SOTT day 20: Touring Sign “O” The Times by @EdgarKruize

So, here we are folks. Another #PrinceTwitterThread interlude. We have had wonderful threads about side 1 to 3 of the “Sign O’ The Times” album the past couple of days. Before we continue with side 4 I want to take a side step and talk about the 1987 tour for a while.

Or actually, to properly tell this story we need to go back to 1986 for a while. As during the final Prince and the Revolution tour songs from the “Sign O’ The Times” era started to surface live.

For instance the “Hot Thing” lyrics were already cited in Osaka and Yokohama in 1986, as mentioned by @Neo_Manifesto a few days ago.

Also some of thee “Sign O’ The Times” lyrics were incorporated into “Pop Life” in Osaka 1986.

And the most famous example of a “Sign O’ The Times” song making in onto a “Parade” era setlist is “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night”. Or actually… we should say that the “Parade” era performance made its way onto the “Sign O’ The Times” album.

Listen to the final version here:

There is a lot to say about that performance and the way it eventually became the last time The Revolution got credited on a Prince album. But @polishedsolid will dive into that in her thread in a couple of days and I don’t want to steal her thunder.

I do want to say though that it is in that performance that you can hear that The Revolution as a live band has taken Prince as far as he can go with them. He needs to move on as they are unable to breathe life into the song. And that’s where the 1987 band comes in.

Actually, we have to step back to 1985 for its origins as Levi Seacer Jr. and Sheila E. started jamming with Prince as part of a possible new band (‘The Flesh’). Eric Leeds was part of that as well.

Sheila and Eric (both from the Bay area) had been part of Prince’s entourage for a while at that point, Levi had auditioned as guitarist for The Family, got the job, but eventually got sidetracked for future projects.

When the 1987 band was assembled, he brought Eric Leeds (sax), Atlanta Bliss (trumpet) and Miko Weaver (guitar) from the extended version of The Revolution, as well as dancers Wally Safford and Greg Brooks.

Also new in the band was dancer Cat Glover, who also played an important part in the 1987 visual style. @deejayumb elaborated on that already.

The only core Revolution member that was transferred to the new band was keyboard and synth wizard Matt ‘Dr.’ Fink. Sheila E. brought in Boni Boyer (keys and vocals).

Sheila herself had just finished her third solo album and she did not want tot tour as a solo artist at the time. Also she had the long wish of touring as a proper drummer for a while. So she was brought in on drums and as a band leader.

Sheila had been rehearsing with the band for some time early 1987, getting them ready before Prince joined them for rehearsals. The transition in bands went so quick that this was absolutely necessary.

Go figure, the new band debuted on March 21, 1987 at First Avenue. This was little over five (5!) months since The Revolution was disbanded. In such a short time that band had to be drilled to be as tight as The Revolution was, learn a gazillion songs and choreography.

That March 21, 1987 gig Prince introduced his band as ‘his new friends’. This new phase in his career actually also marked the last time he would be playing First Avenue for over two decades.

This is a show many fans have known and loved for ages as it has been circulating on audio and video since the late 1980s. What you can hardly see in the video is that the stage set also used the backdrop that is on the “Sign O’ The Times” album cover.

Also, the show signifies a ‘rebirth’. The ornament @deejayumb already wrote about in a previous #SOTTDELUXE thread is fixed on Sheila’s drum set and the center point of the stage.

In April 1987 the production moved to Europe, where rehearsals began in Birmingham. LeRoy Bennett had designed a stage that resembled the album cover, making that album cover part of a larger cityscape.

The production was moved to Sweden late April 1987, where the tour premiered in Stockholm on May 8, 1987. Part of the band (Levi Seacer, Jr., Dr. Fink and Eric Leeds) also doubled as support act as (along with drummer Dale Alexander) they became the live incarnation of Madhouse.

If you want to know more about that, check this Madhouse roundtable segment of @polishedsolid’s #SOTTSDC event, in which @drfink1980 Dr. Fink reminiscences about those support act shows.

Fans were asked to wear ‘peach and black’ to the concerts. Check out this footage from Rotterdam in 1987. Some are dressed accordingly, some are not.

I especially like this older guy in the same broadcast. The reporter says ‘you are old enough to have seen The Beatles' and the man replies: ‘Exactly and that’s why I’m here. In ten years time I don’t want to say that I did not see Prince as well.’

