Troubadour, California 2011- Show 1

On the afternoon of May 11th 2011, it was suddenly announced that Prince would be doing two impromptu shows that very day at the Troubadour, Hollywood. Of course this is completely in character for Prince, the attraction of playing shows at short notice has appealed to him since the early 80’s. Not only was the show announced a short notice, but there was to be two of them, one starting in the early evening, and the other just after midnight. With Prince’s residency at the Forum in full swing, this is quite a feast of music for local music lovers to enjoy, and the subsequent bootlegs are equally enjoyable for the wider fan community. The bootlegs of these particular shows may not be the best sounding you have ever heard, but the concerts themselves are fantastic, and both concerts are well worth the listen. The first show of the evening is notable for the last live performance of “Power Fantastic,” something that every hardcore fan would love to hear. The rest of the setlist is a combination of after-show standards,and marquee concert mainstays, all contributing to a heady mix of all that is good and great about Prince and his band.

11th May, 2011. Toubadour,Hollywood, California

The recording drops us right into the midst of the action, a swirling and ominous groove that parts to to reveal some light in the form of a “One Nation Under A Groove”chorus. Without settling on any one direction it keeps the listener guessing, while providing a showcase for this band comprised of John Blackwell, Ida Nielson, Morris Hayes, and Renato Neto. With Mike Phillips putting in an appearance, this is a band with the chops to move swiftly across the music Prince wishes to cover, and they tackle “Stratus” with plenty of finesse, along with a big chunk of pure music muscle, making Prince’s guitar contribution shine all the more brighter and potent as it lasers its way through the dense murk of a groove the band creates. Time is irrelevant as the band crush any other thought apart from music itself, and Renato Netos solo piece is otherworldly as it transports us from the confines of the room.

I don’t normally post pictures of bootlegs covers, but this one seems to capture the spirit of the evening

There is hiding the fact that this is an audience recording. It doesn’t have the crackle and fades that sometimes plague such recordings, but it does have plenty of audience noise and this does at times detract from the music. “Power Fantastic” is undoubtedly the highlight of the recording, but there is a lot of audience noise that comes with it. The song allows a chance for the band to breath, and the song plays as steady as a dreamers breath. Mike Phillips adds to this slumber like quality, and at just three minutes long I find I have to hit repeat a couple of times to fully appreciate the moment.

Coming from a similar place is “Somewhere Here On Earth,” its lighter touch filling the recording with further dreamscape sounds. The song can’t match “Power Fantastic” for nostalgic weight though, and as good as it sounds, especially Mike Phillips again, it can’t compare to the previous few minutes. I wallow in the joy of Mike Phillips playing, and I would recommend this far more highly if not coming straight after “Power Fantastic”

The cascading guitar at the beginning of “Boom” is inviting, before giving way to a heavier riff that is the signature of the song. From here the band surprise me with an instrumental jazz jam appearing, and again the best moments don’t belong to Prince, but rather to the superb players he has surrounded himself with. The performance is better than we hear on the recording, the audience is silenced from the outset, hinting that perhaps they are watching opened mouth at this moment. I cannot understate how good Mike Phillips is during this song, and for me that has been one of the most revealing aspects of the recording – previously under recognized performers coming to the fore and demonstrating just why Prince bought them into the fold. The final frenzied combination of Renato Neto and Mike Phillips is an absolute treat, and eclipses all that has come before.

The band are onto something good, and they continue to mine this rich vein with a ten minute jazz instrumental. It is not as intensive as the previous jam, and there are portions where it threatens to meander. Overall though, it is another hit out for the band, with Renato Neto taking the lead in several fast piano passages that piques my interest. It’s an undemanding listen that contributes to the overall feel of the recording, without becoming essential in itself,.

“Let’s Get It On.” Figuratively and literally. What an inspired cover version this turns out to be, and with Andy Allo on hand to lend some vocals this becomes another surprising  moment to be cherished. Andy doesn’t have the depth to her voice that Marvin Gaye does (does anyone?) but she brings her own touch to the song and without ever threatening the original it becomes it’s own quiet storm. The appearance of a vocoder and lines lifted from elsewhere brings an unique aspect to an otherwise familiar song, as the band definitely stretch it to their own means for the next few minutes.

There is an unexpected “Colonized Mind,” featuring very little of the guitar that we have come to associate with the song. Instead that guitar grunt and sinew has been replaced by a thoughtful delicacy provided by Renato Neto and Mike Phillips. They take the song and spin it the other way, molding it to fit the jazz sound of the previous few songs. It brings new life to the song, and it burns just as bright in this setting as it does in the fury of more guitar orientated sets.

