Sometime ago I rather rashly stated that the 2002 Copenhagen recording was the greatest of all Prince Bootlegs. I have been forced to swallow my words many times since then as I listen to my collection and some of the gems contained therein. There are quite a few recordings that could lay claim to being ‘the greatest’ and today’s show I would guess to be atop of many peoples lists. The 1984 birthday show is something very special. It oozes quality at every level, a brilliant sparkling soundboard recording that sounds better than the recording on many of his albums, the quality of the performance itself, and of course those unforgettable songs played to the hilt just as Prince was to ascend to his greatest heights. Yes, this one well and truly lives up to the hype, and I’m itching to take another listen to it today.
7 June, 1984, First Avenue, Minneapolis
The recording starts with the PA sound, and it serves as a nice soft opening. It gives a better feel for what it would have been like to be there, and we don’t have a hard jump straight into a song. There is a classic spoken intro of an announcer saying ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Prince, and the Revolution’, and then we are off into it. 17 Days sounds just as good here as I have ever heard it. The recording is so sharp, to my ears it sounds even better than it did on vinyl. The first thing that strikes me is the bass. It’s got an elastic feel to it, and it’s a beautiful big groove that comes out of the speakers at me. It’s almost like riding a wave, it’s so full and washing over me. The second thing that I really notice is Princes vocals. His singing is so clean sounding, it’s hard to believe it’s in a live setting. Generally I try not to gush about what I am listening to, but in this case it’s very hard not just to sit back and listen to it and be a fan. It’s oh so good. Brown Mark just grooves along underneath, and there is some nice moments when I hear Wendy playing with him on the groove. By the time the song finishes I am wondering how they could have relegated something so good to a B side.
Our Destiny starts slowly. I am not immediately won over as Prince starts singing, but when that chorus hits me I am fully converted. The keyboards are the hero of this particular song, whether it be the twinkling sound under the verses, or the muscular stabs driving the choruses. Prince’s vocals are a little more casual for this one, and some of his character shines through. Also worth mentioning is the drums in this song. Not the obvious beat of the bass drum, but instead the rather glorious sounds played on the cymbals. They seem to add just the right feel at just the right moment, and serve nicely as punctuation to Princes vocals.
The band are obviously very well-rehearsed as they move easily into Roadhouse Garden. Like the previous song it is an unreleased classic. There is an excellent crisp guitar picking away, and it gives a sharp sound while Prince and the girls sing some nice full vocals. Listening to it now I realize there isn’t really too much to the song, the keyboards are barely heard at all, there is a solid bass line, but most of the interest is coming from the guitar sound and the girls singing. Prince tells the audience “you going to have to excuse us, we just jamming’ and it does very much sound like one of the jams that the band plays endlessly at rehearsal. It does have a good feel to it, and at no point does one member of the band get the spotlight, it’s very much a band thing.
Prince takes time to chat to the audience next, and I like it when he takes a moment to tell them “you’ll came in here expecting to drive Princes red corvette, that’s not going to work. We just going to play a few numbers, some of them you’ll gonna know, most of them you won’t” Then follows one of my favourite moments of the show, Prince says “Wendy wants to live forever. Maybe she will” and the band rip into a storming version of All Day, All Night. The bass line is heavy and right in my face, and the whole band ride on it and it’s got a feeling as if they are playing as one, as a single entity. Every aspect is so tight and interwoven, it is an absolute joy to listen to. I could quite happily just listen to an instrumental of this, I feel like getting up and dancing as the introduction plays on. Prince comes with the first verse, and he is sounding excellent, as he is throughout the show. I love the way the groove lets up just a little at the end of the chorus so the guitar and music can take a few little steps up. Bobby Z gets a moment, and plays some hard electronic sounding drum rolls, which add to the overall pulsating feel of the song. If fact the whole song feels like it galloping a long, and when it suddenly ends it’s like a sharp intake of breathe.
Things slow down next as Prince plays a gentler sounding Free. After the dense sounding All Day, All Night, it’s very sparse sound, and it serves the song well. Princes vocals are back to being the main focus, and he delivers beautifully. I thought the Free sounded light on the 1999 album, but here it is much stronger sounding. A lot of the corniness is stripped away, and it no longer has the over the top finish as heard on 1999. All in all I much prefer this arrangement, and I am glad we get to hear it. Prince ups the ante with his singing near the end, before the song closes with the solo piano again. This is not the best song on the recording, but it is a very pleasant surprise.
The drums take a few bars to find a steady beat for the next song as a funky sounding rhythm guitar begins to play. As good as it sounds, it is a little misleading as the song takes a sudden turn. Prince dedicates it to Shelia E, and the music takes on the smooth sound of Noon Rendezvous. Again, this is another song never released by Prince, and that’s a shame as it does have a very alluring sound to it. The guitar is playing just enough to draw me in, and the rest of the band create a smooth velvet sound. There is a guitar solo, but it’s in no way disruptive to the gentle groove, and it’s well tucked up inside the song. The second lead guitar break is slightly louder, and Prince is playing more of what I might expect from this time. The girls enter with the soft refrain of “sitting in this cafe, waiting for my baby”, but it’s not as drawn out as we hear in rehearsals, and the song ends soon after.
