks bass that I gravity to, and it has my head moving subconsciously. The song ends to make way for Head, and as much as I like Head I could have done with a lot more of Do Me Baby.

There is plenty of piano and smutty talk from Prince before the song starts proper. Firstly Prince has Eddie pull his shoes off, while he talks about some girls coming over for the evening -again with plenty of his humour on display. Eddie adds the sleazy sound of his horn as Prince continues to work up the crowd. Effortlessly cool, this is the Prince I know and love. The band come in with a great push as Head begins in earnest, the bass and keyboard pushing it along. Prince is loose, the band pull back as he continues his patter and I don’t know if I should laugh or just write down his lines so I can use them myself at a later date.

prince-piano-85

Things are more romantic with the sentimental Still Waiting, both sentimental in lyrical content and in sound. With just the piano for accompaniment, Prince knows how to wring emotion out of the song, and as his vocals go from a whisper to a soaring finish we are caught up in the feel of the song.

Things are equally cool with his solo performance of I Feel 4 U. Only the first verse and a chorus, yet with only the piano it captures attention and is another highlight in this short set of highlights.

The following Something In The Water (Does Not Compute) is equally short, and after only a verse it fades on his fingertips, but not before my heart has skipped several beats.

Prince does his usual introduction for I Wanna Be Your Lover as he was fond of during the Purple Rain shows, with his “stomp your feet” etc spiel. It’s fun and the piano riff of the song emphasizes this with its ‘pop’ soul and innate energy. The crowd take to the sing along quickly before Prince jokes with them about getting sexy.

prince-piano-85

The last five minutes of the recording features some funky piano playing by Prince. He keeps the rhythm going while speaking to the crowd about the press and reviews of his show, ending his comments with “I would rather have someone do me a long time than do me for a short time” in regards to reviews saying the middle of the show dragged. It’s something he could play all day long, as well as something I could listen to all day long. The payoff comes as the band jump in and Irresistible Bitch begins, although this is where the recording ends – leaving me hoping and praying that one day the rest of it will see the light of day.

This is only a small portion of the show, and from what we can hear this is one loose and funky show. Prince is sounding incredibly relaxed, and that transfers through to the music. This is a lightness and playful tone in the music which makes listening to this just as much fun as they sound like they are having making it. This is one of those recordings that has you hitting the replay button over and over. I’m confident that one day we’ll hear the full show, until that day comes this is going to be on constant rotation.

Thanks for reading
Take care
-Hamish

Dream Factory

It’s early winter morning here. The sun has yet to rise, and outside my window I can see the sparkle of frost on the lawn by moonlight. All is quiet as I sit here with my cup of tea, except for the sound of the Dream Factory album playing. Nothing moves and all is still as I sit here listening to it alone. Prince made a variety of great music over his career, some was for partying and sharing with others, and some was for private reflective moments. Then there was the music that he didn’t want us to hear at all, the unreleased tracks, the lost albums. It’s entirely appropriate that I sit here now listening to Dream Factory alone, as that is how I have heard it all my life. It wasn’t bumped at the clubs, or all over the radio, we didn’t talk about it at High School, and for most of us we didn’t hear it until much later. It is however one of Princes most important albums, one of his most creative albums, and one of my favorite albums. No, on second thoughts, it IS my favorite album.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Dream factory, and July 18th marks the anniversary of my personal favorite configuration of the album. There are plenty of versions floating around, with the June 3rd 1986 being one of the most popular. My preference for the July 18th configuration comes from the fact that the Pimpsandwich edition has some beautiful covers that complements it wonderfully, and I feel that this tracklisting flows better than the one from June 3rd.

Dream Factory Pimpsandwich

 

Of course Dream Factory was never released, instead being pulled apart and used for Crystal Ball, before that project too was shelved and out of the ruins we got Sign O The Times. Many of the tracks on Dream Factory do appear on Sign O The Times, but it would be a mistake to think of Sign O The Times as being an upgrade of Dream Factory. Dream Factory works much better than Sign O The Times overall, it has a much more cohesive sound, and overall consistent vibe to it. A large part of this could be put down to The Revolution who contribute heavily to Dream Factory, as well as the track listing itself.