“When She Comes” appeared on the 2015 album Hit N Run Phase 2, here we have a much earlier version that is far more of it’s time. It’s sound comes from the same fertile soil as “Somewhere Here On Earth,” and it is a nice fit into the setlist. However, it fails to generate any sort of emotional response from me, and as nice as it sounds I just can’t connect to the music I am hearing. It does become a long jazz jam though, and this I find far more rewarding as again Mike Phillips comes to the fore with an array of new sounds and fresh ideas.

Normally it is the punch at the start of “Shhh” that grabs me, in this case that punch is neutered by the quality (or lack of) of the recording. It still delivers though, but like everything else in the evening it is through the jazz lens that this band filters Prince’s songs through. It is Mike Phillips with the first contribution that signals what direction the song is going, rather than Prince’s vocals its is his horn the opens the door on the song. Prince’s vocals aren’t as in your face on this recording, it is the rest of the band that pick up the slack, along with some fantastic singing from the audience as Prince leads them into a soft rendition of “U Will Be” over the music of “Shhh” In many ways it works better, and I am more attracted to the song without the sometimes hokey “Shhh” lyrics. It is far more mature sounding, and the lyrics match the direction the music is flowing. It takes a moment to adjust to the alluring sound, but the song draws me in over its ten minutes, and I find that this is the standout song on the recording. Ignore the quality of the recording, this is a performance that needs to be heard. The final guitar solo from Prince confirms this as he makes an emphatic statement in the final minutes with a whirlwind performance that sweeps all aside without ever becoming hurricane force.

There is a good old fashioned stomp towards the finish with the incisive guitar riff of “Controversy” appearing, along with John Blackwell’s trademark pound. After a funk intro, everything is seemingly turned up to ten at once with Princes howling guitar leading the way. This is a misleading step and once again it is Mike Phillips who blasts his way through the bulk of the song, adding plenty of spice to its bare funk sound. The highlight for me though is the crowd chanting their way through the “people call me rude” chant for sometime.This version has a unique feel and it reinvigorates my love for a familiar classic.

“Musicology” shuffles into view, the intensity derived from the twin attack of Mike Phillips and Princes vocals. They both carry the impetus that propels the music forward. On record, “Musicology” isn’t always the most appealing song to me, but I can’t deny that in the live situation it is a great song to get pulses rising and the crowd moving. The most interesting part of this performance is the final half of the song as it breaks down and the band noodle around various aspects of the riffs. No ground breaking material to found here, but it is a pleasant enough diversion.

The recording doesn’t capture every song of the night, but it does finish on an all time high with a divine version of “A Case Of U.” There are of course more famous versions in circulation, but I am delighted to hear it here at this concert. The bootleg isn’t perfect, but the performance sounds pretty close, Prince’s vocals and piano weaving a magical spell before Mike Phillips appears on the shoulder of the song, adding the sweetest of touches with his saxophone. All in all it is an endearing performance, and one that we would all be talking about if only it was a soundboard recording.

Sadly, the bootleg finishes here, missing the final two songs (“Pop Life” and “Beggin Woman Blues”). There is no need to be too disappointed, there have been plenty of treasures sprinkled throughout the show. Obviously, the final “A Case Of U” is breathtaking, as is “Shhh” and “Power Fantastic.”  It seems each week that I write that despite the quality of the recording, whatever show I am listening to is worth hearing. I can’t help it, I am a fan of bootlegs, and it matters little to me whether a recording is soundboard or audience recording. It is certainly the case with this recording, the setlist and performance far outshines the recording, and for a hardcore fan such as myself it demands listening. Casual fans may skip this at their peril, for the rest of us there is plenty here to enjoy and reflect upon.

Join me next week for the second performance from this evening, one that is equally good.

Take care

The Garden, February 7th 2011

All thanks this week to Ryan Mark, who asked when I was going to write about this show. At first I confessed that I didn’t recall it at all, but upon further prompting by Ryan I came around and decided to have a look. I am not one for the “Welcome 2” concerts, as much as I love the hits and enjoy Princes back catalogue, I enjoy something more fresh and exciting to my ears. Ryan did point out that Prince was in a great mood on this particular night, and the show was extremely enjoyable, so with that in mind I sat down and revisited it- and oh boy was Ryan right. It looks like a typical greatest hits show, with the additional pluses of a couple of guest appearances, some great performances, and as stated earlier Prince is in a great mood and very playful. It was well worth a second look.