The main shows opened with Prince emerging from the smoke on stage all alone and bursting into a guitar solo before the “Sign O’ The Times” beat started and he would start playing the song.

It is possible Prince took inspiration from the Talking Heads movie “Stop Making Sense”, in which David Byrne also starts the show all alone backed by a rhythm machine, while eventually the band members appeared on stage.

When the smoke cleared, Matt Fink turned out to be on stage as well, providing the “Sign O’ The Times” rhythm track, while Cat Glover danced in the clouds of smoke. As the opening song progressed the rest of the band entered the stage as a marching band, lead by Sheila.

You probably all know from the SOTT movie how that looks and you might have seen it happen during the MTV Awards 1987 performance. Here is a picture from Utrecht 1987, where you see the band entering the stage during the show performance.

As a kid I was lucky enough to see one of the shows in Utrecht. It later turned out to be the shortest concert in the tour (the weather was abysmal) but I was blown away by it. It changed my world forever.

Following “Sign O’ The Times” the band bursts into “Play In The Sunshine” and what follows is a concert that draws heavily on the “Sign O’ The Times” album, with only a handful of hits and covers thrown in between. A bold artistic statement.

If you want to read about the actual show, here’s my in depth blog about that:

As spectacular as the show was, one thing really stands out in all shows and that is the finale/encore: “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night”.

Where the album version, recorded with the Revolution in 1986, feels stiff and forced, the 1987 band really makes the song pop, with Prince as a musical director using the band as an instrument and often stretching the song way beyond the 10 (sometimes even 15) minute mark.

Although there were some slight variations here and there, the setlist for the shows was pretty fixed. Some would say this tour was more like a stage play than an actual concert. I can see where they are coming from.

“The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker” (paired with Madhouse’s “Four”) or Sheila E’s “Soul Salsa” made rare appearances, but ‘different’ songs in the set were rare. The only time Prince and band would really stretch the musical muscles was during aftershow performances.

Prince had done an occasional aftershow with The Revolution, but it was with this band that the now famous aftershows that defined a large part of his career as a stage performer really took off. No less than seven were played during the 34 date European tour.

Quite often the aftershows were billed as a Madhouse performance, with Prince showing up after the Madhouse set . That must have been especially exhausting for the musicians that also played in Madhouse, as they were basically playing 4 shows in a row on those nights.

The European tour was a big success, Prince was at the peak of his popularity in that part of the world. The outdoor stadium shows were marred by bad weather though and eventually made him decide to cancel all remaining outdoor shows and cut the tour short.

More on that in the thread about the “Sign O’ The Times” movie, that will be posted in four days.

Most people involved say that Prince’s decision to cancel not only the remainder of the European tour but also the US leg of the “Sign O’ The Times” tour may have been the biggest professional mistake in his career. But some things don’t quite add up. Bear with me…

For starters, the American tour was supposed to start in August 1987. But when the European tour got cancelled it was already late June 1987. The final show was on June 29 in Antwerp, Belgium. How come no US dates had been announced (or even rumoured) by then?

I referred to the #SOTTSDC panels earlier in this thread, check out this one about the Utrecht show as well, in which @PrinceVault editor @jooZt_M states that he has never seen a 1987 US tour itinerary.

Some of the 1987 tour itineraries have surfaced in online auctions and none of them have mentioned a possible US tour. Did Prince ever actually plan to go on tour? Or has that entire tour been an urban myth?

I’m not in the position to say if it was a mistake or not, but we can also approach it in a different way. What if he had toured the US? What impact would that have had on his body of work?

Stuff that might not have been released would be the Kid Creole and the Coconuts single “The Sex Of It” and the second Madhouse album “16”, although you could argue these were recorded in (late) July 1987 and ‘the tour that never happened’ was supposed to start in August.

By the time he was supposed to be on tour, Prince started working on the draft of a new movie: “Graffiti Bridge”. Madonna was supposed to have a role in that (playing a character called Ruthie Washington) and she visited Minneapolis to talk things through.

That version of “Graffiti Bridge” eventually fell through, but one could argue that the movie we eventually got would not exist had Prince toured the US in 1987. Maybe I quite like the alternative timeline where that would have happened…

“Graffiti Bridge” is also mentioned in the song “Eye No” and that was recorded in December 1987, along with many “Lovesexy” songs. I won’t dive into that, but “The Black Album” as it was compiled and subsequently “Lovesexy” would not have existed either in this timeline.