Sign O The Times opens with the title song itself, which adds a seriousness and a weight to what follows. Dream Factory opens with the much lighter sounding Visions, and it immediately changes the feel of the album. The Dream Factory is more colourful, more layered, and  having Lisa playing the opening solo piano track announces that this is a much more collaborative effort. Lisa plays as only Lisa can, layered chords as the other hand plays a light floating melody, it has an intimate sound, almost as if one has walked in unannounced on her practicing piano. This feeling of a band effort is reinforced by the following Dream Factory title song, it is bright and has twists and turns that hold your attention, and there is no mistaking the outside influences other band members have brought to the table. The downbeat verses are upstaged by a great chorus where all the band contribute their different sounds. It works, and it rattles around in my head long after it’s finished. Train continues with this sonic assault and cleverness, the music mimicking a train, something that sounds cool rather than corny. Again, the band is the thing, and this time the horns add another element to the mix.

There is a jump in sound and style from Parade to Sign O The Times. In Dream Factory we have the stepping stone between the two, Parade has its fingerprints over several songs, such as Dream Factory and In All My Dreams, while Sign O The Times looms on the horizon with the tracks from that album featured here. We get both sides of the same coin, and the album looks both backward and forwards in its sound and songwriting.

Dream factory tracklist

Dream Factory – Pimpsandwich

Even songs that we are familiar with from Sign O The Times get a new life in this context, and surrounded by these Revolution contributions they sound more together and belonging. Side One and side four are where Dream Factory differs the most from Sign O The Times, but the songs that fill side two and three still have a sense of belonging and place. Dorothy Parker and It both seem to shine a little brighter, and with Sign O The Times buried deeper in the album it loses some of its weight. Strange Relationship gains a fantastic sitar sounding introduction (courtesy of a Fairlight CMI) which elevates it to another level and you can again hear the band influence on Prince adding layers to it, rather than the funk work out that it is at it’s heart.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the album is the run of Sign O The Times, A Place In Heaven, Crystal Ball. On paper they look like a desperate mix, but together on album they are a showcase for the breadth and scope of Princes, and the bands, vision. We have light and dark in equal measure, and each song acts as a counter balance to the other. Crystal Ball is the most ambitious of the trio, it has Prince at his most creative stretching things to the limit, it doesn’t always work but today in the early morning it sounds pretty close to perfect. Its songs like this that show Prince was more than a song and dance man, he was also an artist and a visionary.

Although side 4 opens with The Cross, it could in some quarters be considered the weakest side of the album.  It’s at this stage that the comparisons to Sign O The Times don’t serve Dream factory well. Whereas side four of Sign O The Times featured The Cross, Its Gonna Be A Beautiful Night and closes with the divine Adore, Dream Factory closes with The Cross, Last Heart, Witness 4 The Prosecution, Movie Star and All My Dreams.  The Cross is rightly hailed as a classic, and All My Dreams is a fantastic song that deserves more listens. The intervening songs are all good in their own right, but in such esteemed company they sound thin. They do have their charms, Last Heart with its late night pop sound, Witness 4 The Prosecution ticks all the rock boxes and sounds like something Prince could play in his sleep, and Movie Star is Prince playing with a knowing wink to us all, the lyrics themselves almost too clever for their own good. All My Dreams comes from a different place altogether and is in a league of it’s own. The vocal arrangements are beautifully textured, and Princes lead vocal sounds black and white against the music. It at times sounds like the theme song for a TV show, but it takes on a different tone mid song with some weirdness that adds interest without detracting from the song. Its fitting that the word ‘Dream’ should be in the title as it does have a dream like quality to it, and it summarizes the album nicely with the band contributing , and a piano solo that runs through the middle of the song that bookends the opening song on the album. By the time Prince croons “Don’t ever lose your dreams” a final time it does feel as if we are coming to the end of a journey with him, and in the case of The Revolution that is certainly true.

