20TEN, Vienna

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

13th July 2010, Vienna, Austria

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Act II Vienna

Last month someone kindly suggested that I should take a listen to some shows from Austria, with the promise that Prince always played something special when he played there. The obvious place to start would be a couple of aftershows, or a main show from later in Prince’s career. Instead I have elected to run with an Act II show from 1993, mainly because I have a DVD of the show but have never quite got around to watching it due to the very 90’s looking cover. I probably have a better audio copy of the concert somewhere, but I know that during this period the look was just as important as the music (although I could probably say that about every stage of Prince’s career), and I am pretty excited to watch a full concert again.

25th August 1993, Vienna, Austria

The first minutes of the video are entirely typical for an audience recording of the era, filmed from the far left we begin with the camera out of focused and shaking. This is matched by the audio which is equally shaky and thin sounding. The visual aspect rapidly improves though, with the zoom utilized we have a nice close view of the action unfolding on stage, which is timely as the pseudo Prince onstage strips off his clothes at the end of “My Name Is Prince” to reveal Mayte’s shapely body. However, the audio never improves, and I resign myself to the fact that it is what it is and I had better get used to it. “My Name Is Prince” is a frantic way to start with plenty of motion all over the stage, although to be honest I only have eyes for Mayte.

Prince makes his appearance for “Sexy M.F.”, the greasy funk of it highlight by the person who can be seen crossing the stage with a mop.  The audience may have be agape any the bombastic opening, but they come forward for “Sexy M.F.” and can be heard all through the song with their singing and clapping. Asides from Prince and Mayte, it is Levi who gets plenty of spotlight, and I can’t deny it is definitely his guitar sound the oils the funky cogs.

 

The soft sound of “The Beautiful Ones” is unwittingly matched by the soft focus of the camera as we temporarily have a blurry image at the song’s beginning. The look of Prince is casual/cool, and this is equaled with his low key delivery of this normally heavy hitter, he maintains his facade of cool and never digs as deep into the song as I hope. This isn’t helped by the sound quality which stays shallow, and I am sure I would have a much better opinion of the song if I heard a better recording of the concert.

The concert is front loaded with hits, it is “Let’s Go Crazy” that vanishes any thoughts of “The Beautiful Ones” from the stage. With an elongated keyboard opening from Tommy Barbarella I am immediately impressed by the extra depth to it, and Prince delivers with his punchy guitar line that gives the song a steely force that I haven’t previously heard at this show. With guitar a blaze, and lights and streamers adding to the moment in a spray of colour, I expect the song to go for longer than it does, but we only get a few minutes. Prince gives us plenty in that time, but it only makes me hungry for more.

“Kiss” is too busy for my tastes, and the stage is awash with horn players and musicians which takes away from the stripped back funk sound that first drew me to the song. Visually Prince is looking great as he works his way back and forth across the stage, but I can’t find an entry point for me to really get into the song, and it leaves me feeling ambivalent about the whole performance.

The performance of “Irresistible Bitch” isn’t a patch on the original, and with the previous “Kiss,” this becomes a flat spot in what has been otherwise a funky show.

Redemption comes with a blistering “Always in My Hair” The organ stabs come as soft punches, before the Prince hits us with jabbing guitar that leaves a burning impression. Coupled with some of his trademark showmanship, one feels that at this point the show has reignited and the next portion of the concert might be the essence of the performance.

From the high voltage “She’s Always In My Hair,” Prince easily transitions to the pure pop of “Raspberry Beret” It’s always too sweet, and Prince knows this as he ends it quickly before one has time to tire of it’s upbeat joy. “The Cross” is a polar opposite, the music is joyous and the lyrics celebrating Princes spiritual beliefs, but it is a heavy and sincere rendition giving us a sense of how important this song is to Prince. All things considered, it is wonderfully filmed and Prince looks brilliant in the spot light while his Cloud guitar provides a stunning contrast in it’s deep blue color. This is easily the part of the concert that demands watching most, and I drown myself in the music through it’s entirety.

Prince stays with the heavy hitters, “Sign O The Times” just as compelling and every bit as intense as “The Cross.” They are a good match, despite the bleakness of “Sign O The Times,” it is countered by the note of hope that Prince hits in “The Cross.” Both sound weighty and deal with themes that you wouldn’t normally hear at a pop concert, and that excites me about the music even more. The music is the main focus of “Sign O The Times,” and even with Mayte being a visual supernova it is still the music that stays to the fore.

“Purple Rain” is light weight in comparison, but that may well be due the previously mentioned audio limitations. There is a lightness to Prince’s performance though, hand in pocket early on does give an indication that he is holding back from a full blooded performance. The guitar break more than makes up for it though, and I am most pleased to see him on top of the piano, head thrown back and guitar howling. If you’re looking for an iconic image of Prince, this would be it.

