Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Prince: Rave Un2 the Year 2000 (2000)
Studio Line: Image Entertainment

Rave Un2 the Year 2000 with the Artist formerly known as Prince celebrates the joy of life as he performs music from his brand new, critically acclaimed album Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic as well as selections from his vault of smash hits and pop classics. Filmed at Paisley Park Studio in Minneapolis where a multi-piece band, including legendary bass player Larry Graham and members of the Family Stone, join the Artist in this spectacular historical event.

Special guests include Lenny Kravitz, Rosie Gaines, Maceo Parker, and Morris Day & The Time.

Contains The Hits: Let's Go Crazy, She's Always In My Hair, I've Got The Look, Kiss, Purple Rain, Raspberry Beret, The Greatest Romance Romance Ever Sold, 1999, Plus More.

Director: Geoff Wonfor
Cast: Prince
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English DD & DTS 5.1, Digital Stereo; subtitles none; single sided - dual layered; 24 chapters; rated NR; 113 min.; $24.99; street date 10/31/00.
Supplements: Innerviews; Bonus Groovez: George Clinton, Flashlight, Cathy Jensen, The Undertaker (Sax Solo), Jimmy Russell, The Undertaker (Harmonica Solo), Larry Graham, The Artist, NPG - Release Urself; Freedom Newz; Peep This.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/B-/D+

For almost half of my life, I’ve been an active fan of Prince’s work. Although there are many other artists I’ve enjoyed for as long and longer, none of them have tested my patience to such a degree; while the highs have been exceedingly high, the lows have been pretty low. Of all the musical acts I really like, none have shown such radical variations.

Like every other person who turned 17 in 1984, I became a fan of Prince when “Purple Rain” hit. This album still remains his most consistent work. I admit I’ve tired of the record to a degree due to overexposure, but I can’t deny what a brilliant album “PR” is; even the lows are high!

My first concert exposure to Prince occurred in November 1984 during the “Purple Rain” tour. It wasn’t anywhere near as successful as the album that spawned it. Frankly, much of the show was a semi-tedious mishmash - except for the final number. As the concert’s concluding tune, Prince trotted out consistently remarkable versions of the album’s title song. These renditions lasted more than 15 minutes and presented some of the man’s greatest guitar work; Prince has always been terribly underrated as an instrumentalist, and during “Purple Rain” he showed just how majestic his playing truly could be.

Prince’s popularity fell to more mortal levels in 1985 and the rest of the Eighties as music poured out of him at a rate that was atypically high for the music business of that era. Since rock emerged in the Fifties all the way through the Seventies, it was fairly standard for acts to release an album a year - and more during earlier years.

That pretty much ceased by the Eighties, when megahits like “Thriller” and “Born in the USA” each spawned seven Top Ten singles. Record companies saw that one album could be milked indefinitely so they demanded less material from their artists; why go to the trouble to tout an unproven product when an already-established success can be sucked dry?

To the apparent dismay of Warner Bros. Records, Prince refused to comply with that attitude. The release schedules of artists like Michael Jackson or Bruce Springsteen perfectly fit this method; even in the best of circumstances, both take forever to complete new work, so there was never any danger they’d have to compete with themselves.

The same wasn’t true for Prince, however, who zipped out a new album while “Purple Rain” still garnered good sales. “Around the World In a Day” hit the streets in early April 1985 - only about 10 months after “Purple Rain” appeared - and immediately drove away much of the audience he’d gained since June 1984. “Around…” was a much more accessible album than it initially seemed, as its psychedelic framework appeared off-putting to the Purple Drones; “Raspberry Beret”, “Pop Life”, and “Paisley Park” all were nicely-constructed pop songs, and most of the record was fairly good.

However, since it didn’t sound just like “Purple Rain”, it sold much less well; I believe “Around…” moved about 3 million units opposed to the 10 million plus of the earlier album. At that point, Prince’s fan base settled in more clearly. The Purple Drones disappeared and a large but less overwhelming core remained.

Through albums like 1986’s “Parade”, 1987’s “Sign ‘O’ the Times”, and 1988’s “Lovesexy”, Prince maintained his place as one of rock’s biggest stars, but he’d never again approach the heights of 1984. Despite the reduced record sales - which still stayed healthily within platinum range - Prince’s artistic success continued unabated, and he made radical improvements in another area: his live performances.