7 February, 2011, Madison Square Garden

I had completely forgotten that this show opened with Laydown. After a brief spoken introduction Prince appears. It’s an unexpected surprise for me, and a very welcome one. The heavy bass opening is greeted with screams from the crowd, and Prince responds with a strong aggressive vocal. He does work the crowd while singing, punching the air and raising the roof. Things get more interesting from my perspective when he pulls out his guitar and begins to play. With plenty of concentration on his face he plays a gritty break that captures the whole essence of the song in half a minute. There is another verse before Prince starts showboating on the guitar and the song winds down to its conclusion. I like this show already.

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1999 is the more traditional opening I could have expected, and the crowd seem to rise as it’s played. I do like the fact that this is a nice clean version, that is the mix is closer to what we heard in the early 80’s without too many embellishments. Prince’s guitar is well in the mix, as is his vocals with the girls. I’m not surprised to hear that this is the abridged version, and the crowd is soon singing ‘party’ with relish. As always my favourite part is near the end as Prince sings “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb” with the guitar accompanying him. It’s all fairly predictable, and yet perfectly enjoyable.
Prince Madison Sq2 A howl on the guitar as the band slow down and the lights turning red signals what’s coming next. After several moans on the guitar Prince sings the opening lines of Little Red Corvette. Another song aimed squarely at the nostalgic market, the crowd trades lines with Prince throughout. I do like the mournful sound of the guitar, I would like to see Prince push that sound much more. Most of the song is shallow in the emotional stakes, and it’s not until Prince goes into the guitar break does the feeling really come out in the song. He first delivers the guitar break as heard on album, before slowing down once again and begins to stretch his notes out. With only slight prompting the audience join in hand clapping, and it does give it a soft live sound. The best is yet to come as Prince gets on the microphone and recreates the moans of the guitar vocally. He moves to the slow down section with some dancing that is suitably gentle, and the crowd softly sings “Slow down”. I had tired of this arrangement, here it once again draws me back in.

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Over the sound of a piano Prince begins some pillow talk to the ladies before the lights come up and The Beautiful Ones commences. This performance here is a knock out. Not only is Prince on the piano and singing well, he is also joined on stage by Misty Copeland dancing. I don’t normally like dancers with Prince, I prefer to concentrate on the music, but Misty adds a lot to the show and I can’t take my eyes of her as she twirls around the stage. Any reservations I might have about the state of Princes voice at this stage of his career are dispelled as he builds to the end of the song, singing to Misty a top of the piano before they both finally disappear into the stage.

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The sound of the Controversy guitar next, and I know exactly what to expect. This performance is very typical of how the song has sounded over the last 5 years. The beat is loud and full, and Princes guitar adds the sharpness that the song needs. His vocals are a little lacklustre, yet the guitar sound is so good I forgive him for that. I lose interest as the crowd and Prince sing “New York” before we have the typical “clap your hands and stomp your feet” chant. He never quite loses me though, and I do enjoy the guitar solo that follows a minute later, for me that is what saves the song from being mundane. Prince cracks me up as he asks Shelby to find him someone to dance with “I want a big fine sexy Momma” One lucky woman is brought up on stage to dance the bump with him, and she looks like she enjoys every moment with him. There is further hilarity as Kim Kardashian comes on stage and stands still while Prince dances around her- before ordering her off the stage. Prince seems to be having a lot of fun with the crowd before eventually winding the song up.

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The set list seems to jump around a lot, there is fast song, slow song, fast song. He keeps to this as the gig again slows down as the opening music of Purple Rain begins. It’s a good one, with the crowd singing away for a bit, before Prince picks some gentle figures out on his guitar. He sings all the verses and he puts plenty into his vocals, there is never the feeling that he is just going through the motions. One thing I have noticed about his shows is that every night he plays Purple Rain, it’s always as you expect to hear, and yet in the last minutes on the guitar break he stretches out and finds new things to play. If not for that I would have probably given up listening to Purple Rain, as it is the one constant from all his shows and something I have heard hundreds of times. Here is no different and it’s the last minute of the guitar solo that I enjoy most.

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The concert takes an upbeat pop turn next as Raspberry Beret begins. Prince is absent at first, having disappeared into the stage at the conclusion of Purple Rain, but he does reappear a minute into the song to encourage the crowd to sing. It’s an interesting version, the first couple of minutes its instrumental, and even once Prince appears it’s sometime before he sings. He does seem to be having a great time, playing with the crowd and teasing them and encouraging them.

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The segue into Cream is smooth, and yet the energy levels seem to drop. The girls are very cool with their backing vocals, all fanning themselves as they sit on the piano. The song is neither here nor there for me, its smooth sounding yet there is nothing in it that I can really latch onto. A lot of people would enjoy it for its smoothness and I can’t really fault the performance.

