You could spend hours watching clips of Prince in concert on YouTube: singing “Purple Rain” in a downpour at the Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show, re-imagining Radiohead’s “Creep” as an eight-minute power ballad while headlining Coachella, crashing George Harrison’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction to play the climactic guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with such purple-hot intensity as to wipe the stupid white-boy-blues look off of Marc Mann’s face. Even as the quality of Prince’s studio recordings ebbed, the man always brought the thunder live. But it wasn’t until the beginning of 2003 that he released his first live album.

While recording The Rainbow Children (2001)—a peculiar work in his discography that embraced a jazzier sound and more spiritual lyrics—Prince started and finished work on One Nite Alone…, which that featured little more than the artist singing and playing piano. He released this album in the middle of his One Nite Alone… Tour, but only to members of the NPG Music Club, who received it in the mail in May 2002 or were gifted it when they purchased the One Nite Alone… Live! box set that December. For a long time, the only way to hear these songs was via file-sharing site or bootlegs. Now, One Nite Alone… is finally seeing a wide release, both as its own slab of vinyl and with One Nite Alone… Live! as a part of the new Up All Nite With Prince: The One Nite Alone Collection CD box set.

Listening to One Nite Alone… in 2020, it’s impossible not to compare it to Piano & a Microphone 1983, exhumed from Prince’s fabled vault of unreleased material in 2018. (Both albums include gorgeous covers of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” though the version on One Nite Alone… is more than twice as long.) But where Piano & a Microphone was a collection of demos recorded in a single take, One Nite Alone… is a proper studio album that still feels, at times, like a collection of demos. The staccato piano chords of “Have a Heart” would have translated well into a spiky, strutting guitar riff, while “Young and Beautiful” feels almost like an early version of “Pop Life” or “Strange Relationship.” And though “Avalanche” presents an intriguing lyrical concept, questioning the motives of Abraham Lincoln and John Hammond, as a piece of music it just feels unfinished—something that would have made more sense in a louder, angrier form.

Other songs benefit from the minimalist approach. The title track wouldn’t have the same gravity if it weren’t Prince alone in a pale blue spotlight, and the instrumental flourishes on “Here on Earth” and “A Case of U” give the songs just enough body without weighing them down. “Pearls B4 the Swine” is an interesting case—its subtle bongos and guitar offer a glimpse of what it might’ve sounded like with a full band, but there’s enough funk in its stripped-down form to have you tapping your foot as you’re listening to it. In its best moments, One Nite Alone… is muted but sultry, and even if it didn’t directly influence them, you can hear its sound echoed by artists like Blood Orange and Moses Sumney. It’s music for a day when the rain isn’t purple, but grey.

Compiled from nearly a dozen shows, One Nite Alone… Live! is a fascinating and, at times frustrating, document of Prince in concert. (Up All Nite With Prince also includes a DVD of Live at the Aladdin Las Vegas, recorded two weeks after the One Nite Alone… Tour concluded.) There is no “Purple Rain” or “Little Red Corvette” on the setlist; half of the 10 songs on the first part of the set are from The Rainbow Children, which is nobody’s favorite Prince record. Nearly an hour passes before the band plays anything resembling a hit. And yet, the jazz fusion sound that Prince experimented with on The Rainbow Children truly comes alive, well, live. Clocking in at nearly 12 and 13 minutes respectively, opener “Rainbow Children” and “Xenophobia” (a new song) recall the dark, rhythmic jazz-funk of Miles Davis in the early 1970s, running the voodoo down with some jaw-dropping guitar work. The rest of the disc is hit-and-miss: The remaining Rainbow Children songs other than “1+1+1 is 3” are a bit unremarkable, and while “Strange Relationship” and “When U Were Mine” are welcome inclusions (the latter gets capped off with a blazing guitar solo), the first part of the set draws to a close with “Avalanche,” killing the momentum.

Conversely, only two songs from The Rainbow Children appear in the second part of the set, and they’re among its best moments. The New Power Generation lay down some of their funkiest and most elastic grooves on “Family Name” and “Everlasting Now,” both of which climax with more guitar solos. Though there are more hits to be found here—the crowd contributes a verse to “Raspberry Beret,” and saxophonist Candy Dulfer contributes a solo to “Nothing Compares 2 U”—most of them are given the solo piano treatment, and several are dramatically shorter, as if part of a medley. (There’s an eight-song run in the middle of the disc where only one song breaks the three-minute mark.) “Adore” and “The Beautiful Ones” sound tender and vulnerable as piano ballads, but “I Wanna B Ur Lover” and “Diamonds and Pearls” just sound like Prince baiting his audience, who go wild when they hear the opening notes to those songs; you can almost tell that they’d much rather hear them in full than 13 minutes of “Anna Stesia.”

But Up All Nite With Prince saves its best for last. Prince’s aftershows were the stuff of legend, and One Nite Alone… The Aftershow: It Ain’t Over! recreates the experience for those of us who never got to see one for ourselves. Where the main act sounded prim and proper (and preachy), The Aftershow is down and dirty, putting a greater emphasis on blues and funk. It’s as if Prince had gotten all the sermonizing out of his system, and was now free to do what he did best— put on one of the best damn performances his audience had ever seen.

“How long you been waitin’? Well, I hope I can make it up to you,” Prince asks puckishly at the beginning of the disc. The nine songs that follow are a mix of covers and deep cuts that sound looser and more fired-up than anything in the main act. So electrifying is Prince’s soloing that he can take “Joy in Repetition,” a Sign o’ the Times holdover that later appeared on the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack, and turn it into an 11-minute showstopper that rivals even “Purple Rain”. His guitarwork on The Aftershow’s other 11-minute track, “Peach (Xtended Jam),” is less flashy but is almost as awe-inspiring in its machine-like precision as he holds down the rhythm.

Plenty of great moments on The Aftershow come from the other musicians. Parliament-Funkadelic godhead George Clinton takes the stage early on to perform an original tune, “We Do This,” his raspy exhortations meshing brilliantly with Prince’s Hendrixian guitar licks. On the next track, Prince brings out Musiq Soulchild, who sings his own “Just Friends (Sunny)” and a snippet of Sly & The Family Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay.” And the NPG is in top form from start to finish, helping Prince radically rei-magine oft-overlooked songs like “2 N**s United 4 West Compton” and “Dorothy Parker,” which gets extended bongo and piano solos that showcase a delicious salsa influence.

While none of the four CDs collected on Up All Nite With Prince are anything less than good, The Aftershow is the only disc in the set that’s as essential as Piano & a Microphone 1983 or Originals. Nevertheless, Up All Nite With Prince provides a welcome opportunity to revisit what’s widely seen as a fallow period for the Purple One, and to remind ourselves what he was capable of onstage. Seeing as One Nite Alone… Live! is one of only three live albums officially released by Prince during his lifetime, there’s hope that there are more recordings of Prince in concert, from when he was at the peak of his powers, still hidden in his vault. But there’s a bitter that comes with the sweet: For as talented as Prince was, he was coy about how much of that talent he let out into the world. Were he still alive, it’s quite likely that Up All Nite With Prince would not exist.

A welcome opportunity to revisit what’s widely seen as a fallow period for the Purple One.
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