Unfortunately, US audiences hadn’t seen many on-stage appearances by Prince since the end of the “Purple Rain” in spring 1985. Europe got tours in 1986 and 1987 - we got bupkus. Instead of the real thing, we simply received a tantalizing tease through the concert film version of Sign ‘O’ the Times. In my opinion, that sucker remains the greatest document of a live performance ever recorded. Combine a wonderfully-constructed show with an insanely-tight band - easily the best with which Prince ever worked - and you have this movie, an immaculate piece of material that demonstrates how high Prince could fly at his best.

In 1988, US crowds finally received the full tour we’d awaited for so long, and it was worth it. In support of “Lovesexy”, the show was a virtually flawless tour de force that packed 36 songs into a non-stop, highly-charged performance. (Well, non-stop except for the intermission.) I’ve seen more than 300 concerts in my life, and though Prince isn’t the best live performer I’ve ever seen - Bowie takes that honor, and many others such as Springsteen, U2, and the Stones are above the Purple One on that list - the “Lovesexy” show remains the best tour I’ve witnessed; 12 years later, it remains the standard by which all others are compared.

After the highs of “Lovesexy”, Prince declined over the next few years, though not steeply. In 1989, his soundtrack for Batman was decent but nothing more than that; for the first time since 1979’s “Prince” - his second release - a Prince album could be described as “mediocre”. 1990 produced another soundtrack, this one for his disastrous “sequel” to Purple Rain. “Graffiti Bridge” was much more successful musically than theatrically, but the album was fairly inconsistent and spotty. It had enough highs to easily top “Batman”, but it wasn’t peak Prince nonetheless.

In 1991, we got another inconsistent album, “Diamonds and Pearls”. This record was no better than “Graffiti Bridge”, but it sold well due to hits like “Gett Off”, “Cream” and the title track. 1992 found another release, and probably Prince’s overall-best consistent since “Lovesexy”. The title was a glyph that the world would soon mock. It resembled “0+>” and remains unpronounceable. In any case, the album sold a decent but lackluster total of copies despite a minor hit in “Seven”.

At least “0+>” marked Prince’s return to American stages. Once again he’d avoided the US since 1988. Foreign audiences saw him in 1990 and 1991, but not us; we had to wait until the late winter of 1993 to witness live shows. Stoked beyond belief, I didn’t let a combination of a massive ice storm and a full-leg cast keep me from these shows; I almost broke my other ankle to get there, but I indeed made it to all three DC-area concerts.

And the result was… pretty good. Still high on the fumes of “Lovesexy”, perhaps it was inevitable that anything else would be disappointing. In any case, the shows were definitely solid, and they beat anything that 99 percent of other performers put on stage, but they just weren’t up to the legendary shows of the late Eighties.

I dearly wish that I could state that the mediocre sales of “0+>” and the good-but-not-great shows of 1993 were the low points of this story, but unfortunately, we hadn’t witnessed how far Prince would fall. Actually, “Prince” never sank; instead, it was some guy called “0+>” who collapsed and semi-alienated even die-hard fans like myself.

Prince changed his name to “0+>” not long after the end of the 1993 tour - which ironically always started with a rendition of “My Name Is Prince” - and he never seemed to recover from the intense mockery. Did he care? Maybe, maybe not. All I know if that much of his work over the last seven years has been pretty weak.

1993 was the first year since 1983 not to see a new album from the man, now commonly called “The Artist” (short for “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince”). We got a nice compilations of hits called… uh… “The Hits”. It included some new tunes - such as hard-rocking “Peach”, which he previewed during the 1993 tour - and a few previously-unreleased oldies from the vaults like his version of “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Originally composed for the Family - a Prince-created spin-off from the Time after Morris Day split - and released on their 1985 eponymous album - the song became a smash hit when covered by Sinead O’Connor in 1990. The 3-CD version of “The Hits” also tossed in a disc of B-sides, some of which had never appeared on compact disc; that touch made it even more of a “must-have” for die-hards.

Actually, in this age of “greatest hits” albums that toss in one or two new songs to scare up sales from obsessives like myself, the treasures of “The Hits” seemed fairly generous. That may have been the last time I viewed Prince in such a light, as much of his work since “The Hits” has sorely taxed my patience.