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I love hearing Cool live, and the performance at this show is something I get a lot of enjoyment out of. Prince gets ?uestlove out of the crowd to play cowbell on the drums with John, and I feel a little sorry for him as he has to reach over John to play- it looks very uncomfortable to me. Prince calls for just the drums and gives ?uestlove a couple of shouts for the crowd to acknowledge. The crowd energy picks up a lot during this song, and I can feel their energy here at home. I do cringe a little at Prince and Shelby dancing, but their smiles and laughter are very infectious and there is no denying that they are having a great time onstage.

Prince runs the band well, as he calls the band to change and stops ?uestlove with a quick “Thanks ?uestlove”.  Ida starts Lets Work with some excellent bass work before the band fill out the sound. As with the last song there is plenty of Shelby and Prince dancing, and the vocals take the backseat a little as the dancing continues.

I was surprised to hear U Got The Look next, after all that dancing the guitar sound catches me off guard. Prince doesn’t bother too much with the song, with a yell of “turn me up” he plays a short yet rocking solo, before the song resumes with another chorus before Prince plays the riff out of the song. As he disappears into the stage again I realize that the song was only a couple of minutes.

There is a lovely long piano intro into Nothing Compares 2 U next. Prince is initially off stage as Renato plays, but he reappears and begins to address the crowd. There is a very touching moment as Prince dedicates the song to Bobby Z and wishes him a quick recovery. He tells that many people helped him along the way and Bobby was “a good fine soldier” He goes on to mention several other causes, before singing the opening lines of the song. It was worth the wait, as his vocals are just brilliant, and he is well accompanied by Shelby. The much maligned Shelby does a fine job, and her voice is strong and clear. The interplay between her and Prince is excellent, and there does seem to be genuine warmth between them. Mr Haynes plays a full organ solo, and with a call of “take us to church” he ups the ante. Not to be out done Prince gives his all for a final verse and chorus before the song ends.

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As the beat of Crazy begins I expect to hear Shelby take the lead vocals, instead is something unexpected, Ceelo Green appears to sing his own song. He gets quite a cheer, but not as loud as Prince gets when he appears and picks up his guitar. His playing is restrained, yet has a touch of fire to it. He doesn’t steal the song from Ceelo, but he certainly puts his stamp on it, there’s no mistaking whose show this is. As much as I prefer to hear Prince sing and play, I do enjoy hearing him just contribute his guitar sound to someone’s song. He adds a lot, without ever taking over the song completely, which I am sure must be a very tempting thing to do.

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Prince keeps his guitar on and calls a series of chords that eventually leads us to Lets Go Crazy. I do like his intro here, there is some extra guitar noodling which is fun and adds a sharpness to a sometimes tired song. I aren’t as enthused by the rest of the song, the keyboards are too bouncy for my tastes and the song doesn’t deviate from what I have heard plenty of times before. I am fortunate that it is kept short and half way Prince transitions into Delirious.

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I was wondering what he could do to freshen up Delirious, but Renato plays a quirky keyboard solo, the likes of which I hadn’t heard before and I am happy with that. As Prince gets the crowd clapping Renato plays another more rockabilly sounding solo on the piano before Mr Hayes takes a turn with the organ. It’s all very Vegas and fun and Prince leads the crowd back into chants of “oh no lets go” over Johns drum beat.

I get my wish for something newer next as Prince plays Dreamer. The opening of it sounds very good as it sounds out, and Prince is focused on his playing. It’s strong on the guitar sound, but this changes midsong as Frédéric Yonnet strolls up on stage and plays energetic harmonica (He does literally stroll up on stage). It gives the song another sound and dimension, that is until Prince reclaims it a moment later with a guitar solo. There is another treat as Prince plays the unreleased Welcome 2 America. Its little more than a few lines and a guitar solo, and a very good solo at that.

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Prince takes a break from the guitar as he sits at the piano. I was hoping for a piano set, but instead he opens with a sample of When Doves Cry. He calls to the crowd “we gonna be here all night, who going to pay the bill?” He doesn’t play much over the sample, after playing the intro and a couple of lines he begins Kiss.

He steps away from the piano to sing Kiss. It’s a very electric sounding arrangement, the keyboards have a very electric sound to them. I aren’t feeling the music, but I do enjoy the performance. Prince is all smiles as he plays with the audience. There is a lot of interaction as he sings and he works most of the stage. The song ends with a single drum beat and Prince dancing alone in the spotlight. He’s not as young as he used to be, yet he still moves smoothly even if his dance moves aren’t as extreme as they used to be. It’s enough to elicit plenty of screams from the ladies in the crowd, and a few men too.

