Small Club
(Moonraker 095/96)

With some artists, collecting bootlegs is pointless obsessiveness, since so few musicians have even one regular album's worth of anything to say. With a select few, though, you simply can't get the whole picture without delving into the hidden legacy. And with Prince, you can barely get a fraction of the picture even if you delve deeply into the unreleased stuff, since his hidden legacies are many.

You could focus on the unreleased studio stuff, which probably eclipses the staggering volume of his actual catalog. But you'd be missing the live experience, for which pretty much any show he's ever played has a decent recording out there somewhere. But then you'd still be missing the aftershow experience, surely the most mysterious corner of them all.

Prince's aftershows hold an almost mythological vibe for fans … the secret late-night shows that aren't even announced, yet word-of-mouth gets out. And the select few who get in are the ones who will get to see Prince really playing … none of that rehearsed arena-show stuff. It's Prince in the moment of creation. And so stories of these shows are passed along like sacred gospels or testimony after infiltrating a secret sect.

And no Prince aftershow is held with more reverence than the one that circulates as Small Club, which most Prince collectors cite as the best Prince bootleg of all time. I don't disagree, though at the same time, it's not my favorite Prince bootleg of all time. The vibe is so dark and intense that I really have to be in the mood to hear it. But man, when it's on … it's some serious fucking shit.

Recorded during the '88 tour (which also produced Livesexy, an entirely different yet about equally enjoyable boot of the standard setlist for that tour), this set finds Prince in Holland, playing a 400-capacity place packed to the gills with sweaty, hard-partying fans. And Prince is not interested in the music anyone wants to hear; this is all about making them hear the music.

The set opens with a long jam almost reminiscent of Santana, into an 8-plus-minute version of "D.M.S.R." that interpolates bits of "America" among other riffs. This track is a great argument that regardless of what he's put us all through (?), Prince is still going down as the most supernatural musical talent since Mozart. The sheer breadth of ideas and styles he manages to integrate – masterfully, mind you – is almost dubious. My theory is that most people who don't like Prince are mostly just afraid to get into Prince.

The best track (and one of his all-time best performances, anywhere, any band, any night) is a spacey, synthy, sexy cover of "Just My Imagination," which must have just melted that fucking club. Anyone lucky enough to have been there on Ecstasy, please write your autobiography.

But then, "People without … use Ecstasy," according to the next song, a creepy polemic that I've never been able to figure out in terms of what it's for or against. Listen to it in the dark, as the clubgoers had to … it's up there with "Revolution 9" as far as songs you don't want to have to hear in the dark.

Somehow, Prince manages to follow that one up with a knock-knock joke (!) ("Knock, Knock." "Who's there?" "Joe." "Joe Who?" "Jo' Mama.") Then into what may be the definitive "Housequake" – BAM, knocking you right on your ass, and now you're havin' fun. A long-ass blues medley follows (mostly "Kansas City"), which was probably needed at that point, just to get people's clothes back on.

The second disc credibly channels the essence of James Brown with "Cold Sweat" and the Staples with a 19-minute "I'll Take You There" that probably literally tore the roof off that motherfucker. I mean seriously, they probably needed to bring in repairmen and call in the investigators to survey the damage. The extended performances contribute to Small Club's best-consumed-infrequently aspect, but when you're up to the challenge, this is music – not just Prince music – at its best. Anyone would be lucky to have a night like this.

Tracklist: Instrumental Jam · D.M.S.R. · Just My Imagination · People Without · Housequake · Down Home Blues · Cold Sweat · Forever In My Life · Still Would Stand All Time · I'll Take You There · Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic

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Review by La Fée