A new album appeared in 1994. Titled “Come”, the work included a couple of decent songs but was easily his most forgettable and anonymous piece since 1978’s debut “For You”. While “Prince” was largely mediocre, at least it tossed in some great tunes like “I Feel For You”, “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, and “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad”. Nothing so compelling appeared on “Come”; frankly, it’s hard to even conjure any of its songs off of the top of my head.

1995 marked an artistic comeback via “The Gold Experience”. This album fit in well with Prince’s inconsistent work of a few years prior, but after the depths of “Come”, the smattering of killer songs made it seem like a masterwork. “P Control”, “Endorphin Machine”, “319”, “Eye Hate U” and “Gold” were all very solid tunes, and the record contained one certifiable classic: “Dolphin”, a killer song that showed the man still had it.

In 1996, we were supposed to get Prince’s ultimate musical statement. After years of whining, he finally got out of his contract with WB and was able to release anything he wanted. (Some speculate - probably correctly - that the name change occurred in an attempt to wiggle out of that earlier deal.) A massive 36-song, 3-CD set, “Emancipation” may have been the victim of absurdly-high expectations, but since most of those were built up by Prince’s declarations, I don’t have much sympathy. In any case, “Emancipation” had its moments - especially the glorious “Holy River” - but was generally a lackluster affair. Had he pared it down to a single album, it could have been very strong, but as a whole, the huge package was less than scintillating.

Actually, 1996 witnessed two releases from Prince. Earlier in the year we’d gotten “Chaos and Disorder”, one in what would become a series of “toss-off” albums intended to satisfy his “oppressive” record contract. Yet another mishmash of mediocrity, the record remains only for the die-hards.

1997 came and went without any album releases, but we did finally get to see a full-fledged tour from Prince. Remember how I liked the 1993 show but found it disappointing? It was a classic compared to the 1997 concerts. Gone was the artist who took chances and challenged his audience. Instead we found someone who played it safe with a show heavily weighed-down with hits. Of the 36 tunes from “Emancipation”, only four - four! - made it into the live set. We got nothing else that predated “Diamonds and Pearls”, and the majority of the show came from the glory days of the Eighties. For someone who used to claim that he was an adventurous and forward-looking artist, this was a stunningly-backwards concert.

And that’s where we’ve stayed for the last three plus years. 1998 saw two releases. One collected some genuine gems from the vaults; “Crystal Ball” was a two-CD set that actually provided a lot of solid listening. The same could not be said for 1998’s original release, “New Power Soul”. Actually credited to the NPG, this album was dead on arrival and fizzled both financially and artistically. Though I listened to it quite a few times, not only is it impossible for me to name one of its songs, but I can’t even conjure melodies from them when I see the titles!

More “fun” followed in 1999 with another compendium of the dregs. “The Vault - Old Friends for Sale” packaged some clunkers and also flopped. A more notable bomb occurred when Prince tossed out another new album, his first genuinely high-profile release since “Emancipation”. “Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic” found him with another major label - Arista this time - but the results were less than stellar. Again, the album had a couple of moments but failed to capture the imagination of fans or grab any new ones.

At least 1998 offered more concerts; 1997 and 1998 featured the most concentrated US action from Prince since the early Eighties. After the full tour of 1997 - which covered the whole country, albeit in a sporadic manner - Prince embarked on a club tour in the spring of 1998. This promised to be something special, and it actually lived up to its billing - for about the first three songs. Prince came out and cranked through some high-voltage renditions of guitar-heavy winners like “Bambi” and “The Ride”, the shows looked like they could actually venture from the safety of the hits and offer something different.

And then came Larry Graham. That’s a name oft-cursed by Prince fans, as his influence seems to have been part of the reason the Purple One has been so mediocre these last few years. The bass player from Sly and the Family Stone, Graham apparently thinks he’s a major talent, and it appears that Prince agrees since he’s featured Graham so prominently in many of his shows. After that opening salvo, the concert quickly collapsed into a form of funky blandness, and though it revived somewhat toward the end, it was too late for the patient to fully recover.

He situation had become so bad that when Prince returned to the area in September 1998, I came very close to skipping the show. A few years earlier, that thought would have been literally unimaginable. In fact, had I not broken my ankle, I would have undoubtedly have hit many out-of-town shows in 1993. Now I was so disillusioned with Prince that I considered missing a local performance.

