Being a Prince fan can be a frustrating experience. Prince will turn 54 this year and I certainly do not expect him to be the groundbreaking, innovative genius he was through most of the 80's. His studio albums have fallen into the trap most legendary artists find themselves in when they reach this stage of their career. Still capable of putting out some great songs and enjoyable records, but nothing that comes near their former greatness, often times sinking into mediocrity.
But where Prince has always kicked ass is in the live forum. His prowess in concert is one of the main reasons he continues to be one of the most bootlegged artists of his time. Practically every show gets taped and eventually finds its way into the hands of his fans and collectors. Lately though, Prince has seemed to pick and choose when to truly 'bring it' live. Yes, the majority of his standard concerts are still entertaining and better than the majority of live shows you'll see, but it's pretty obvious when he is just going through the motions. The hunger he once had is not there on a nightly basis, and his regular tours are too much of a greatest hits review on many nights, great for the casual fan, but leaving the long time, die-hard fan often wanting more.
So if I'm ever asked why I continue to be a rabid fan, collecting every show I can get my hands on, I can now point to this release. A two-DVD set of Prince at the 2009 Montreux Jazz Festival that serves as a reminder for those that forgot, Prince is still one of, if not the, greatest live musician alive. This set captures both of the shows performed on July 18, 2009 in a stunning pro-shot video. The quality is good enough for an official release, of which one was talked about and planned before Prince once again dropped the ball on preserving his musical legacy. It's absolutely asinine that this was not released to the world, it's that good. So Prince once again misses out on giving his fans what they want and leaves it to the bootleggers to do it right.
Frankly, it's probably a blessing Prince didn't release this as I am sure he would have edited it down to a 'Best Of' from both shows. What you get here are both complete sets, unedited, uncut, as it happened in Switzerland that night. I've seen some complaining from the spoiled segment of the fan base that these two shows are too similar. Yes they share a few of the same songs, but both sets are drastically different both in setlist and tone.
Show one focuses much more on Prince's jazzier material and ballads. It opens with the guitar heavy "When Eye Lay My Hands On U" and a fantastic, radically re-worked version of "Little Red Corvette", but from there things tend to stay on the mellow side. Songs like "When The Lights Go Down", "Willing And Able" and "She Spoke 2 Me" are pulled from Prince's jazz-pop catalog, while he delves into some of his greatest ballads including "Eye Love U, But Eye Don't Trust U Anymore", "Insatiable", "Scandalous" and the set closing "Nothing Compares 2 U". But the highlight of the first show is a jaw dropping performance of "Empty Room" as Prince absolutely tears it up on guitar, specifically during the final two minutes of the song. He's got 'that look' on his face during the scintillating solo that says 'I know I'm a bad ass' and it's awe inspiring to watch.
Show Two also opens with "When Eye Lay My Hands On U" but it veers far from the opening show after that as Prince doesn't let go of his guitar for damn near forty minutes. One of many highlights is a performance of Billy Cobham's "Stratus" that showcases the rest of his band, Renato Neto and Morris Hayes on keys, Rhonda Smith on bass and John Blackwell on drums. This is followed by a rocking version of Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up" which goes into a killer version of Prince's own "Peach". A cover of Jimi Hendrix's classic "Spanish Castle Magic" is next before Prince then pulls out his own classic, 1980's "When You Were Mine". The re-worked "Little Red Corvette" bookends this run of guitar heavy work and this entire portion of the show is a God-send for those who like to see Prince on guitar.
The second half of Show Two is equally as incredible with a long funk jam on "All The Critics Love U In New York", of course rechristened "All The Critics Love U In Montreux". The unreleased 1986 song "In A Large Room With No Light" was re-worked for this festival and follows before the second show closes with an emotional performance of his anthem, "Purple Rain". This is one of those songs that Prince has played so much it can be easy to get tired of hearing in concert, especially in some of the throw-away shortened versions he has done over the years, but this is a full performance and he is pouring his heart into it, as he does the entire night.
These shows have also been released on CD but you really do lose something without the video accompaniment. It's nice to have perfect sound quality audio of these shows, but the passion, hunger and attitude Prince brought to these shows this night need to be seen to be felt. He has that arrogant, cocky look about him all night, the look a long time fan knows is going to equal a great show, and here he delivers two in the same evening. This was a night where Prince obviously felt he had something to prove, and when he comes to the stage with that attitude, forget it. No one can touch him. This is an absolutely essential release for any fan, certainly one of the best Prince bootleg video releases ever.