The One Night Alone tour is one that I listen to often, and one of his best. Although not everyone enjoys the Rainbow Children album, there is no denying that it is a strong artistic statement, and a lot stronger than the albums that preceded it. The tour itself shows that Prince has a lot of faith in his new music, and plays the bulk of it throughout these shows. I enjoy the intimate feel of these concerts, and some of the set lists are great. It’s somewhat surprising that I haven’t blogged about these shows previously, but today I will address the imbalance. The show I have chosen to listen to is from the European leg, and is ONA Berlin. There is a great many shows from this tour circulating so I had plenty of choices, but I had a feeling in the back of my mind that this one was one of the longer ones, and pretty darned good. Hopefully it’s as good as I remember.
19th October, 2002 Berlin
After some cheers and clapping from the audience the show opens with a digital type of sound, before the steady bass line of Rainbow Children is heard and the band settle into a steady beat. There is some sax work, but my ears aren’t good enough to tell you if its Eric Leeds or Candy Dulfer, but I’m thinking it might be Candy. There is several cheers from the audience as the song continues in this vein for some minutes. Some people might be wanting Prince right from the go, but I am more than happy just to sit back and listen to this band play, it’s very classy and smooth. There is a louder cheer and I assume that Prince is onstage. That is confirmed when a few seconds later Prince is heard singing with the Darth Vader sounding effect on his voice. I don’t really listen to the lyrics, so I find I quite enjoy it, and I like the different sound it gives. The Prince voice we are accustomed to is heard a minute later when he says “are we in Berlin” before the first chorus of “Rainbow Children” The song is enhanced further when Prince says “can I play my guitar” and some nice guitar stabs are played. The guitar has a strong tone to it, and it gives the groove a bit more backbone. I really like this one a lot, it’s not something I listen to a lot on album, but I find myself returning again and again to the live version. It’s got a lot more stiffness and sharpness to it which I like. In this situation I find myself enjoying Renato Netos playing and it does add to that overall uncomfortable sound in the song, that feeling that everything is not quite settled. He does play for some time, both with an electric digital sound, and a more natural piano sound, and both are fine by me. There are two keyboards playing off each other, but once again my ears aren’t good enough to tell you which is Renato, and which is Prince. Perhaps I should have written about a DVD of this tour. The song changes direction again near the end with the electric guitar coming back. At 15 minutes it’s a great long introduction to the show.
Muse 2 The Pharaoh is more laid back, and feels like a ray of sunshine after some of the darker grooves of Rainbow Children. It’s good to hear Prince singing once again in his natural singing voice, and I find myself nodding my head along easily with the clapping of the crowd. Even the darker keyboard grooves don’t feel as dark as on album, surprisingly this is one song that isn’t darker and heavier in concert. Prince’s message is preachy, but often I forget to listen to what he is actually singing, and I just follow the music. His message is obviously very important to him, these two songs are first up and right in your face, but I don’t think the message derails the show at all.
His comments about real music by real musicians leads us directly into Pop Life. I hadn’t expected this song to pop up on this tour, but like some many other forgotten gems he played it regularly on this tour, and he does make it fit with his sound at that time, the keyboard solo by Renato Neto in particular is a nice bridge between his past and present sound, and listening to it I realize that it’s not anything new, I am just hearing it in a different context. The pop aspect of Pop Life is there, but the jazzy side of it also feels a little stronger in this setting. Just as I was thinking about that, Prince makes it far more explicit when he says “Life it ain’t too funky, unless it’s got that Jazz” and Candy Duffer takes a moment to play. Again it’s not too much of a stretch for the song, and it has a nice upbeat jazz ending, and Prince even throws in a little scream.
Prince declares pop music is dead then the music of Xenophobia begins. The crowd is subdued as Prince asks them “who came to get their Purple Rain on? You at the wrong party” The horns enter and play with the heavier sounding groove before Greg Bower gets a moment to play, and although I think trombones are desperately uncool, I do enjoy it, especially when Prince gets the crowd to yell encouragement to him. John Blackwell also gets a moment to solo, and I can hear how well he is playing, but the recording doesn’t pick it up as well as I would have liked. I should imagine that it would be pretty bone shaking if I was there, but the recording doesn’t have the depth or heaviness to it. Prince prefaces his “Is it better to give or receive” speech with “who speaks English?” A wise move to check first I should think. The spoken section of the song is still enjoyable, even though I have heard it plenty of times. It never becomes grating and I like his casual interaction with the audience. Things heat up after the chat, with some guitar playing that becomes faster and more aggressive, before a big drum roll takes us back into the lead line. As the song ends there is some more of Prince talking, and there is a nice moment when he asks “did you miss me?” After the applause he quietly says “I missed you too” as the music of Money Doesn’t Matter 2 Night begins.
I am no fan of the Diamonds and Pearls album, but I love Money Doesn’t Matter 2 Night. For one of Princes political songs it manages to strike a good balance between music and lyrics. The recording isn’t brilliant, but its good enough and I listen to it carefully. Candy Duffer gets the sax solo, and she plays it well, but always sounding slightly restrained. This band is a good match for the song, and it plays to their smooth jazz sound. And I am just pleased to hear it in the set list, it’s very much a song that needs to be played more often. The sax gets better and better through the song, and near the end it holds a nice steady long note which brings us to an end. A great song, and this is a very good version.