I went anyway, I got about the same thing I’d seen in other recent shows. For reasons unknown, Prince seemed unwilling to take command of his own concerts. He preferred to hand off to Graham or other guests like Chaka Khan and did too much actual performing of his own. He didn’t appear to understand that none of us bought tickets to see these others; we wanted the little guy himself. As such, Prince’s concerts remained mildly entertaining but generally frustrating experiences for die-hards like myself.

A new century is here, and the situation shows some signs of improvement. I took in a Prince show a few weeks back, and while it lacked daring - the generic hit-fest attitude dominated - at least it also lacked Larry Graham, which is a step in the right direction. Prince - who is finally back to his real name - still handed off too much time to others; his Kenny G-esque sax player spent too much of the night at the forefront - but he seems to remember that we like to see him dance, and the inclusion of a dancer - his first since wife Mayte on the 1993 tour - added a lot of spark to the night.

Will this mark a resurgence in Prince’s talent? Maybe. However, none of this renewed attitude is on display in Rave Un2 the Year 2000, a DVD that documents most of his concert from New Year’s Eve 1999. Larry Graham was in the house, and the disc shows all of the reasons why I’ve found Prince so frustrating over the last few years.

(To those of you who made it through this insanely extended introduction: hello! Thanks for your patience!)

Rave totally typifies Prince’s shows of the late Nineties. It’s insanely heavy on hits. Of the 14 Prince songs on the disc, only two of them appeared after 1991; we get “Baby Knows” and “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold” from the “Rave” album. Even this mix is botched, as the rendition of “Romance” bizarrely combines live footage and the music video. One or the other would have been acceptable, but the combination doesn’t work.

Other than those two tunes plus 1991’s “Gett Off” (misspelled here without the extra “T”), it’s all-Eighties, all-the-time. A couple of the songs - “Raspberry Beret” B-side “She’s Always In My Hair” and a version of “The Cross” (retitled “The Christ”) from “Sign ‘O’ the Times” - aren’t hits, but Prince has played them to death over the years. Except perhaps for “Nothing Compares 2 U”, the other numbers were all worn out a decade ago; they haven’t grown any fresher since then.

Perhaps this is the nit-picking of a long-time fan. How will less serious admirers respond to the content? Probably more positively, though it’s hard to imagine that these tired renditions will impress too many folks. Prior to the 2000 concerts, Prince hadn’t played a full version of “Purple Rain” since 1985. The short edition worked fine within the context of the “Sign ‘O’ the Times” and “Lovesexy” shows but wore out its welcome long before 1999.

Of course “1999” itself appears, in what is allegedly its last public performance. I wish the same were true for all the other warhorses, but it clearly won’t be the case. I wouldn’t mind the setlist so much if the performances were more exciting, but this ain’t the Lovesexy band on stage. It’s a competent but bland combo that does nothing to embellish the songs. The show possesses no true lows, but it also never presents any genuine excitement or flair; late Nineties Prince seemed ready for Vegas, and this DVD documents that man fully.

It also demonstrates his overly-democratic on-stage manner. Rave contains 22 songs, but eight of these come from guests. Even these lack adventure; all are the most safe choices imaginable. We get “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” from the Time - performed just the way they appeared in 1984 - plus “Fly Away” and “American Woman” from Lenny Kravitz. The combination of Prince and Kravitz possessed potential - both are scintillating guitarists - but little spark emerges from the performance.

The remainder of the songs feature an undistinguished mix of Sly Stone tunes once again flogged to death by Graham, and we also get a “Blues Medley” with horn great Maceo Parker. Sorry - it’s still dull stuff.

As with every Prince album I’ve ever bought and every Prince concert I’ve attended, I really hoped to like Rave Un2 the Year 2000. As has been the case with far too much of his recent work, the program seemed sporadically entertaining at best. Prince is one of the great talents pop music has ever seen; his best work reaches heights that almost no one else could even dream of touching. Unfortunately, that artist has rarely been on display over the last decade, and he sure fails to appear on this DVD.

The DVD:

Rave Un2 the Year 2000 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For the most part, the show presented a solid picture, though it displayed some limitations based on the videotaped source material.

