Prince — Live — 3121 Aftershow

3 December 2006 — 3121 Las Vegas


Preface

I wrote this review the day after the concert, posting it on the now dearly departed, and much lamented, Housequake.com.

Folks on the board seemed to like it, and I even received a message from “NPG Records” through the site:

hello,
may we have permission 2 reprint/use ur review about the afterset at 3121
Jazz Cuisine?
thanx in advance
NPG Records/3121

I did indeed give permission, and never heard another thing about it.

These notes, with minor alterations, were used by the whoever produced the bootleg CD of the evening as the liner notes, where I can still hear myself a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ throughout ;-)

I reprint it here in celebration of His Royal Badness’s return to the UK.


The Prelude

First, on the venue itself — the “jazz cuisine” restaurant is physically adjacent to the club, but their public entrances are in totally different places — very far apart, so it takes a minute or two to walk from one to the other.

The restaurant is composed of something like 4 rooms, 2 main rooms, the one nearest the entrance has the kitchen and a small adjunct dining room for about 10 people. The 2nd main room connects the 1st at the far corner, and this is where the miniscule stage was set up — behind that was an atrium.

The 2nd room is a restaurant with about 10-12 tables for maybe 40 people seated, and the stage, set up in the far corner of the room was only about 6 metres square — just enough space for a drum kit, keyboard and mike, with maybe two people standing on it at once.

(We actually had dinner in the restaurant before the main show and whilst I did not see the band at that point, being near the public entrance in the first room, I could hear that remato neto and maceo parker sat in for a spell or two. Food is pretty tasty to be honest, though it is pretty pricey to match.)

So, the way it went down was this — as noted by several folks, Prince refered to the possibility of playing “next door” and “till 5am” several times during the main concert.

When 3121 (the song) was done with in the main concert, I decided to stake my place in the restaurant on the off-chance that he was telling the truth and scooted through the casino to tell the wait staff that we would like some food.

At this point, around 2.30, the place was completely empty — the waiting person took us in, and tried to sit us in the 1st room — i.e. that without the stage — a polite but firm “no thanks” had us placed in the room with the stage, we were over to towards the atrium side, about 3 metres from the stage.

From the noise coming from the club, it was clear that the blighter was doing more encores, but we stuck to our guns more or less, and waited it out — a couple more folks arrived to take up positions at their tables — Lisa and John, I believe were there names, and we chatted about the economics of running the place, how long he would be in Vegas and all that whilst the show wound up next door.

We could hear the baseline of Purple Rain rumbling through the walls and floors.

Once that was all wrapped up, a few more folks appeared, and were all seen to their tables — it really was a restaurant, rather than a concert — no-one bum rushing the stage, or standing — just sitting, ordering food and drink and generally taking it cool.

I got up to go to the bathroom and just as I made it to the connection of the two rooms, Prince strides right towards me, coming straight into the room with a couple of bodyguards and friends.

I stand to one side (seemed rude not to) and declared “after you, sir” (as will become apparent later, I can’t help but call him “sir” when speaking to him ;-)

He then strides in, sits and the nearest open booth — of which there are still several — and declares “bring us food!”

After a little while, chatting and such like, he then departs through the rooms far exit, towards the atrium.

We are now really starting to believe that this is going to happen, and whilst it is horrendously late, and we have an early flight, and we are tired after the long show, we start getting really excited.

Various bits of equipment make their way from the club — the bass amp, a keyboard (with gaffer tape on the back, apparently holding it together), and various guitars and effects, guitar amp etc.

Members of the band start to appear to check their stuff — Renato on keys, Josh on the bass, no-one for horns — throughout the entire show, both horns and drums are unamplified — it is that small a room that it does not need it.

At about 3.10 the tables are full — apart from one right next to the atrium and the stage, where the band have installed themselves.


The Jazz Jam

Prince at around 3.10 or so comes into the place, to cheers and clapping — I shout out “Bravo Maestro” (I am horrendously pretentious) and as I do, he starts laughing and playing it up, with mock bows, and generally soaking up the attention.

He installs himself in the band’s table, alongside DJ Rashida (who accompanies him all night), initially looking out into the room, but this gives him no view of the stage, so he swaps sides, has his back to most of the room, but is right next to the stage, and can call out instructions, or lean in for a word with someone as the fancy takes him.