Things are much heavier almost right away, as a hard drum beat begins, and some rock lead guitar. It’s quite loose sounding, but after half a minute the band come on board and things immediately tighten up as they play Erotic City. Although not as bass driven as it sounds on record, it is still very strong sounding. Some of the sparseness of the record is sacrificed, but what we get instead is a lot more guitar, and a lot stronger vocals from Prince. It also sounds faster to my ears, and doesn’t sound as dirty and funky. It’s a fair trade-off, but only just. With the intonation of “all the critics love me” we get plenty more guitar of Prince, and I can hear Wendy step up the funky guitar she is playing. The band is heavily in the groove by this point and Prince becomes a lot wilder sounding on the guitar, but always returning to the All The Critics Love U riff. The keyboards also get stronger as the song progresses, and as time goes on it becomes denser and louder. It increases in intensity until it eventually comes to an end at the eight minute mark.
Something In The Water (Does Not Compute) has a great dark beginning. The cold keyboard initially starts before a brooding guitar riff from Prince. He asks the crowd “alright if I just play for a minute” as he then proceeds to do just that. It’s atmospheric in sound, and suitably slow and mournful. When Prince begins to sing he captures the lonely feel of the song perfectly, especially with his “does not compute, does not compute” There is even a moment when he sings “what’s the hang-up, bitch” which adds a hint of desperation and feeling to the song. The song is without the drum machine rhythm heard on record, but that barely matters as Prince is sounding so emotional, yet the music is cold and detached, much like the woman the protagonist in the song is singing to. Later in the song Prince lets his guitar do his talking. It’s not right in front in the mix, but it does sound very good, and worth listening carefully to. This song is played right out and every minute of it is worth listening to.
When Doves Cry is the standout track on this recording for me. Right from the first moment it has a clean sound, and the drum line is so familiar. Dr Fink plays the lead line a couple of times, before Prince comes to the microphone. At first he blows the first line, he mumbles “how can you…” before he catches himself and quickly covers with “come on, have you heard this before?” It’s very fast and smooth, and a great recovery. He then asks the crowd to get on board, before calling for Dr Fink to play the lead line gain. He then implores the crowd further to “get down” before calling for the lead line once more before singing the first chorus. The longer intro actually works well, and I like hearing him talk to the crowd like this. Once the song starts, I notice that Wendy and Lisa are very strong on the vocals, they are much more prominent than heard on record. It’s not bad, just different. Wendy gets her moment to shine on guitar, and its good sounding, but perhaps not as clean sounding as everything else. The best is yet to come, as the band play on, Dr Fink plays a cool solo, and then there comes a great scratch guitar. I’m not sure if its Prince or Wendy, but it’s my favourite part of the song. It plays on and on, and I never tire of it. The band sing “Don’t cry” over and over as that beautiful guitar line just loops again and again. I don’t know how long it goes for, but it feels like forever, and it encapsulates the Prince sound I first knew and loved. And just on a side note, my girlfriend told me she thought this part was boring and repetitive -looks like I might be single again soon! This last half is a song unto itself and the recording is excellent just based on this alone.
Of course there is the obligatory Happy Birthday sung by the audience, before the band turn up the funk levels with Irresistible Bitch. It’s not as dark as I have heard elsewhere, but it’s still a nice version. The band are playing incredibly tightly, and it’s the guitar that mostly holds my attention. It’s so crisp sounding, and the song revolves around the guitar riff. There is a keyboard solo that sounds good to my ears, but it’s a little low in the mix, I would have of liked to hear it much more. Near the end Prince stops and starts the band several times, and as always they are right on the button.
Possessed is equally funky, but with a dash of pop thrown in the mix. After a Vegas sounding opening the band open up a rapid groove, again the rhythm is king here, the only melody coming from a simple keyboard line. Prince’s vocals aren’t quite as clear as they had been earlier in the show, he is a little more in the mix, but that’s not a negative at all, and the second verse I can understand his lyrics much better, so it maybe my problem more than his. There some further interesting keyboard jamming later, again it’s a too quiet for my taste and I have to listen carefully to appreciate all of it. Prince does a scat about ‘big ole soul sisters’ and its very tightly in the rhythm, so I give him a pass despite the corniness. I think that the band are going to play this one as a long funky jam, so I am very surprised when it stops suddenly and Prince tells the crowd that they got to go.
There has been a lot of talk about this soundboard recording since it first surfaced, and I can fully understand why. This show is mindbogglingly good, and deserves all the praise heaped upon it. If someone was to tell me that this was the best recording, I would have very little argument with them. This one is excellent in every way, and a must listen for any sort of fan.
Thanks again for reading
See you next week