Yokohama, Final 1996 Japan concert

We have just had a lovely day at the Yokohama Triennale and I am currently overloaded by the art on display. Asides from Prince bootlegs my other great loves are traveling and art, so as you can imagine today has been a great day for me. I have enjoyed my time in Japan the last two weeks, even time with the in-laws hasn’t been as bad as I thought! We still have a couple more weeks here, we have been so busy I think I will need another holiday when I get home. In keeping with my Japanese theme, today I will be taking a listen to a concert recorded in Yokohama in 1996. It takes in the final concert of the Ultimate Live tour, and it’s a shock to me when I realise that it is more than twenty years ago now. It feels like only yesterday, and that pleases me as it must mean that the 18-year-old in me still lives on. There have been several releases of this concert over the years, but I have chosen the Zion release as it has particularly beautiful art work, and is in-depth in its coverage of the concert itself. Not only does the recording feature the concert, but also the entire 35 minutes of preshow music (in this case the Exodus album) that is played over the PA. It’s almost too much, I doubt I will ever listen to the preshow music again – not when I have the CD readily available, but it is a nice touch and makes for an immersive experience.

  20th January 1996, Yokohama Arena, Yokohama

Skipping over the preshow music, it is a video medley that begins the concert. An easy enough listen, it is merely a taster of Prince’s back catalog of music and not really representative of the show that will follow, nor of the live bootleg experience. At ten minutes long, it would be a nice mix for the car, but I am here for the live performance and as such I find I sit through it rather impatiently.

The introduction of “Prince…is dead, long live the New Power Generation” followed by a roar of music and scream that almost has me on feet here at home. An audience recording, it still captures the power and fervor of the moment, that rush as Prince and the band create the wall of sound that is “Endorphin Machine”. It is in itself an endorphin rush, and I feel washed away in its sound as soon  as I hear it.

The rush is short lived, but Prince gives us something even better with the power of “Shhh” masked behind his slow vocal. The guitar break is the iron fist in the velvet glove, and even though the song is criminally short it serves warning that the show will contain a multitude of styles all delivered straight from the heart.

Some of the power of “Days Of Wild” is dissipated in this setting. I can’t tell if its the Japanese audience, the size of the arena, or the mix, but what ever it is the song lacks the suffocating intensity I usually associate with it. The bass guitar solo is most welcome and for me it easily overshadows everything else heard in the song. The bass returns to finish the song, this time with a brief “777-9311,” something that briefly has me gasping for breath.  As much as I love the “Days Of Wild,” there are much better renditions out there, and I find this one a little ho-hum.

The introduction of “Now” has Mayte comparing it to “Irresistible Bitch,” “Housequake,” and “Sexy M.F.”, but as the song ignites I find it lacks the finesse of these and is about as subtle as a sledge hammer. The chorus is exciting and bold, but not the slinky dance number of the songs it was compared to. It is still fun, and I enjoy the performance even if just a little too punchy. I only wish we could see Mayte’s final dance during  “Babies Makin Babies” as the crowd chants her name, after all a Prince concert is as much a visual experience as an aural one.

The show opened with Prince declaring “Prince is dead,” and yet here we have a Prince song, the first verse of “Anotherloverholenyohead” jammed over the top of “Race.’ I like it. I like the groove of the song, I like the lyrics, but especially I like the sound of the keyboards. They are electrifying in both sound and style, and I am transfixed by the performance I am hearing. Other songs promised more, this is one surprise package that keeps me listening to bootlegs.

“The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” is a start stop affair that ably demonstrates how tight the band are, but as for overall enjoyment of the song it does detract a little. However, I have heard “the Most Beautiful Girl In The World” enough times in my life,and I am more than content to sit back and admire this configuration of the NPG.

One of most well known tracks from the Gold Experience follows, in the form of “Pussy Control.” It’s not as strong as it is on record, it’s a slightly different mix and the music is busy which does distract from Prince’s rapping. I expect it to come as a punch to the face, instead it is more like a slap in the face – it’s a challenge, but not quite the out and out threat that it should be.

I am much more attuned with “Letitgo.” With its low key groove it seduces me, and I fall in love with the interaction between Prince’s vocals and the music. Its all too easy, and I slip easy under it’s charms. Surrounded by some big songs, it holds its own with natural grace and beauty.

