For reasons I'd rather not dredge up, things have been rather quiet on the Prince bootleg scene. It's not that they've gone away, certain pressed labels continue to sell their wares. But the free releases have been few and far between. Thankfully the last few weeks has seen that change in a glorious way with a number of fantastic releases courtesy of the always excellent quality Free Boot Generation. As Prince himself said, and the artwork on this release states, "I have some bootlegs but I wouldn't sell them. But fans sharing music with each other, that's cool." And that is exactly what is happening here with three incredible new soundboard releases from Prince's current HITnRUN Tour.
Yes, you heard me correctly. Soundboard releases. The 2015 HITnRUN Tour kicked off in Louisville, Kentucky with four shows over two nights in March. Chosen since it is the hometown of 3rdEyeGirl drummer Hannah Ford-Welton, Louisville quickly sold the shows out, with help from fans always willing to travel great distances for a Prince show. Captured on this release is the first show from the first night, March 14th.
Before I get into some of the show details, the quality of the recording itself is spectacular. Beautiful, crisp soundboard, worthy of an official release. And that brings me to the question and issue I always have when things like this get out. Why isn't Prince, with such a rabid fan base of collectors, willing to release this type of material himself? This should be a no-brainer. Fans and collectors would GLADLY hand over their cash directly to the man himself for the privilege of downloading full length soundboard recordings. With this being an unofficial release, all credit to Free Boot Generation for sharing these releases for free when it would have been so easy for someone to try to make money off of them. But Prince continues to miss the boat on his incredible legacy of live shows. I refuse to believe a download site of live recordings could not be a profitable venture for him. Yes, it is his music, to do with it what he wants, but the goodwill and recognition he would get for that type of venture is being wasted. Oh, and don't overlook the artwork either. That too is official release worthy.
As for the show itself, it is hits heavy as this tour has been. Prince announces, "Let me tell you how this is gonna go. Have you ever heard nine hits in a row? At any show, have you ever heard nine hits in a row? That's the way it's gonna go, you ready?" before he and 3rdEyeGirl kick into "Let's Go Crazy". Oddly enough, "Funknroll" is included in that run of "nine hits in a row", although the only place I have ever seen that declared a hit is on the sticker that came on the shrink wrap of my Art Official Age CD.
Unquestionably, an early highlight of the set is a nearly seven minute version of "Controversy" and no current Prince show would be complete without him sound checking from the stage as he does at the start of this song. "Turn this mic up in the front wedge" he calls out before turning it into a mini-chant of, "Up up, up in the front wedge." These calls from the stage that are prevalent in every show to some extent have become a bit of a running joke at this point. Still, it can't detract from the funkiness of the performance on this one.
Another standout is the performance of "Nothing Compares 2 U". Yes, I've heard him perform this hundreds of times, but I especially like the way the song is being performed on this tour, arranged much like the original version on The Family album at the start while also calling to mind how it was performed on the Nude Tour. Prince gives an especially impassioned vocal performance on this night, taking a song you've heard to death to a higher level.
The majority of the second half of the show is based around the sampler that Prince uses, although at least he has started to incorporate the band into songs like "Housequake" and "Sign o' The Times". Even though it is to pre-recorded backing music, the performance of "The X's Face" is of interest as Prince sings the whole song. Still, I know if most long time fans had their way, Prince would retire this sampler based segment of his shows. It stands in complete contrast to his boasts of "real music by real musicians." Having seen it live a few times though, I can tell you casual fans usually go crazy with every start of a recognizable song. Surely most people would rather hear songs from Prince's deep catalog performed live?
The recording of this show ends with another high point, "Pretzelbodylogic" which also incorporates "The Sailor's Hornpipe" before going into a cover of "Stratus" which I always enjoy. Here Hannah Ford-Welton is given the chance to show off for her home town at the end with a drum solo segment. Sadly, the closing song of this set "Purple Rain" was not recorded, so this was replaced on this release with "Purple Rain" from one of the next night's shows. As a completist collector, I've never been a big fan of mixing shows like that, but viewed as a bonus track here it's fine.
Even though the long time fan in me would love to hear deeper cuts and rarer material over hits shows, the quality of the recording here can't be denied and I've warmed to the way a lot of these songs are being performed on this tour. It's hard to complain when you're getting soundboard releases of shows that took place barely a month ago. A must have for any Prince collector.