Brisbane 2012

The Welcome 2 Australia concerts are normally a run though of the hits, yet these there is several special moments in the tour that make the circulating bootlegs interesting. The guest appearance of Public Enemy is one such moment, as are a couple of excellent aftersows currently circulating.  I have already written about the aftershow played on the same night as this concert, and I have it on good authority that the main show was just as good as the aftershow. A quick run through of the setlist confirms this, I see Empty Room and Extralovable there, two songs that I need to hear. The recording is an audience recording, but Eye records have put together a complete package with the soundcheck, main show, and aftershow all presented together, something that I greatly appreciate. The completest in me is more than happy with the quality of recording when it comes all together like this.

18th January 2012, Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane

The concert has a somewhat unusual beginning with Andy McKee playing an acoustic rendition of “Purple Rain”. It doesn’t feel like the beginning of the Prince concert, the crowd is quite chatty through his performance – although I do find their singing along with guitar endearing. It is an odd way to open and when Prince takes the stage there is further surprises with his first number being “Jam Of The Year”. Its one thing to read it on the liner notes, quiet another to hear it, and I must admit I get a lot of pleasure from this version. The band plays it with a lighter touch than what was heard on The Jam Of The Year concerts, and there is a buoyant sound provided by the keyboard and horns. The dreariness of the late ’90s is all but forgotten with this luminescent performance.

It is disappointing that the next few minutes can’t match these opening songs for interest. “$” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” are lighthearted, but instantly forgettable. Even listening to the bootleg, there is the feeling that we are being short changed and Prince has so much more that he could had offered up instead.

“Let’s Go Crazy” is one of the over played hits that the more hardcore fan rail against, but in this case it serves its purpose in igniting the crowd and the concert. Prince’s guitar has an ominous tone through the introduction that hints at darkness, but once the song starts the curtain opens on a music that is filled with warmth and pop fizz. Even if the song is played straight, the crowd can still be heard rising to the occasion, and shorn of its final guitar break it becomes an altogether more danceable number.

Dance is the theme of the moment and “Delirious” is in the same vein. It is a lot of fun, the music skips by in a hurry, barely pausing, and it is only the solo by Mr Hayes that makes it something substantial. This keyboard runs from a flowery opening to a percussive finish, leaving little doubt to the abilities of Mr Hayes.

The reprise of “Let’s Go Crazy” see’s Prince return to the guitar, and this time the sheering guitar finish is present and firmly sets the tone for the next few songs.

With the energy levels remaining high, the band storm through “1999”. They show no regard for the history of the song, everyone is the moment and the performance brings it firmly into the present. It is far more organic sounding, and the band inject it with their own life, giving it a contemporary feel that carries the song well across to the crowd.

What can I say about “Shhh” that hasn’t been said before. Prince and the band play every song at the concert well, but “Shhh” is the song that they truly inhibit and the performance that follows is the most soulful part of the show. The first versus crackle and fizz with unresolved tension before the song boils over with a a volcanic solo from Prince. It begins with the dense haze of an ash cloud, before Prince turns it up to a eruption of boiling lava, every note coming as part of an unending fiery river.

The guitar doesn’t let up as Prince plays a hard and heavy “Anotherloverholenyohead”. It certainly is a heavy hitter, and Prince comes out punching from the start with several strong jabs from his guitar. The rest of the song lives up to these opening moments, and although not as soulful as “Shhh”, it is every bit as intense. Of special note is Prince’s solo midsong, although not the best recording we can still hear the intensity of the moment. The “Rock Lobster” coda he ends with is right up my alley, this is exactly the type of music I gravitated to before I discovered Prince and the several minutes he spends shredding through the song has me feeling like a teenager.

As if the last three songs haven’t been guitar heaven enough, Prince chooses to finish with one of his show stoppers – “Empty Room”. This is the moment I have been waiting for and the reason that my friend Marti recommended this concert to me. It lives up to the occasion, and even with some audible crowd noise I am still transported away on the wings of Prince’s soaring guitar. The verses lose some power due to the audience chat, no doubt this song isn’t familiar to the casual fans, but every other part of the song is divine and I am immediately grateful for the recommendation.

The sampler set that follows is a buzz kill, although it begins well with an ever youthful “When Doves Cry”. Even as part of the sampler set it’s hard not to like it, the beat and main hook as irresistible as ever.

The funk gets stronger with a brief “Nasty Girl” serving as a doorstep into “Sign O The Times”. The latter has an insistent bass that nails it firmly to the dance floor and propels the concert forward.  Prince follows this with two more songs from the same album, “Hot Thing” and “Forever In My Life” may come from different ends of the spectrum, but they are both forever tied together by the ground breaking album they first appeared on. Hearing them side by side heightens the contrast between them, leaving the fact that they are from the same album all the more amazing.