Dream Factory thunderball

Dream Factory – Thunderball

Dream factory is a natural extension of Parade, you can hear where it follows on from where Parade left off. Much more than that, it is an extension of The Revolution, and not only are they confident and strong with their contributions, Prince is also much more accepting and willing to use what they bring to the mix. The Revolution broke up a couple weeks after this configuration, but this is a fitting memorial to their greatness and how much a part they were of the Prince legend.  1986 is the greatest year of Princes career, we have plenty of evidence of that, and the Dream Factory is the key thread that pulls it all together. To properly understand the relationship between Prince and The Revolution, and the creativity they had together, you only have to listen to this album. This is the greatest thing they ever did together, and the pinnacle of their partnership. One of Princes greatest albums, this would not exist without The Revolution.

“The Revolution will be heard!”

Yokohama 9 September 1986- End of The Revolution

This week I am listening to one of the most important Prince bootlegs in circulation, the final show of the Parade tour that serves as the final performance of Prince and The Revolution. For historical significance alone it is a stand out, and the moment is well served with a performance and recording to match. People often deride audience recordings, but when done well they are a joy to listen to as in this case. The recording is surprisingly good for an audience recording, and the concert, although at Yokohama Stadium, has a small and warm sound – perfect for a moment like this. The recording has plenty to recommend it, and when we factor in the historical context, well then it becomes absolutely essential.

9th September 1986, Yokohama Japan

The couple of minutes of audience noise beforehand is a nice touch in my book, it adds to that sense of anticipation and expectation. There is some chat, a couple of cheers and if you close your eyes you can just about picture yourself there. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s difficult not to read too much into what is happening, and when the announcer introduces the band I hear some melancholy in his voice, or like I say I am projecting my own sense of history onto the moment. Once again Around The World In A Day is a great introduction for the band, with the horns making themselves heard early on, along with the fantastic Brown Mark bumping and buzzing along the bottom. He has a beautiful fat sound to his playing and I am very happy to say it comes over well on the recording.

Parade 1986 1

I can hear Prince and the band well as Christopher Tracey’s Parade begins, although at first the girls’ voices aren’t heard well, they do however come further forward as the song goes, and it’s one of those “moments” when you can hear them singing with Prince. Prince does call “Tokyo!”, which has me scratching my head- I am prepared to give him a pass though, Yokohama is closer to Tokyo than Narita airport, and is only 40 minutes from Tokyo centre. And it is the end of the tour, so we can forgive technicalities.

New Position sounds unbelievably smooth and easy, and is testament to how tight the band were at this stage, there is a lot of new sounds and instruments in the mix, and somehow they weld it all together and make it work. The horns are the what you hear most, but for me there is just enough rhythm guitar in there to get my blood flowing.

There is a particularly psychedelic and alluring sound to I Wonder U, the flute giving it a floating quality that is offset by Wendy’s guitar. The band knit it together wonderfully, and as I said at the Paris show a few weeks ago it doesn’t matter that Prince isn’t there, this band and this music is strong enough to stand on its own without his powerful stage presence.

The next few songs come in a flurry of sound and excitement. Raspberry Beret is first out of the gate, as always it’s a crowd pleasing singalong, although to be fair on this occasion the crowd is fairly muted. On a more positive note I find Brown Marks bass again firmly in my ears and that is never a bad thing. The energy levels are kept high as it only runs for a couple of minutes before an equally quick run though Delirious, complete with a 1,2,3 count off in Japanese. It comes and goes in a blink of an eye before we get a quick snippet of the “oww wee oww” the segues into Controversy.

Parade 1986 2

Controversy is just fine, my only complaint being the briefness of it, but that is amply compensated when the count of “A,B, A, B ,C” comes and Prince is joined on stage by Shelia E.

This is the first of those magical concert moments that I look for, and as Prince and Shelia vocals playfully dance around each other I am in fanboy heaven. Shelia sounds cool, Wendy and Brown Mark sound even better, and for a long time I just sit back and listen to them respectively. The break down with the vocals is sublime, and the recording is good enough that I can pick out each person’s voice and identify them. Eric Leeds sprinkles his magic dust over the performance with a solo that lives up to the high standards he sets show after show. The funk just gets stronger from here on in, firstly in Wendy’s playing, then in Prince and the bands scat and a capella performance. When the music comes back it’s with all the intensity you might expect and wave after wave of horn blasts and calls of “Ice Cream!” carry me to unexpected heights.