I have strong feelings about the medley of “Thunder,” “When Doves Cry,” and “Nothing Compares 2 U.” I don’t like it. The first two songs are merely throw away hooks that introduce the slightly longer “Nothing Compares 2 U.” All are instrumental, and even with Mayte providing some sense of spectacle with her dancing, my interest begins to wane. This interlude continues with “And God Created Woman,” and “Diamonds And Pearls,” but there is no doubt that without Prince on stage this feels like a different concert entirely.

Last time Prince was on stage he was blazing with his guitar, his return see’s him conquering another instrument as he delivers the intimate piano set. As is his way so often, this begins with the gentle “Venus De Milo.” With very little moving on stage, the melody is the motion that carries the performance and sketches out where Prince might go with this set.

If not for an annoying buzz on the recording, “Condition Of The Heart” would be be one of the quietest moments on the bootleg. Its only a verse, but the audience is reverentially  quiet as Prince delivers it. “Little Red Corvette” comes from the same place, and gets equal respect from the audience. It’s easy to forget how big this concert is as Prince draws the crowd in with his intimate delivery.

There is a major tape drop out for “Strollin.” The picture rapidly deteriorates into grainy static, before stopping all together a minute into the song. When the picture resumes it is in time for us to enjoy the final portion of “Scandalous.” Prince whoops and squeals to the crowd, but without the foreplay of the first half of the song it is a unsatisfying climax.

The NPG do a fine job of taking us back to 1986 with their take on “Girls And Boys.” Eric Leeds may not be in the line up, but Prince has the band stuffed with horn players, all who are eager to make their mark on this song. It isn’t particularly clean sounding, but it is energetic and engaging and that more than makes up for any audio inconsistencies.

On audio boots, the Arabic intro is enjoyable enough, on video boots it becomes much more as we witness Mayte dancing with a sword perched on her head. I’m not convinced it belongs in a Prince concert, but there is no doubt that this is just the kind of thing we expect at a Prince concert. Expecting the unexpected was always part of the anticipation of a new tour or album, and Prince certainly delivered that in the early and mid 90’s.

Predictably, it is a smooth “7” that follows. The person filming is evidently in love with Mayte, and the camera follows her relentlessly for the first part of the song, Prince only seen when she is nearby. Prince gives a highly staged performance, it is almost too slick, every note and moved planned,all rehearsed with very little sign of spontaneity in the song. I enjoy it, but it just makes me wish he would break out and give something extra at this stage of the show.

The encores open with another predictable song for the moment – “1999.” With the large ensemble on stage it becomes lost in the crowd, the song is there somewhere, but I can’t see it for all the bodies and different sounds emanating from the stage. It is only near the end as Prince and Levi play up with their slick guitar sound do I finally engage with the song, and just in time too for the quick transition into “Baby I’m A Star.” This is a far better song for this group, this time all the bodies and instruments make sense as they have a strong hook to play against and plenty of time to display their skills. It becomes and evolving jam at this point, and as “America” pounds out I am completely in awe of the moment, even the slightly tacky US flag made of fireworks has me excited. The horns are a fantastic addition to the song, and one can only imagine how overwhelming this musical assault must have felt in the flesh.

The funk continues to flow through “D.M.S.R,” this time the trombone becoming a key player and adding some depth to a recording that is otherwise high in treble. Morris Hayes cuts into his work, fleshing out the sound further with his muscular keyboard. Prince’s diversion into the lyrics of “Gett Off” doesn’t enthuse me, but the NPG is simply untouchable throughout, and I fall easily into their orbit. Another drop in the tape breaks me out of this moment, and when it resumes I find Prince in the middle of “Johnny,” a song so laid back it is almost comatose and a million miles away from the previous rambling medley.

Prince ups the pace as he closes the concert with a quickfire “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night.” It comes at breakneck speed, and there is barely enough time to register what song it is before Prince ends with his traditional “thank you, good night.” The crowd reaction isn’t as vocal as I expect, and I think a lot of them find it hard to believe that it is actually all over.

This would not be my first choice to watch or listen to from this time period. We have better videos circulating from the Act I tour, and soundboard quality audio circulating from the Act II tour (especially the Germany festival show just one week later). However, this show does have its place in the bootleg canon. It is yet another record of the NPG as they were really hitting their stride and driving Prince’s music in a new direction. There are parts of this show where I felt the NPG were almost upstaging Prince, and with Mayte serving as a visual foil there were times when Prince disappeared into the performance going on around him. With a setlist nicely balanced between old and new tracks, the concert is a marker of the two eras Prince was straddling, the slave era is almost upon us and this is a final goodbye to his back catalogue for the next few years. It is difficult to recommend this bootleg, but I know how addictive this game is and I am sure most fans would want to see it anyway.

