Prince sent his hometown into a frenzy earlier this year when a series of shows at the intimate Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant were hastily announced. Taking place over three nights, January 16-18, with two shows scheduled per night, it was a rare opportunity for those in Minnesota to see their own musical legend in such a tiny venue. And with so many new musicians incorporated into an ever growing roster of backing bands, the shows had fans across the globe excited that something historical was going to go down in Minneapolis. The only question was, would fans not lucky enough to score the expensive, in demand tickets get to hear these shows?
Prince tried his best to avoid this from happening with a strict no cell phone policy, but if he really thought that alone was going to stop these shows from being recorded, he was rather naive. As we've now learned, a number of those willing to 'Do The Work' were in attendance and all six shows, as well as a short DJ set Prince attended on January 19th, are now in circulation amongst the collecting community.
The first recordings to be publicly released are on this massive eight disc set from Eye Records. It is fantastic to have the entire run of shows available between the two volumes, so credit to Eye for making this happen. Recordings from different sources of some of these shows have since started to come out of the woodwork, obviously delayed due to Eye's habit of ripping free releases, pressing them, then selling them as their own. I'll get to the other sourced releases at a later date but want to focus on the Eye set to start with.
The good here is that you get everything amongst the eight discs. All six concerts and the DJ set which contains some new, as yet unreleased, studio material. The recordings are decent, certainly highly listenable considering the tight security and high risk involved with taping these shows. The vocals are clear throughout, you never have an issue hearing what is being said or sung. But the music can certainly be muddy at times, especially during the last two nights.
My biggest gripe about the set is the inexcusable inclusion of some of the new material Prince is currently selling on his 3rdeyegirl.com website. It is not like these are songs no longer available from an old site, they have just gone up for sale in the first couple months of the year and to include them here is a new low for Eye. I do not have an issue with the inclusion of tracks streamed for free on YouTube, I am only pointing the finger at the inclusion of songs you can pay a meager 88 cents for to buy directly from the artist. I'm also not fond of the way Eye have broken these shows out between the sets. There is Dakota Diaries One which contains the early shows from each of the three nights. Then Dakota Diaries Two which has the late shows from each night. The best way to listen to these is obviously chronologically so you can hear the progression and differences in each set as they happened and it would have been wiser to lay them out that way on the discs too.
As for the shows themselves, Night One was billed as 'Soundcheck' and also advertised as a new drummer audition. Although speculation was that new drummer would be Hannah Ford, to the surprise of many it instead was Ronald Bruner Jr., or RBJ, making his first public appearance in Prince's band. As expected, the first night was more of a loose jam, a lot of jazz instrumentals and opportunities for individual band members to solo and share the spotlight. Highlights of the early show include an instrumental version of "Muse 2 The Pharoah" featuring some funky guitar work from Prince, and an instrumental take on Andy Allo's "When Stars Collide". The late show had a similar setlist, but RBJ gets a number of solos, at one point causing someone in the crowd to shout 'You're hired!' loudly. "Stratus" features Prince on guitar for the first portion, but then he gives way to allow Andrew Gouche on bass, Cassandra O'Neal on keyboards and members of his horn section to do their thing. The funniest part of the night is when Prince plays the first few notes of "When You Were Mine" on guitar, before saying 'Psyche!' and moving on to a long instrumental jam. It was a night for stretching out musically and improvising around basic structures of songs and makes for an interesting listen for sure.
Night Two was billed as a 'Jam' and featured the same backing band as the first night, with the addition of his three female backing singers and Ida Nielsen on guitar and bass. Prince makes it clear right away that this night will be different as he announces 'Dancing is allowed' at the start of the early show before opening with "Act Of God". The band is certainly tight and there are many funky moments to be had, especially during a mostly instrumental "Housequake", but my biggest problem with this set and the later show on this night is one that has plagued Prince's live show for awhile now. Way too many covers, way too much emphasis on his female backing singers and way too much of a Vegas Revue element to the arrangements. It's hard to get excited over such a watered down version of "Days Of Wild" from the late show, especially when his trio of female singers is turning it into a Broadway number with their 'These are the days of wiiiiiiiiild' three part harmony shtick. The new, seemingly improvised "Chapter & Verse" is of interest, especially once Prince rips into a guitar solo. Overall, I prefer the late show from this night, but it is another example of how much Prince coasts with so many other band members onstage to hide behind. He is turning into George Clinton before our very eyes.
Night Three is the one that held the most promise as it was billed as 'Surprise' and carried with it the highest ticket prices of the three night stand. As anticipated, it marked the debut of Prince's new all female backing band 3rd Eye Girl, Donna Grantis on guitar, Ida Nielsen on bass and Hannah Ford on drums. I will say this for these shows, the band is a bit sloppy, they obviously need more time to gel together, but I will take sets like these any day over the previous nights. Prince is back front and center, where we want him to be, he is handling all the vocals, he is playing lead guitar, the music is stripped down and raw and actually has some excitement to it. Both shows are filled with songs that are a thrill to hear live again, including "Endorphinmachine", "Beautiful Strange", "I Like It There" and "Bambi", which has a killer breakdown. The new single "Screwdriver" is also a welcome addition to the set. These are by far my favorite of the shows, certainly far from flawless, but much more interesting given the setlists and Prince's prominent role.
The most interesting part about the recording of the DJ set from January 19th is the inclusion of three new studio songs played over the PA. "Down" seems to have all the makings of a classic Prince ballad, although like most of Prince's recent work the lyrics are sketchy. "Ain't Gon' Miss U" is pretty funky to my ears and "2 Young 2 Dare" has promise as well. None are played in full, just a couple minute teases of each, so hopefully these will go up for sale sooner rather than later on the 3rdeyegirl.com website. The rest of the night is filled up with one of Prince's sampler sets and tracks spun by DJ Rashida.
Obviously as a document of a historical three night run of concerts in his hometown, this is an essential set to own. It seems better quality recordings of some of the sets are starting to surface and I will touch on those individually in future reviews. But as a one stop shop for all six sets, Dakota Diaries One & Two serve their purpose well. Just remember, in this day and age there is no need to pay for a bootleg. Ever. Even pressed sets can easily be found in lossless quality with a little hunting.