I was half expecting the sampler set before, but it’s only now that he resorts to this box of tricks. He first teases the audience with Nasty Girl as the house lights come up, before another tease of Forever In My Life.

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He then settles on Sign O The Times, which is would be great if not interrupted by him looking at an imaginary watch and wondering aloud “how much time I got”. It does take me right out of the moment. Alphabet Street then gets a couple of lines before something better comes along.

That something better is Love Bizarre, and Prince gives it far more attention as he steps away from the keyboard. I can’t get enough of this song, and do generally enjoy it at every show I hear it. My only complaint here would be that the band sounds a little thin, but that may the recording rather than the performance. There is a fantastic keyboard solo that sticks in my head. That is the high point of the song for me, after this plenty of dancers come on stage as Prince begins to toy with Hot Thing on the sampler.

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I forgive this interlude as he plays a fuller version of Pop Life. It’s definitely full of pop, and there is plenty of smiling faces as he plays it. Prince does hover near the keyboard, choosing not to engage with the dancers on stage too much. It is frustratingly cut short as he lurches into another crowd pleasing I Would Die 4 U.

As good as I Would Die 4 U sounds I don’t get my hopes up too much as I know it will be cut short soon enough. Prince doesn’t disappoint as he quickly dispenses with it and the sampler moves to the next tease.

The next tease is All The Single Ladies, and although they don’t play the song it does provide a funny moment. One guy is enjoying it way too much, and Prince highlights him with the spotlight as he has its moment. It’s very light-hearted, and the guy makes the most of his moment.

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Prince calls for John to play something, and the band strikes up If I Was Your Girlfriend. Prince tells them “I can’t do that, someone might get pregnant” which, although corny, does bring a smile to my face. The band do however continue on and brings sings it from on top his piano. This is a good cleaning recording and the song shines. Prince’s vocals are clear and all the parts I want to hear in the song are there. I am pleased to report too that he does play the full song, now the sampler part of the show has been dispensed with. It’s rare that I have heard this song sound so good, and it’s a good reflection of the show. I must make mention too of Renato, his piano near the end is a nice little touch.

Prince calls the band to play Insatiable, and its sound is every bit as good as the previous song. It’s popular with the audience, I can hear them singing along clearly. The groove is nice and gentle and I love the sound of the organ quivering underneath. Prince does perform as he sings, but it’s mostly his vocals he is concentrating on, and the payoff is great. He does take time later in the song to acknowledge the band, and they do play very well.

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Prince continues in the same vein as next the opening notes of Scandalous sound. This is a great sounding trio of songs, and I think to hear them all together is a great way to near the end of the show. I can’t decide which of them sounds best, but rest assured this one is just as good as the previous two songs. I can’t speak highly enough of the last 10 minutes we have just heard.

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Prince caps all this off with Adore, which has me beside myself. The crowd is on its feet singing and I know just as many people feel about this song as I do. Prince lets them sing at first, but then picks up the microphone to deliver his lines. He sings in his falsetto, and yet still drops down to his natural voice in places. His vocals are passionate, playful, full of character and just downright great to listen to. I have been listening to this song for almost 20 years now and this show is just as fresh as the day I first heard it. I am surprised by the very simple ending as Prince and the girls sink into the stage, a fantastic ending to the show.

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The encore starts out with Prince and the band playing a smashing version of Mountains. Again it’s a nice surprise to hear an old favourite. The girls carry the vocal load well, and Prince isn’t heard until the chorus. The song is very much a band sound, and there is again a lovely moment as Prince calls Bobby Z right before the bridge. The song becomes a jam as they begin to play Shake Your Body. Prince roams the stage, apparently having a lot of fun, even playfully tossing a chair from stage and encouraging a fan to take it. The crowd seems amused and Prince waves at the crowd as they move onto Everyday People. The mood is very upbeat, and this comes across well on the recording, you can almost hear the smiles. I can’t say I’m too surprised as I Want To Take You Higher follows, its completely in character. The crowd is well and truly on their feet and dancing and Frédéric Yonnet returns for another shrill harmonica break. The band hit their groove for the last couple as minutes as Prince solos before dropping his guitar into the crowd. There is one final hurrah before he sinks into the stage for one last time.

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I could not have guessed how must I was going to enjoy this show. For a relatively recent hits show, I was caught off guard by the sheer fun of it. Although I couldn’t pinpoint one moment that made it great, there was enough very good moments to make the whole show one to enjoy. The last half hour of the show was the highlight for me, and a reminder of just how good Prince is every show.

Until next week

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