“A Love Bizarre” and “Darlin Nikki” are merely tasters before we have something more nourishing in the form of “Pop Life”. It does indeed have that pop, but it isn’t as filling as it promises and Prince ends it at the first chorus.

There comes another flurry of songs with “Housequake”, “Extralovable” and “Pheromone”. The titles promise so much, but it is false hope as Prince skips through them. I am particularly disappointed with “Extralovable”, when I saw it listed I was really hoping for something substantial, but I can’t say I’m too surprised to see it treated like this in the sampler set.

This set ends with “Dance For Me” as Prince calls the band back on stage. Its little more than a pounding beat and a chance for the band to rejoin the fray.

The “I like funky music” chant has the band introduced by Prince, and in this case it is Ida who is the highlight, she may not be loud and forceful, but she is undeniably funky. The rest of the band follow her lead, and although Prince doesn’t sing the song is one of the funkiest of the evening.

“Take Me With U” is light, even by its own standards, and it is merely a piece of fluff on this recording. Raspberry Beret is equally pop, but more rewarding as it runs substantially longer and features Prince singing “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC (now there’s something I never thought I’d write). It is only the chant that features at the beginning, but it does make for an arresting moment.

An unsophisticated  “Cream” follows and although the crowd love it, it is hardly essential. The keyboard wheeze of Morris Hayes is great, but it is submerged beneath the bright and breezy band, dissipating any backbone he may bring to the song.

Morris Hayes underpins all that is great about “Cool” and “Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough”, it is his keyboard swells that lifts the song and carries it forward. It is equally a chance for the singers to have their moment, and Shelby, Liv and Elise are just as essential to the song as Prince. After the sampler set this comes as a reward, a six minute rendition that reignites the party.

Prince returns to the keyboard, this time for a piano set,and this part of the gig shines as for the next few minutes he plays delicate renditions of some of his finest ballads. The opening minute of “Purple Rain” is every fanboy’s dream, but “Diamonds And Pearls” is even better as Prince begins to sing. Both these songs are heavily abridged, and it is only as he tackles “The Beautiful Ones” that the crowd are treated to something special. The piano is more colourful, the singing slower and less intense, yet the song is just as riveting as it is on record.

“How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” struts across the stage, all swagger and spit as Prince brings a bold attitude to the performance. A song that we have heard countless times, this rendition holds my attention through the entire song and is a healthy update of a classic. It is one of the key songs of the concert, which is surprising for a 30 year old B-side.

The piano continues with a flourish and sparkle as the opening of “Purple Rain” is heard. It is played as the epic power ballad it is, the crowd singing their piece from the opening moments while the keyboards drape ever morphing chords over it, letting the song build slowly into its true form. This is my “Purple Rain”, nothing is rushed and Prince pulls every strand of emotion from the song as he talks to the crowd, plays an emotive guitar break, and generally turns it into an unforgettable event. All this emotional energy is finally released with his guitar solo which is heart breaking and life affirming at the same time. I don’t know about the crowd at the arena, but I feel drained by the end of it.

There is a chance to recover with an easy listening “Everyday People” ushering in the encore. There’s nothing too demanding to be heard and it slides by easily, which is just as well as the following “The Dance Electric” lives up to it’s name and is electrifying. It takes a minute to warm up, but once the band starts cooking it becomes one of the hottest songs of the concert. I would have liked to hear more of Prince’s vocals, but the groove and the guitar that flickers and flames beneath it is more than enough to satisfy, making this the standout performance of the night, and of this bootleg.

“Kiss” is a song without a centre. All the components are in place, but it remains unfocused and passes by in a hazy blur. It is the final song of the evening but it doesn’t put an exclamation mark on the performance and is a wholly unsatisfying end to what has been a very good show.

I am very quick to dismiss concerts from 2004-2012 as nothing more than greatest hits shows, yet time and time again I find that they offer something for even the most hardened fan. They aren’t as good as the aftershows of this period, but they do offer something for everyone. This concert didn’t immediately grab me when I first saw it, but I was drawn in by the quality of the performance, and there was just enough in the setlist to appeal to my jaded ears. Not a show I would immediately gravitate to, but I appreciate the recommendation and found it worth the time to take a close listen to.

-Hamish

Postscript:
I believe this was screened at Paisley Park in December 2016. If the estate ever consider releasing it officially I would certainly be ready to part with my money for a nice proshot of this show. No doubt there are plenty more in the vault of similar quality in the vault, my mouth waters at the prospect that one day some of these will be seen by the general public.