But what keeps bugging is that Prince kept rehearsing for a concert tour, even when the “Sign O’ The Times” movie supposedly had already ‘replaced’ a US tour. Why would he do that?

On September 5th, 1987 Prince played at Rupert’s in Golden Valley (near Minneapolis) and he basically played the standard “Sign O’ The Times” show, with a few extra tracks (for instance “The Sex Of It” and James Brown’s “Mother Popcorn”) thrown in.

On September 11, 1987 Paisley Park was officially opened, but on that day Prince also played the opening segment of the tour (“Sign O’ The Times” and “Play In The Sunshine”) at the 1987 MTV Awards. A strange choice, why not play a more current single like “U Got The Look”?

Watch the September 11, 1987 MTV Awards performance here. It's fun!

On November 18, 1987 Prince played a well known rehearsal of what eventually would become the New Year’s Eve show (part of the “Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Edition”). That show includes new songs and segments that eventually would end up in the “Lovesexy” tour.

But “Lovesexy” was not even envisioned at that point. And without a doubt this was one of many rehearsals (we know of this particular one because it is circulating) as the choreography and execution of songs like “Erotic City” and “Adore” during that NYE show is tight.

Also there is this MTV report about the “Sign O’ The Times” movie premiere in November 1987. The host announces both the release of “The Black Album” in December 1987 and the start of a US tour in January 1988.

So what if the US tour had always been supposed to start in January? And the concert movie was not a ‘replacement’, but just a teaser to warm the crowds? And then Blue Tuesday came and went and THAT was the actual reason he shifted his focus away from a US tour?

Then again… have we ever seen a early 1988 tour itinerary? No, but we do know a show in Ames, Iowa has been announced for January 28, 1988. That could not have been a ‘stand alone’ concert, now could it?

Especially now that we have finally been able to see the complete New Year’s Eve 1987 show there is pretty solid evidence that they had been rehearsing this expanded “Sign O’ The Times” tour set for ‘something’.

And that ‘something’ was probably not that one-off show for friends and family at Paisley Park and a somewhat random show in Iowa, weeks later.

In the various writings and podcasts issued by the Estate, the New Year’s Eve show is often labeled ‘the final “Sign O’ The Times” show’. I kinda disagree on that. The setlist was partly identical, the backdrop was there, and yes, it had also been performed on September 5th.

But the last time the full production was set up and performed the way it was envisioned (as a musical stage play instead of a ‘concert’), was on June 29 in Antwerp. Playing one-offs featuring the same songs is not continuing a tour. To me this tour is a strictly European affair.

And due to the fact the British shows were cancelled and a few more in the Netherlands were added, some call it ‘the tour that only took place in the Netherlands’. As a Dutchie I find that amusing, but it is a bit of a stretch.

What is true though is that in 33 years the fans have never heard a complete soundboard recording of a regular “Sign O’ The Times” show and we have never seen a complete concert from that era professionally filmed (no, I’m not counting the movie – more on that in 4 days).

So having both of those things as part of the “Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Edition” is pure joy. And since the #PrinceTwitterThread series has not yet arrived on side 4 of the album, why not indulge yourself with some stellar live music?

Check out the Utrecht concert here:

And while I wrap things up, check out (part of) the NYE show here:

A very special thanks to @deejayumb, @CaseyRain, @RhondaNicole_, @scottwoodssays, @arrthurr, @TrickyKid2, @joemuggs, @8minutesidle, @Neo_Manifest, @Miss_EThompson, @CasciTRitchie, @9t99, @PressRewindPod, @ehphd, @dmsrblog, @bobbyfriction, @polishedsolid and @RichardCole_NOW.

Without them (and earlier contributors in other series) these #PrinceTwitterThread series would be worthless. It is a true joy reading all of their insights and views on music and I love how it brings people from all over the world together to discuss and share.

Thanks @jooZt_M for your ever critical eye!

We’ll see you again tomorrow, when @bobbyfriction opens the series of “Sign O’ The Times” side 4 threads with his take on “The Cross”.

Peace!

Originally tweeted by Edgar Kruize (@EdgarKruize) on 29 October 2020.