Even though I am funk heaven at this stage, I am more than happy as the sultry sound of Do Me Baby begins. The bass has a great pop to it as the horns add a touch of sass to the intro. All this becomes irrelevant however as Prince sings, and listening to the lyrics and his delivery becomes and experience in itself. As the music rocks back and forth Prince croons and emotes as he has never emoted and crooned before, and I am sold on it. Maybe I feel like this for every live performance of this song, but tonight it smacks me right between the eyes and I am dangerously close to switching off the computer, going into the other room and sweeping my girl off her feet. And at the end of the day there is no higher recommendation of a slow jam song than that, it’s sublime through and through.

Parade 1986 5

Next up is the trifecta of How Much Is That Doggie In The Window, Automatic and D.M.S.R. I would have liked to hear more of them, asides from How Much Is That Doggie, and it’s a giant tease from Prince to have two killer tracks from 1999 to be relegated to a two-minute medley like this. As you know I like to look on the positive side of things, so I give thanks that they are in the setlist at all.

The ship rights itself as When Doves Cry plays, and the opening keyboard riff still gives me chills even after all these years. It has a clinical delivery as it should, and over the cool electronic music Prince sings dispassionately which only heightens the sense of loneliness I feel when I listen to this song. It’s a cold world indeed, and it’s only in the Princes singing of the chorus do we feel the humanity and hurt. I have covered a few different shows from 1986 now, and I always speak highly of Wendy’s solo during this song. Today is no different, and even though the recording neuters her sound a little I still get a thrill from her playing.

Parade 1986

Little Red Corvette has Prince alone at the piano, and is an emotional highlight. I want to write that it tugs at the heart strings, but I know the following few songs are going to top it in the emotional stakes, so I enjoy I enjoy it for what it is, a nice soft rendition of one of his classic songs.

The band joins in for Do U Lie, and it has a swing and sway to it, it’s got a lovely lilt and sounds like it has come from a completely different concert. I don’t have too long to wallow in it as Prince moves on, but it is another cool moment.

The Ladder is one of the songs I have been waiting to hear, and Prince doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. The Ladder has the obligatory piano, but also a lot more. One of the things that strikes me most is the backing singers, and the way that the horns lift the song to the heavens. For a stadium show its wonderful how Prince makes it feel like he’s singing in the living room, there’s a lively intimacy in the recording and a classy touch by Prince at the end thanking the audience in Japanese.

Prince is alone again for Condition Of The Heart, and at this point it becomes very difficult for me to write objectively as this song has a special place in my heart. Prince delivers a performance that does the song credit and although short it gives me everything I could ever want.

Parade 1986 4

Under The Cherry Moon is breath-taking, and has some wonderful flourishes on the piano that give it that little bit extra. As much as I like Prince’s vocals, I find I tune out as I instead concentrate on the music. The music has a magical quality that is rarely heard, and as he Prince plays piano I sit mesmerized here at home, this is definitely a show for the ages.

The band and the funk returns with Anotherloverholenyohead. This show has been phenomenal thus far, and Anotherloverholenyohead maintains this high standard. It returns us to the heavier sound of the band, and the darker sound as Prince starts his “Another lover” talk midsong. The piano and the horns via for my attention, and for me it’s the piano that nails it, I don’t write about Lisa enough in this blog, but she is a treasure. She sounds magnificent as she plays her piece, and it is distinctly- and uniquely, her. And even better, she gets a good few minutes to play so there is plenty of time for me to lean back and swim in the music flowing from her fingers.

♥ Or $, now I didn’t expect that. Eric puts his mark on this one, but it’s again a complete band performance and I can’t single anyone out for praise, they all sound great singly and as a group.  From here on in the show becomes much more intense and focused, all medleys are dispensed with and we get some proper, heavy funk. Keeping with this direction the band funk up ♥ Or $ before turning their sights on Head.

I have always liked the slippery guitar sound in Head, in this case it has a sharper sound but nonetheless is still funky as all hell. There is some fun as Prince toys with the crowd, but the whole time it’s that guitar I am listening to, at least until Matt Fink sets things on fire with his synth solo. Electric Man gets an outing, with Prince surprisingly throwing some lyrics from Hot Thing, recorded barely a month previous. As Prince squeals and squirms I wish I could be there to see a performance that sounds electrifying. The guitar sounds ominous as the music rises near the end, and I find myself enjoying this just as much as Princes vocal performance.