Sharpness appeared generally solid, as most of the concert seemed fairly crisp and well-defined. Some softness appeared during wider shots, however, and a vague blandness permeated the picture throughout the show. Some jagged edges appeared during shots of guitars; their strings and curves often create these “jaggies”, and this DVD is no exception, though the roughness seemed fairly minor. The source material betrayed no signs of distinct flaws other than the general drabness that comes from some videotapes.

Colors generally appeared bright and bold, especially in regard to some of the flashy clothes worn by Prince and others; these outfits displayed nicely clear and vivid hues. Colored lighting came across as somewhat heavy, however, which seemed to be another factor due to the limitations of the source videotape. Black levels were generally solid, but shadow detail appeared a little flat; low-light situations often seemed difficult to accurately discern. Ultimately, the image of Rave looked pretty decent but lacked any exceptional qualities.

The same went for the DVD’s soundtracks. The disc features three different mixes: Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 versions plus a Dolby Surround 2.0 edition. Unfortunately, the two 5.1 tracks really aren’t; they both lack almost any evidence of a center channel, so they’re actually 4.1 mixes. How this mistake occurred is a mystery, but there clearly is no center channel usage for the vast majority of the program. (The Dolby Surround mix definitely boasted a center channel.)

Despite that flaw, the audio generally seemed pretty good. The soundfield stuck almost wholly to the forward channels. Stereo imaging seemed somewhat weak at times and the mix tended to be oriented heavily toward the middle, an ironic development considering the absence of a center channel. The situation improved as the show progressed, however, and the audio became more diverse and lively as the concert continued. The rear speakers offered some general reinforcement of the music and seemed to display some discrete percussion and crowd noise but the surrounds seemed fairly passive through most of the show and added little to the experience.

Audio quality seemed decent but unspectacular. Clarity was somewhat weak at times as the track featured music that lacked great dynamic range. I thought the highs and lows were less well-defined than they should have been, which resulted in a lot of sound from the mid-range. The dynamics definitely improved as the show progressed, but the music stayed less broad and engaging than I would have liked. Bass response seemed decent but not very deep. I also found that some vocals appeared somewhat brittle at times. As a whole, the soundtrack was strong enough to warrant a “B-“ grade, but between the absent center channel and the generally bland audio quality, it was a lackluster and disappointed “B-“.

Rave offers a few minor supplements, many of which sound good on the surface but end up as less than compelling. Potentially the most interesting extra comes in the “Bonus Groovez” section, where we find 10 minutes and 20 seconds of additional music. Unfortunately, none of these songs are Prince works. Instead, we find highlights of performances by George Clinton, sax player Cathy Jensen, harmonica player Jimmy Russell, and Larry Graham and the NPG. Prince is in there as well, but the focus remains on the other musicians. Well, there’s one section I’ll never watch again.

“Innerviews” provides eight and a half minutes of sound bites from Prince and a variety of other musicians involved in the performance. Who is the moron who believes anyone actually gives a rat’s ass about this stuff? As is typical of Prince-related productions, the comments border on gibberish and are completely avoidable. Here’s another section I’ll never watch again.

More Prince-oriented inanity appears in the “Freedom Newz” area. Here we get two text pieces: “Work 4 Hire?” and “What Should Be Souled?”. This is yet more babbling from the Purple One about unfair contracts and other financial concerns. Dude, move on with your life and spare us this drivel!

Finally, “Peep This!” presents an ad for the “Newfunk Sampling Series”. This is a $700 CD set that lets you sample Prince tidbits in your music as much as you’d like. I suppose this might be cool for those who need samples, but it’s not high on my Christmas list.

As a long-time and die-hard Prince fan, there was no way I wouldn’t get this DVD. After all, I shelled out big bucks for some Japanese import laserdiscs that only contained a half an hour or so of music apiece; it was a no-brainer for me to drop about $20 on this set.

Nonetheless, I found it lackluster and only moderately entertaining. The DVD depicts Prince in auto-pilot mode, a position he’s taken too often in recent years. We find a slew of hits performed in a less-than-compelling manner, and far too much of the program spotlights uninteresting guest stars. The DVD presents adequate picture and sound - though the latter is flawed due to an apparent mastering error - and gives us some fairly lame extras. Leave this one for the pathetic die-hards like myself; everyone else should pray for a DVD release of Sign ‘O’ the Times.

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