He is wearing a full length cream trench coat, similar to that he had on at the Versace show — though with more detail in the cut. He has his collar up. Underneath this, he is wearing a pale blue version of the outfit he wore to the UK Hall of Fame induction. He has some very bling, kind of jewel-encrusted looking shoes, with trademark heels. He looks immaculate.

Let me be clear about this, the place is tiny, there are maybe 50 people max in the room — it is like a large living room kind of size — Prince is wandering about freely between tables, security is super-low key. Everyone is just playing it all too cool for school, and it is completely amazing.

Mike Phillips gets up with Cora, Josh and Renato — and they launch off into the first jam — kind of jazz improvization (according to Non Troppo, this was Thelonious Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser”) — very funky.

Prince is kind of up and down at this stage, sometimes there, sometimes out of the room. (Josh is sitting on the edge of the stage next to his bass amp — there is not enough room for him to stand on stage.)

After that, Renato leads the band into a super-sweet jazz version of “Gotta Broken Heart Again” — I am guessing that this was a favourite from the ONA tour — and he does a really nice job on it. Solos from Mike, Renato (excellent) and Maceo.

Then Mike kicks off into a version of “So What” — the band is unbelievably tight. Cora and Josh, who I must admit to having been sceptical about previously, are really excellent — both are super solid, not flashy, but highly skillful. Josh in particular seems musically “self-effacing” but is so fluid, fast and firm in laying down the track’s foundation.

Anyways, Greg takes a trombone solo (I love that guy), Mike takes a solo, Prince tweaks his amp, sits on the stage’s edge and takes a guitar solo, Renato solos, Josh solos, Greg and Cora trade licks, Maceo steps up to round it out, the Mike takes them back into the lead line and all the horns wrap it up nice and super tight.

Prince declares “I’m in heaven”, Mike thanks Prince for arranging 3121 “real music for real musicians”. People are loving it — I am in music nirvana — “Prince plays Miles” — holy crap! Has he ever been played that song in public before?

Something is not quite right with his guitar, though, and as the next track gets going, techs start fiddling about with it, and wheel in another set-up from the club.

The next track is a funk jam. Prince takes his seat, looking out over the band. This track feels really familiar, but I can’t place it, so I turn around behind me to ask one of his security guards (seated in a booth near the non-public exit) the name of the song. He says, “I don’t know — ask him…”, gesturing to Prince.

I am, to be honest, shocked by this — I thought security people were supposed to stop people from interacting with the “Principal”? That and I think it not a good idea — what if it disturbs his enjoyment, he gets up and leaves, and everyone then completely hates me?

But as I look round quizzically to the guard, he says it again — “go ask him” — so I cross the 4 feet between me and Prince, touch him on the shoulder and say “hello there, sir! what’s the name of this song?”, to which he replies “I dunno” ! (I thought he had a degree in Musicology ;-)

Not wishing to further impose, I strategically withdraw.

Anyways, it was nonetheless superbly cool to have a chance to say hello, even if the conversation was A) short and B) not that informative ;-)

Maceo solos, Prince goes and fiddles with his new amp set up, Greg and Mike both take solos too. (According to Non Troppo, this track was “The Chicken”, an old JB’s (James Brown’s band) instrumental cut in the late ’60's.)

The band is on fire.

Prince moves Renato off the keys and takes them himself, and plays a break that I know, but cannot place — though at the time I am convinced it is from “The Munsters”.

(Thinking about it, I believe that the break was from a keyboard part in the middle of “Dionne”, from “The Truth” — the bit referred to when he says “dance to Mancini”.)

They set off on another funky jam number (maybe “Sing a Simple Song”? — several folks said this was played), Prince leading on keys, Mike getting some serious vocorder action, then Morris Hayes coming back in on keys (after being tracked down by DJ R, at Prince’s request). Freed up, Prince now takes on the guitar and lays it down, upping the tempo considerably.

A key change moves the song into what I believe is “More Bounce to the Ounce” — the funky side of things is really coming on now.

The next number is really kind of strange — Prince was not around for the first time, so installs Renato back on keys, and they run through “Gotta Broken Heart Again”, again — I guess Prince really likes Renato’s version of this.

Prince has not sung at all throughout the show — and hearing this again, I have to strongly supress a desparate urge to shout “sing!” at him — he does such a good job on this song.

When it comes time for Renato’s solo, Prince calls out to Cora and Josh to move to double-time, upping the funkiness once again, and Maceo jumps back in, when Renato is done.