Parade 1986 8

Pop Life banishes the darkness of Head in the opening moments as, after a twinkling opening, it bursts out of the speakers at me. For all the melody of it, I find its Brown Mark I listen to most, his bass adds an infectious bounce to the proceedings. Again Eric Leeds flute lends a different sound to the concert and with some beautiful backing vocals, the song stands up to repeated listens.

Prince sings “Do you want to dance with me” as Girls And Boys begins, much to the delight of the audience. Eric has traded his flute for the sax and adds the deep honk that I adore so much. Prince seems to get a second burst of energy around this point and I swear you can hear him singing and performing harder. He gives way to Eric and his solo and it’s about now that I sit up and take notice of Wendy and Lisa’s singing- soft yet beautiful.

The first minute of Life Can Be So Nice seems to come fast, and it’s at the chorus that I catch up and begin to get into it. It’s a game as Prince and the band play the crowded versus before pulling back for the chorus. Bobby Z does his thing, and he sounds great against the rhythm guitar. There seems to be a lot going on in my ears, and I have to listen closely to make sure I don’t miss a thing. The final fade out is my favourite part, not because its ending, but the way the band peels out and I can hear each of them.

Parade 1986 6

I am feeling jaded as 1999 plays, the song sounds fine, but is already dated against the colourful parade of music that Prince has played this evening. I do hear the crowd enjoying it, and there is some singing, so the song certainly has its place in the setlist despite my own personal tastes. It goes out with a bang as the horns and the rest of the band tear through the last minute, and the main show ends on a high.

There is an underwater sound as America starts, and I am my expectations are sky-high in anticipation as there is the dual guitar attack of Wendy and Miko getting all funky for the first few minutes. Prince joins the fray with his vocals and there is a fire to the performance that I feel the recording doesn’t quite capture. Eric is great, and Atlanta is even better as his trumpet scorches through the song as he plays. A lead guitar appears and the song is smoking hot by this stage. It’s almost unfair that Prince has Wendy, Miko and Eric on his team funking up the stage, as the solid bass of Brown Mark keeps us firmly on the dance floor. I was hoping for 20 minutes of this, but realistically the seven minutes we do get is amble, as I am sure those in the building had danced themselves into a frenzy in that time.

Kiss is nicely balanced, and I like that it has a stripped back sound with Prince and Wendy’s guitar taking the lead roles, nothing else bolted on or tampered with.  The lyrics sound a shade downbeat, I kind of like it that way, and the crowd come to the party with their boisterous “Kiss!” The ending is nice, with Prince thanking the crowd and a bare guitar playing for the last few moments that wraps it up in a bow before the next encore.

What comes next is, for me, the emotional and musical highlight of the show, a gut wrenching rendition of Sometimes It Snows In April. The opening with Wendy and Lisa playing is simply stunning, the delicate guitar sound and piano dancing a beautiful dance together, this is a special moment worth listening to again and again. As Prince sings things become even more emotional and his voice has a melancholy tone to it, and I think it is real rather than the performance. The three voices come together for the final lines and it’s hard to not think about the times these three had together. Prince ends the song thanking Wendy and Lisa, and thirty years on it sounds like a full stop.

Parade 1986 3

Purple Rain rises and falls as does the lump in my throat as I listen to it. Its plays as it does every time I hear it, a beautiful song that sounds so big and threatens to overwhelm all that has come before it. The guitars are warm, the piano clean, and Princes vocals heavy with emotion. The guitar solo starts with a quiver and a shake, before it becomes the howl we know so well. Having seen the video, I know how hard Prince was playing, and you can feel that on the recordings, he is pouring everything into to the guitar with a long sustained howl that ends with him throwing it to the floor before strapping on another guitar and giving us more of the same, before that too is thrown to the floor. As the crowd sing their part we do have half a minute of Prince playing the organ, and that is a real treat, it’s not high in the mix, but you can clearly hear it and it gives the song a final push before Prince thanks the crowd and leaves the stage, leaving the keyboards to play us out for the final minute.

