When Prince Showed Off His Jazzy Side on ‘One Nite Alone… Live!’
Picture this: You’re seeing Prince perform live in an intimate theater of under 3,000 attendees during his tour in support of One Nite Alone. He points to you and asks if it’s better to be a leader or a follower. You wisely choose the latter, and he beckons you closer. He asks if he can get you anything. Once you’re comfortable, he proceeds to play a guitar solo just for you.
You may be dreaming, but the scenario happened to one lucky concertgoer, and the moment was captured on Prince’s first official live album, One Nite Alone… Live!, released on Nov. 24, 2002 to members of the NPG Music Club, the online fan club launched in 2001. A retail release followed in December.
The set features two discs of 27 songs compiled from multiple shows. A third disc, One Nite Alone... The Aftershow: It Ain't Over, includes nine tracks from three different after-shows. The material, described by Prince as “real music by real musicians,” draws from his 2001 and 2002 albums, The Rainbow Children and One Nite Alone, as well as older hits.
The album showcases Prince’s jazz sensibilities and strengths as a piano player, particularly through an extended medley on disc two. Another highlight is the New Power Generation band, including John Blackwell on drums, Rhonda Smith on bass, Renato Neto on keyboards, and Maceo Parker, Candy Dulfer, Najee and Greg Boyer on horns.
Though critics were harsh on The Rainbow Children album, they could not deny the impressive musicianship on display at the live concerts. (Glowing reviews are included in the robust booklet for One Nite Alone… Live!)
“People were either with it or they weren't," Najee said regarding Prince’s new musical direction. "Of course, live, the music always came off. It was just always dope."
But the real standout is Prince’s engagement with the audience, which ranges from humorous banter to serious commentary on race and religion. At the time, Prince was studying the Jehovah’s Witness faith.
“The mystery and allure of his performances in years past have given way to a deeper but more extroverted contact with his concertgoers,” engineer Scottie Pakulski wrote in the album booklet. He recorded the performances directly from his soundboard to two-track. “This process is unheard of in today’s world of multi-track recording, overdubs and remixes.”
The liner notes also include an essay from Prince on the corporatization of music, and comments from the NPG.
“The tour meant a lot to me because we were giving the people an important message about God and how important it is to start studying the Bible,” the late John Blackwell said. “We were also out to show the people that real music is still first and foremost.”
Also included are messages from members from NPG Music Club — a testament to Prince’s success in building a profitable business model and engaged fan community through the internet.
“Prince was definitely a pioneer,” said Prince’s former webmaster and art director Sam Jennings, who designed the One Nite Alone… Live! materials. “As far as music distribution goes, Prince was definitely one of the first to fully embrace the channel and say, ‘This is how I want to get to my audience. I don’t want to have any middlemen between me and my fans.’”
And core supporters allowed Prince to stretch himself beyond expectations. So, if you are new to the One Nite Alone… Live! album, heed Prince’s warning, which arrives a few tracks into disc one.
“For those of you who expected to get your Purple Rain on, you’re in the wrong house.”