[…continued from last post]
After the last disc of Prince live in Detroit in November, 1982, I was wondering just how redundant the video included as the final disc in the set would be. The show recorded on video for the DVD was about a month out from the Detroit date on the first leg of the “1999” tour. How different could it be? I watched the DVD eager to see what I had missed 38 years earlier.
Prince: 1999 SDLX box disc 6 – Live In Houston 12/29/82 – US – DVD 
- Let’s Work
- Do Me, Baby
- Piano Improvisation
- How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?
- Lady Cab Driver
- International Lover
What was immediately apparent about the concert video was that it was definitely a piece of its time. The show was probably recorded to U-matic video. The quality was better, but not that much better, than VHS. It looked like pro level video tech of the era. It was definitely shot with a multi-camera setup! It had a lot of analog grit to it. There was no doubt a hell of a lot of time-base correction going on to render these nearly 40 year old tapes viewable. There were video dropouts occasionally. The audio sounded like a mix of soundboard and acoustic pickup.
Duane Tudahl was in charge of the restoration for DVD, with Niko Bolas in charge of the audio. David Dieckmann edited this and each of these pros really pulled a rabbit out of their hat to get the end product behaving as nice as it does. Fans like to moan about why this or that 40 year old concert video isn’t on blu-ray but such a thing is technically a pipe dream. This video had maybe 330 lines of horizontal resolution if it was shot on U-matic SP. But that’s all right because it was Prince in front of the camera! This DVD looks like what may have been a bootleg video in the 80s except for the sophistication of the multi-camera setup. It was not “directed” up front, but was edited to make a pretty damned hot video for our eyes a few generations later. The end product had a dreamlike, illicit feel due to the technical challenges leapfrogged to bring it to us today. There’s not even a menu or any DVD user interface. You put it in and it plays.
I loved the fact that the show had not been lit for video, but presented it with theatrical lighting as the audience saw it. So some of this meant that the stage was black except for strobes throbbing to the beat with star filters. Or the stage was bathed in a blue so deep you could barely see the star dressed in purple. For “Controversy,” Prince was seen only in silhouette until the song ended and he slid down the Batpole® for “Let’s Work.” But when he performed “Let’s Work” and said “watch me work” all eyes would follow that man moving on the stage like a genius.
The set still opened with a smoking hot duo from “Controversy” but the pacing and song order was pretty different from the audio CD on disc 5. Obviously, Prince liked to mix things up. Maybe the biggest change here was the inclusion of him performing a piano improv after Lisa Coleman’s synth intermezzo. He sat down at the electric piano and riffed with something of a boogie woogie feel to it before settling into the showpiece of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” The Live CD stretched this one out to twice its length. He did the same here, with teasing lines ad-libbed to the audience. And when I say ad-libbed, I mean that he really threw down almost a completely different rap for three minutes before the last two lines wrapped it up in the same fashion as he did a month earlier in Detroit. Color me purple… and impressed that he didn’t just have a rote structure to this vamping. Of course, he still held the audience in the palm of his hand.
The main improvement on this DVD to the live album is that you can see all that he was doing on the stage! On seeing the presentation of “International Lover” we now knew why we didn’t hear Prince for the last third of the song as he was back on the 2nd floor thrusting his pelvis towards the brass bed while the band created beautiful music together. Sure, it was a hot performance of the music, but seeing the guy do mid-air splits in his heels, even at the youthful age of 24, was jaw-dropping. And he wasn’t the only hot mover on stage. Bassist Mark Brown was no slouch in the move-busting department either. Seeing the look on Dr. Fink’s face when he played the solo to “Head” was worth the price of admission. This show may be a little rough around the edges compared to what we expect from a concert video now, but no one would tear their eyes from the screen when this was on. Prince was riveting, and he molded his band for as much impact as he could get from them, musically and visually.
This box caught up with Prince at the end of a three album arc where he had made a leap from a technician going through the motions professionally, to being an artist. Listening to his first two albums reveals a precocious talent emulating [single-handedly] the best that his peer group had to offer. Maybe Stevie Wonder could do as much by himself in the studio. The first two albums were professional, accomplished R+B product with tentative forays into Rock, but little more. Prince was making sure to use all 48 tracks available to him because he’s Prince. And he had a lot to prove at a very young age.
His game changed radically with his third album, “Dirty Mind.” One can dramatically hear the influence of Punk and New Wave resulting in the artist stripping things down drastically from the rococo swells of “For You” and “Prince.” Prince had eyes on not being pigeonholed as a “black” artist from the very beginning and he wisely sought a path to a sound that could be his for the taking. Looking back to Sly Stone and his fusion of Rock, R+B, and Funk a decade earlier, it was not for nothing that Prince formed a band as racially and sexually mixed as The Family Stone had been. Then he stopped his apprenticeship and began to act like a master. Forging a provocative sound with the numerous tools at his disposal.
The albums “Dirty Mind,” Controversy” and “1999” were a developmental arc where he gained my attention in a big way as he was synthesizing new strains of pop music to provide a foundation for the 80s. “Dirty Mind” were the bold first experiments in this new form. “Controversy” was his consolidation and extension. And the fecund “1999” period had the artist with his home studio built as the governors to his recording speed were well and truly cast off as he could now record 24/7 with impunity. And this “1999” SDLX box presents a lot of music for what amounted to a six to eight month period in his creative life.
In the final album, we can agree that he reached a peak of consistent form in a double album of 12″ dance singles even while he was recording the foundations of parallel careers for his protege bands which were actually like Prince shell companies. Bands in name only but the handiwork of Prince almost completely. The “1999”‘ tour was like a Dick Clark 60s pop caravan tour where all of the music had been written and recorded by this one man. And the Vault showed that it was just the half of it. He was imagining music that would manifest in albums two to four albums into the future. He was running a multidimensional creative campaign for three brands extending half a decade into the future. Was there another musician with a vision this penetrating?
At the end of the 70s, fat and spoiled Rock bands were blowing half a million dollars creating a self-indulgent studio opus every five years as the ideal by this time and Prince was running corkscrews around the likes of Fleetwood Mac even as he simultaneously managed to green-light Stevie Nicks re-write of “Little Red Corvette” as “Stand Back” and still drop down to the studio to deliver 20 minutes Oberheim synth magic on the master by his bad self! I say that no performer has ever been on a streak this hot, ever.
So when I had the opportunity to buy a mint copy of this “1999” SDLX box for 60% above retail price, I jumped on it. I’ve been listening intently to almost nothing but this for the last two months. And I’m here to proclaim that I absolutely got my three figures of satisfaction out of this already! And I’m looking forward to the notion that maybe we can one day get a similar box for “Dirty Mind” and “Controversy,” though I’m not holding my breath. Back then Prince used pro studios and the cost was a prohibitive factor to laying down Vault tracks for the one day when they might be used. But a Monk can dream!
So “1999” was the exclamation point on the first flourish of a career arc that swept up Prince into the New Wave and placed him on the precipice of superstardom. A place he would readily conquer with his next album even as it proffered a more eclectic mixture of Rock and Pop with the New Wave DNA ebbing back as he left that subculture to conquer the mainstream. He would never be quite as important musically to me as he was in the ’80-’82 period but that’s not to say that I have no time for the rest of it. Not by a long shot. That $160 box of “Sign O’ The Times” with three Vault discs is now calling out to me like a siren. The more I hear from The Vault, the more amazed I am. We’ll see where we are when it comes out on Sept 25th.
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