As I have said throughout, it is impossible to divorce this recording from the context surrounding it, as great as the show and recording is, the historical significance of the moment looms large over it. I have heard people say that they cry listening to this, and I thought I was too far removed to have such feelings, but I must admit the last 15 minutes listening tonight I did have a tear in my eye. Having heard a fair number of fantastic recordings of The Revolution the last few years I found myself 30 years on listening to this thinking “why?”, they were beyond compare and seemed to still have more to give.
There are many words that spring to mind when considering this recording – essential, historical and emotional are at the front of the list. There is no two ways about it, this recording demands you listen to it. A fitting send off for The Revolution, this bootleg delivers on all counts and is an essential keystone of any collection.

Thanks for reading, I urge you to dig this one out and take a listen, celebrate The Revolution 30 years on, they were every bit as good as you remember.
Take care
Hamish

 

Le Zenith Paris 1986

After listening to some brilliant shows from the 1990’s the last few weeks, today I am going further back to that year of years, 1986. I have listened to many shows from 1986 already, so you might think there is nothing left to listen to that would be of interest. I have listened to some fine shows, that is true, but this particular show is of great interest as it is the live debut of It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night, and the fact that it was recorded at this show and with the addition of overdubs is the version we all know so well from Sign O The Times. I have heard the song hundreds of times on Sign O The Times, and it gives me a thrill to hear it here in its untouched glory, The Revolution playing at their best. There is no one recording that does this show justice, so I am going to listen to a mixture of recordings. Firstly, a nice soundboard that covers 90% of the show, then an audience recording that covers the rest. In addition, I will also watch an audience video recording of the show, which doesn’t add much as it is quite hard on the eyes, but nevertheless is still worth seeing at least once, if not for seeing The Revolution chewing up Its Gonna Be A Beautiful Night.

25th August 1986, Le Zenith Paris

As always the opening of Around The World In A Day starts behind the curtain, but once that curtain opens Prince and the Revolution are on fire. The first verses calls you in, but then the music takes off as Prince is revealed and the spot lights hit the stage. Brown Mark sounds great early on, and his bass has a cool rolling quality to it mid-song.

Prince Paris parade

The horns that herald the beginning of Christopher Tracey’s Parade sound joyful in the extreme, and as Prince and Wendy sing there is a lovely summery feel to the show, and one expects that the whole evening will be an uplifting experience. Its bright and lively sounding, and I love the drum sound to it. Princes showmanship is excellent with some leaps and splits right from the start that sets the tone. However, the best moment is when he jumps behind the organ and starts playing, it’s so energetic sounding.

New Position stays with this bright sound with Wendy playing the steel drum adding a new dimension to the live show. The purple Rain shows feel a million miles away as I watch Prince and the band work the stage, everyone seems to have an extra spring in their step. Three songs in and I am in love with 1986 all over again.

I Wonder U slows things down, and asides from highlighting Wendy on vocals we also get some cool sounds from Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss, as well as a fantastic guitar playing in my left ear. I don’t even know what to call this music, all I know is how much I get out of listening to it. For a couple of minutes I don’t even mind that Prince isn’t on the stage.

Prince Paris parade5

He is well and truly back as a flurry of horns open up Raspberry Beret. This was all over the radio when I was a younger man, and age has not diminished its freshness to me. It is one of the great ‘pop’ songs, and Prince plays it with the spirit and youthfulness it deserves. Like all the best moments it comes and goes before I know it, but I still enjoy every fleeting second.

Prince is all over the stage and showboating as they play Delirious and I wonder how can he have so much energy. The first part of the song was cool, and it looks like Prince is about to play some organ, but then they swing into my favourite part of the show.

This version of The Revolution sounds great as they play Controversy. With the twin rhythm guitar of Wendy and Miko they have a wonderful slippery funky sound, one that resonates in my ears all day long. Controversy is very short, before the segue into Love Bizarre, and I am perfectly happy with that as I know this medley so well, and it is usually the part of the show I skip to.

Prince Paris parade6

 

Love Bizarre, right from that first “A,B, A, B, C’ has the funk turned up to eleven. It’s in the sound of the guitars again, and until Eric Leeds appears this is what I listen to most. Eric Leeds solo is different to how I remember, and infinity enjoyable. However, the best bit comes next as Wendy and Miko stand back to back funking me up while Prince encourages the crowd to chant “Who’s house, Wendy’s house” The song goes off on an interesting tangent next with a bass heavy groove leading us into Prince and the band stomping around the stage before, ugh, “the wooden leg”. Whatever my feelings for the wooden-leg, the music is everything I could ever want and more, and it takes on a James Brown edge as the song comes to a close.