Although its short on the album, “Starfish And Coffee” in this context is given the royal treatment and Prince plays a regal five minutes with it. The twist comes in the tail and the song slips down a musical rabbit hole, its sound becoming suddenly darker as complexities steps out of the shadows. It is in complete contrast to the first minutes, and ends with a Michael B solo – completely unexpected for a song such as “Starfish And Coffee”

Compared to other renditions of the era, “The Cross” is almost delicate in its delivery. Prince’s guitar a gentle lace rather than the blanket of sound it sometimes is, and there is layers of complexities early in the song. A lot of this is unpicked however once the song reaches its apex and Prince tears up all that came before with plenty of rage and howl on his guitar. As a guitar aficionado I am in blue heaven, and as always my only complaint is that it is all too short.

I think I have heard “The Jam,” almost as much as I have heard “Purple Rain” over the years. It’s hard to get too excited by it here, it is the standard run through we have all heard before. Michael B is mighty in his contribution, although the rest of the song I could take or leave.

Prince proclaims his love for Joan Osbourne’s “One Of Us” before serving up his own take of her song. It is a great match for him, both in theme and style, and the final guitar saturated minutes is where it becomes purely Prince as he drenches the song in his trademark sound.

To my ears, “Do Me, Baby” has never got old, and the rendition on this bootleg is pretty standard, yet entirely mesmerizing as Prince works himself and the song up into a lather. It is not as an intense experience as I have heard on other bootlegs, but it still remains an unmissable part of the show.

The seduction and sexiness of “Do Me, Baby” becomes pure sex with the appearance of “Sexy M.F.”  Normally I am captivated by the grease of the guitar, but in this case it is Tommy Barbarella who has my full attention with an upstart of a solo that is a livewire in its delivery. The rest performance is smooth, the only jolt coming from this solo.

I am more than happy with “I Am Your Girlfriend” The recording is top notch, and I can hear every nuance of the song as the band walk us through it. It is a classic, and deservedly so, as Prince twists up a gender bending mix of personalities and musical styles into a drama underpinned opus. Beautifully recorded at this show, I could easily feast on this for days.

One of the great things about listening to concerts form this Japanese tour is the appearance of “Vicki Waiting” in the setlists. Rarely played, when we do hear it on bootlegs it always sounds fresh and exciting. That feeling is heightened here by the twin keyboard attack of Morris Hayes and Tommy Barbarella,  they both bring some heavy musicality to what otherwise would be a simple pop song.

I am tempted to skip over the “Purple Medley” as it is just as unnecessary in concert as it is on record. Hearing it only makes me yearn to go back and listen to the original songs, all of them having being done a disservice by this medley. It is dire, and a colossal waste of time. Redeeming features? None.

Prince immediately wins me back with a sweet version of “7”. There is nothing to demanding, it never once challenges, but it does sound easy on my ears and is a thousand times better than the preceding “Purple Medley.” The song comes and goes in its own easy way, and I am deceived by the track listing that has it at seven minutes, when in reality it is half that before it gives over to the break between encores.

Things kick off in grand style with a smoking rendition of “Billy Jack Bitch.” I might be biased at this point, as this is one of my go to songs on those days I need music as a prop. Princes vocals are a little weak against the wall of music, and it is the Fishbone sample that comes across loudest on the recording, something that will rattle around in my brain for the next few days now. I have a lot of fun listening to it, although before I know it, its over and we move quickly on.

The show stays in this uptempo groove with a quick fire rendition of “319.” There isn’t much to it, and just as I find myself singing along it ends.

It is entirely predictable that “Gold” is the last number of the night, yet it is just as uplifting and sweepingly epic as you could want for a show closer, or even a tour closer. I may not be able to see what is happening, but I can hear it in the music, and in the audiences response, and my heart quickens with every sweep of guitar and every homily spun by Prince. It may be cheesy but it does the trick, and I am converted to the message Prince is preaching. The final whine of the guitar adds one last golden sheen to all that has come before and although it does become rough in places it stays on message with its uplifting sound and soulful howl.

I recommend all concerts from the 1995/1996 time period. The music bristles with a revitalized energy and enthusiasm and it is hard not to be captivated by the sound of it as Prince begins his new journey, shedding his 1980s skin and persona as he strikes out in new directions. The final concert of the tour marks this as something special, and Prince delivers in concert, and on the recording, with a sparkling set delivered at maximum rock n roll velocity. There are a couple of weak moments in the concert, but the bootleg is good enough that I am more than happy to overlook the moments that drag. A worthy release of one of my favourite eras, this one can sit easily along side any other show of the era.

Thanks again
Hamish

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