Towards the very end of the song, Prince says “testing, one, two” through the two mikes that are set up on the stage — the only time he “sings” the entire show.


The Funk Jam

Prince then takes off his coat and takes up his guitar and, facing the band, and away from the audience, runs through a couple of licks — the first a snatch of “When you were mine”, then some more more noodling about, before settling on a fantastic version of “Brick House”.

Prince is really leading things now, and it is just him, Morris (I believe), Cora and Josh for the most part — though Maceo takes a solo or two.

Time is also getting on — it must be about 4.45, so he ups the tempo to round the show out.

The song then morphs into “Skin Tight” and I am totally grooving — Prince is taking his guitar right up to people’s tables as he plays.

The room has also filled in a little more at the section where it joins the other main dining room — there are now maybe another 30 people standing in the connecting entrances, making a grand total of maybe 70 people (!)

As the song shift gear again, into “Love Rollercoaster” I can no longer confine myself to my seat and just get up and start dancing, as several other folks have and, to my eternal delight, Prince looks over at me, checks me out, and gives me a good point out for my “groover’s maneuvers”. Sweet as you like!

Wrapping that up, he then calls out “What is Hip” and the band launches into a truly ferocious version of the song, with Prince’s guitar lead taking most of the melody, instead of a voice — I do love this song, and this version is just killer — the band seem to love being just so super tight.

As the song ends, Prince hands his guitar to one of the people at the table directly adjacent to the stage, and gets someone to wave their hat over it to cool it down.

The crowd goes nuts, Prince wanders about a little, but then wraps things up with a “thanks for coming”, Cora and Josh get some serious audience appreciation, and I am as happy as can be.

It is just past 5am.


Reflections

3121 Las Vegas

I have to say that I was pretty sceptical about the whole Vegas thing — and there was a lot about the whole set-up that I was not keen on — Las Vegas is not a nice place, and the Rio is not all that nice either.

That said, the restaurant was good, and the club format // layout is very cool. It is a huge circle, with table seating on two raised levels, where people who get the VIP package, or table service, can sit. (They should advertise the VIP thing more too — I was not really aware of it, despite being a rabid Housequaker, and I would probably have bought it, had I known — dinner at the restaurant, concert tickets and a table with champagne!).

The main concert was very cool — although, we were right at the back, and it being a round room, the place did not have the best acoustics for us.

“3121" is absolutely killer live — he did such a good version of this. Really liked “Black Sweat” too — Prince did some deep keyboard grooves at the opening of this song.

It was kind of odd to have Renato, Greg, and Maceo back in the band (creating a horn section, with Mike Phillips) — and Rhonda came on in “3121" for a solo — does Prince now think that the ONA band was one of his best, and is trying to re-form it?

Or is he just bringing players in for fun? Will he be bringing back other folks from his past bands — Michael B, Sonny T, Sheila E, Brown Mark, dare I say it, Wendy and Lisa?

That would be very cool indeed.

I do wonder though, how long he will have to do this for — it looks like the Rio has invested quite a bit in this whole thing, and I can’t see how 1000 people two nights a week can bring in all that much revenue to keep a band // club running for weeks on end? And how long will it take to re-coup the investment, from the Rio’s point of view?

I think he might have to be there for a while — though what do I know?

The Aftershow

This was my 4th, after Bagley’s ’93, Emporium (2nd night) ’95, Marquee ’04 — short of Prince coming to my house and singing me “happy birthday”, I could not have wished for a more intimate concert.

I kind of get the impression that this format was much more like the 3121 thing that he ran at his house in LA — really small, no barriers between artist and audience, playing whatever takes his fancy to appreciative and knowledgeable folks.

It must be a little tough to have to be “Prince” all the time, and I get the sense that this was what it was about for him — just playing great music without format or necessity to please anyone but himself and his friends. He did not play once Prince song this whole show (though the band played “Gotta …” (twice!?!)).

That said, it really was the most amazing Prince concert I have ever witnessed — the musicianship was superb — but it was the burning passion for excellence that really made the difference — they wanted to kick musical ass really hard — and they did.

Whilst I am sad that it was probably not recorded for posterity, I am so glad that I could be there to be a part of it.

And thanks to Prince, for just being so cool (even if he didn’t know the name of the jam I asked him about ;-)


P.S. “Non Troppo” was the username of someone on the site who provided more details about the set list after the initial review was posted — I am reasonably sure it was Prince, or someone from his band making up for their earlier omissions.