Prince Paris parade7

I can lean back and relax again as Do Me Baby begins, although it doesn’t have the long beautiful intro that I usually look forward to. The intro is shorter, and Prince is into his singing right from the start. The music swells and rises behind him, I can’t deny it sounds good, but for me it’s missing the wow factor that I have heard on other recordings. The small flourishes from Eric Leeds give it some extra shine, and these moments are a real high point for me, especially the little pieces I can hear him play as the song quietens. The last few minutes of the song are what make it for me, some of Princes soft singing as the music twinkles and sparkles behind him, it’s divine.

Prince Paris parade1

A diversion next as How Much Is That Doggie leads us into the brief lady Cab Driver which in itself quickly becomes Automatic. Compared to everything else in the show its stripped back, and that works well for this part of the medley with the sound of the guitar and bass carrying us along. The rest of the band make themselves heard at the chorus as it spins off into uncharted territories before settling on DMSR, Wendy and Miko’s guitar sound once again sounding glorious in my ears. Its short lived as we finally get a longer song.

Prince Paris parade8

When Doves Cry gets a bonus point in my book for being longer than the previous medley, and it’s played straight without too much extras in the sound. Like the other performances on the tour, it’s Wendy’s solo that gets all my attention and all my praise, she sounds amazing as her guitar comes hard and clear. As much as I love Princes vocals and performance, Wendy upstages him and it’s a wonderful moment. The intensity is ramped up as Prince climbs atop his piano to encourage audience more, the band responses with some great intense playing of their own. The last few minutes with Prince working away at the organ while the band play on is sublime.

We come back to earth as Prince takes his time at the piano to play something a little more laid back. That something is the heavenly Under The Cherry Moon, a song completely at odds with all that has come before, and all the more powerful for it. The playing is lovely as is Princes vocal delivery, this time restrained and beautifully interweaving with the piano. No words can properly do this moment justice, it has to be heard and savoir every note.

The sweet music is forgotten in an instant as the band strike up another favourite of mine, Anotherloverholenyohead. Prince and Wendy’s vocals are tightly together in this song, and I am reminded how well they worked together, not just playing but also singing. Other band members get their moments too, Atlanta Bliss and Eric Leeds play their piece, before the band begins the long playout with Prince engaging the audience in some calls. Lisa is superb, her piano playing is light and bright, and adds a sheen to the heavier bass sound of the song. It’s music that I find I have to listen to, you can’t let it slide by, and I find I enjoy every moment of the few minutes Lisa plays.

Prince Paris parade9

I had forgotten that 17 Days was coming, and I am oh so pleased to hear it next, especially as I haven’t mentioned Brown Mark yet. He is in his element, and his sticky sounding bass sucks me in. Prince tells the audience that they are recording show, and I am only too happy to be enjoying the fruits of that thirty years later. The horns and guitar pick it up and run with it, and it becomes a groove that goes on and on. Prince starts to chant “Head, head” and I smile with anticipation.

Nasty Prince is definitely in the house as he tells the mothers in the crowd “Cover your daughter’s eyes” at the beginning of Head. I know we are in for a good one, as there is a pause before the horns start and the funky guitar plays through. Even when the horns come in, and keyboard riff plays it’s still that guitar sound that stays with me. Head plays for ten minutes and I revel in every note of it, all of it deliciously dirty and funky. Dr Finks solo is best summed up by Prince himself when he says “If you ain’t gonna do that to a synthesizer, then don’t play one” The long ‘burn it up’ sequence at the end is intense as Prince hurls his top into the crowd before engaging in some slick dance moves. Prince writhing on the floor singing electric man as the song sinks even deeper into the grimy funk is a fitting end. As far as I’m concerned it doesn’t get any better than this.