Thanks for reading,
Back next week for more of the same
-Hamish

U4 Vienna 1987

I have been meaning to listen to a Sign O Times main show for a long time now, and this week was going to be the week. Unfortunately, I got side tracked by today’s recording and never quite made it to a main show. This week I am listening to a real oddity from 1987. This recording comes from a charity show played by Madhouse, with a Prince set following. What draws me to it is the songs performed – The Ball and Adore in particular have me intrigued. The set is only short, clocking in just over an hour, and it is an audience recording, asides from that I think it looks good and worthy of a closer listen

29th May (am) 1987, U4 Vienna Austria

Things start off very well, and the landscape for the recording is set. A loud boisterous crowd, a scratchy recording, and then some fantastic music. The venue sounds small, on the recording at least, and we have plenty of audience talk quite clearly and frustratingly on the recording. Housequake starts us off, with just the drum beat for the first minute or so. It’s heightens the sense of anticipation, and I do like just hearing the beat run for some time. Prince teases the start a couple of times, but we never jump right into the song, instead it’s a slow burning groove. It’s played as a jam, rather than what we are accustomed to on record, and that works well for me, especially with the horns adding their weight to it. Later in the song is a highlight with the horns all sort of interesting lines, and it’s probably a blessing that I can’t understand the audience chat so I can listen past it to the music.

Prince 1987bb

 

The most interesting part of the show comes next as the band tackle the unreleased The Ball. It is such a delight to have a live recording of a rarity like this, and what makes it even better is the band jam it out for a good long while. The first few minutes we have a nice steady groove, before Prince sings and engages the audience- primarily having them chant “ball”. Asides from the beautiful groove, the other thing I must mention is the horns which again are the heroes in the song. Princes vocals sound strong, although slightly variable on the recording. The insistent beat carries us through to Shelia E rapping out Holly Rock, which sounds cool even as the tape fades in and out. The crowd feeds off the performance and the chat dies down with lots of singing and clapping.

At first I hardly notice we had segued into something else, until I recognize the bassline of Girls And Boys. This is pretty much all that remains of that song, as the band use the bassline as a step off point to go all sorts of places. Horns come and go, bass drops, guitars spring up, it keeps evolving in weird and wonderful ways. Its stays groovy and funk filled the whole while, and I have to say I am captivated by it. The last few minutes almost has me in a trance, and by this stage I have forgiven it for being an audience recording and I’m just so happy we get to hear it.

Prinec 1987a

Adore is led by a heavy organ sound before the horns lighten the tone and usher in the song I know so well. The tape hiss is very noticeable at this stage, and that’s a shame as the song itself sounds gorgeous. It’s not as smooth as the record, and I like the fact that at one point you can hear Prince call the chord change. I am less happy about the audience chatter that reappears, but some wonderful delicate guitar work on stage makes up for it. Some soulful vocals from Boni Boyer seal the deal, and the song ends at an all-time high.

I Got My Mind Made up is new to me, and I take an instant liking to it, especially the keyboard solo that plays for the first few minutes. Dr Fink is doing his thing, and he’s doing it well. It’s got another one of those steady grooves that this band seems to specialize in, and this gives a solid foundation for everyone to play off. The bass is the next to come out at us, and it adds some bottom to a show that has so far been dominated by horns and keyboard.

If a song is called Guitar Rock Jam, I would expect it to be a guitar rock jam. The first minute is misleading and the band grooves on sans guitar, but then it does appear and Prince plays a snake charmer sounding solo. It picks up from here, and as the band quickens so does the guitar and the flurry of notes. It’s definitely heating up, and Princes fingers are ablaze by midsong. The following few minutes are Prince at his very best on guitar, I forget the rest of the band even exist and listen purely to the guitar. To say it is stellar is an understatement – interstellar would be closer to the mark.

Prince 1987

It’s a comedown to have the gentle start of Purple Rain follow on from this, but I soon warm to its charms. It feels out of place after the loose jams that have come before, but Prince still gives his all to it, and his vocals are delivered in full effect. I can’t shake the feeling of the songs that have come before, and the structure of it feels heavy after listening to them. The guitar solo starts of well, and is shaping up to be more interesting, which makes the fact that the recording ends just as the guitar solo is reaching its heights all the more frustrating.

This recording deserves more coverage than perhaps it already gets. It is flawed in many ways, it’s the quality of the material and the performance that carries the day. The band are loose and stretch out across some very interesting song selections, and this is what marks it as a great one for me. I am prepared to overlook the audience recording when what I can hear from Prince is at this level. You can safely add this one to the list marked “shows I want to hear in soundboard”. As for a main show from 1987, that’ll have to wait for another time.

Thanks again
same time next week
-Hamish