Prince Paris parade2

A shimmering sound comes like a glimmer of light in the darkness, and when Pop Life begins it’s like a door is suddenly opened and the show becomes uplifted and pure again. The pop of the bass is excellent, as is Princes crisp sounding vocals. It’s in complete contrast to what we have just heard, I can only imagine Prince making such stylistic changes in concert like this. Pop in sound as well as name, Eric Leeds playing flute is the icing on top, and we come to a soft ending with the girls singing “Pop Life”

Girls And Boys has the crowd involved again, with Prince encouraging them to dance as the intro runs for a couple of wonderful minutes, the guitar, bass, and keyboards all interweaving and creating a colourful yet funky tapestry. Prince on the organ is the highlight as the intro plays, and he gives us a good couple of minutes here. The vocals are simply amazing when Prince singing, the sound quality is just right on his vocals, and I feel like I am right there when he sings. I know I have been heavy with praise throughout this recording, and this song too has me floored – Eric is wonderful, Wendy’s vocals sweet, and the band is beyond words.

Prince Paris parade4

“Oh Honey, put your shirt back on” Prince says as Life Can Be So Nice, and one can only speculate to what he was seeing from stage. Life Can Be So Nice is full of sound and the band inject a lot of themselves into it. Bobby Z and Wendy are the heroes for me, Bobby gets a shout for his break, and Wendy’s vocals are all over this and heavy in my left ear. There is an awkward moment on the video when the stage is invaded by an audience member who knocks Prince over, but he recovers quickly and carries on very professionally.

1999 is nice, in that it’s a beautiful sounding recording, and the band play it for the most part straight. The horns are an addition to what is heard on album, but they aren’t over bearing and add just enough colour. The guitar and vocals are very faithful to the album, and they are what I enjoy most in the performance. The “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb” is playful and a nice way to finish the main show before we fade to darkness.

Now comes the moment I have been waiting for, the genesis of It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night. The single drum that begins is so familiar, yet also new and I know what is coming next as the horns play their refrain and the “ow, wee ow” chant begins. I don’t know what I was expecting, but for the most part it does sound like it does on record. We do get Prince playing his organ which is cool, as is seeing Wendy play that guitar riff while stomping at the front of the stage. I greatly enjoy Brown Marks playing, as well as Eric Leeds, but I think the real highlight is watching the video and seeing The Revolution at their very best creating something that we will listen to for the next thirty years. The rap is missing, and instead we get some wonderful bass, and a lot of crowd singing- in some ways I prefer it like this, it feels so real and natural. “Confusion” and a final horn blast closes out what has been a wonderful ten minutes of my life.

Prince Paris parade10

Mountains comes on so quick, it’s like a breath of fresh air. The band look and sound incredibly relaxed, and in particular I get a laugh when Prince rolls around on the piano. The coda is when things become more intense and when it finishes it seems the song has gone by in a blink of the eye.

Kiss has Prince stalking the front of the stage, shirt off and looking every inch the rock star. The song is tight, and there aren’t any real flourishes added to it. Of course we get Prince dancing the wooden leg, but on the recording it’s Wendy who is the star for me, her solo isn’t out of the box but it is excellent. It’s her guitar alone in the final moments of the song too, and it’s a fitting end before one final encore.

That encore is of course Purple Rain, and I am very happy to say that although the recording of it isn’t great, the song itself is just swell. A short intro before Prince starts singing, and the crowd is very vocal as he reaches the chorus. He sings it all the way, and we get every verse before the sweeping, epic guitar solo. It builds up well, and the notes come furiously fast right before the crowds “ooww oh ooowww”, and he keeps on playing as they sing. The songs ends not long after this, but we do have a couple of minutes of the strings to cushion our fall back to earth.

Prince Paris parade3

Over the last few years I have run out of words for the shows from the Parade Tour. This one is yet another fantastic one in the canon of shows from that year, and to see It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night brought to life right on the spot was beyond words. There was something magical in the air that night, and all these recordings catch some of that in one way or another. None of them are perfect but I am pleased we have some sort of record from that night. Here’s hoping in future something better will surface that can truly do this show justice.

Thanks again,
Hard to think of what would top that show, but I’m sure by next week I’ll have something new to listen to and talk about
Take care
Hamish

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.

THE1986BOXSETFRONTCOVER #1

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.

THE1986BOXSETFRONTCOVER #4

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.

THE1986BOXSETFRONTCOVER #2

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)