I was listening to A Case Of U last week from the 1983 First Ave show, and now 20 years after that I am hearing it again. This one is different in that it’s not Prince and his guitar, its Prince and his piano. The lyrics are however just as beautiful as ever. Some of the emotion is gone in the performance, but that has been replaced with a very professional smoothness. The rest of the band play quietly behind Prince, but they are loud enough that the lyrics are no longer front and centre. The piano playing does carry more emotion so it is somewhat of a trade-off. I am not convinced that this is a better version, but I can’t deny that it does have a charm to it. It does lose me near the end with the final coda and some quirky sounds. It sabotages the emotion and goodwill that the song had earlier built up.
Another long funk jam next with The Work (Part 1). It has a much more standard sort of sound to it, and to my ears sounds a lot like we hear on Musicology. Its lead by Prince and the horns, and for me it really picks up when Eric Leeds begins to solo. He doesn’t play too wild or loose, but his playing is unexpected and goes in directions I can’t predict. I was going to dismiss this song as not much but the couple of minutes of Eric playing make it all worthwhile. The song drops back a notch as Prince engages the crowd and gets a couple on stage for a dance contest. As I said earlier I do enjoy that he is casual and relaxed with his interactions with the crowd, but it doesn’t always make for great listening here at home. There was a moment that made me smile when Prince tells his audience to get on the two and four, and they go on the one and three. The rest of the audience becomes involved when Prince gets them to sing “Got a lot of work to do” There is more chat with the crowd as Prince chastises one of them for celebrating their birthday, I feel it’s a little unfair in a public situation, but it is what it is. All in all it’s a fun song, and nice to see Prince at home on stage.
Extraordinary is ordinary. It’s nice sounding, but to be honest it is a Prince ballad by numbers. I like the horn lines in it, and the piano playing is good, but vocally I feel like I have heard it all before. Candy saves the day for me, with some sweet sax that takes the song up a gear. She plays for a couple of minutes before an appreciative cheer from the audience. There is then a piano solo that doesn’t reach the same heights as Candy’s playing. When we return to Prince singing he seems to have found another gear, and I enjoy him singing out far more than I did at the start of the song.
I am far more into Mellow as he plays it. It engages me right from the start and hold me all the way through. I can’t remember the last time I heard this, but I think it’s something I should play more often. The band play smoothly along, with an edge added by the bass and keys. Prince sings around it a lot, and I also find myself drifting back again and again to listen to the flute. Prince’s voice is alluring and I listen to him carefully even though I don’t really know he is singing about. The best part of the song is when he sings alone, and it’s definitely a vocal highlight. A great moment in the show.
I expected 1+1+1=3 to be an extended jam, but I didn’t expect it to be quite as good, and as long as what we have here. Clocking in at over 20 minutes it has plenty of twists and turns. There are some great moments, and also some less than great moments. I like the main groove of the song, and the guitar line playing under it all. Its highlighted for half a minute when the band stop and leave the guitar playing along, before the kick drum comes back in and the song continues. Prince does sing several lines of Housequake, but I am never a fan of when he sings it over other songs. There is a funky moment as the crowd start chanting “we want the funk”. The band briefly stops as the chant continues, before the pounding beat of John Blackwell brings the song back. With some more guitar the band very briefly play Love Rollercoaster, another cover I don’t have much time for, but here it is very short with no singing, and much funkier for it. Later the funk guitar becomes less prevalent and a heavier groove comes from the band as Prince begins to play more lead guitar. There is a further highlight after this with some fantastic horn playing. The song then becomes just a great groove and the band stay on it. The whole thing then lurches into a deep wonderful sounding Berlin jam. The song ends with Prince spelling out Berlin a couple of times over an ominous sounding piano riff. What an amazing jam, and one I won’t tire of for some time.
Dorothy Parker brings things down again. Without the full on audio assault the recording sounds thin on this one. Dorothy Parker is another song that fits in well with this band and its jazz sensibilities. It stretched out more than on album, and after a nice piano interlude Eric Leeds gets some time to solo before Renato comes back with another piano break. It’s inoffensive, but I never get the feeling that it’s anything more. I was hoping the band would go even further with it, but they play it relatively safe. There is big finish with John Blackwell on the drums before a final fade, and by the end I am thinking this is a wasted opportunity for this band to do what they do best. Of course the recording doesn’t do it any favours so perhaps I am being overly harsh.
I perk up when Strollin’ begins. The evening is definitely changing its feel as it progresses. There is a lead guitar break early on that I enjoy, and then the rest of the song is reasonably predictable. The piano break is however a nice touch, and something I hadn’t heard before. There is a sax solo that follows it, adding more colour even if I don’t really like it too much. I have heard much better versions of Strollin on earlier tours, and this one doesn’t compare to them. It’s nice to see it in the set list, a shame it’s not what I expected.
Gotta Broken Heart Again gets off to a slow start, then draws me in once Prince begins to sing. He’s on form here, his vocals are smooth and velvety, until he eases back and Eric Leeds plays a gentle floating solo. Although I would say the recording is good, it is unbalanced, and that is quite apparent here as every time the drum plays it swamps all the other instruments. The best part of the song is when it is just Prince and his piano.
Prince next does his spoken word piece about his strange relationship with radio (I think you know where this is heading). He only speaks a few lines before the band kick into Strange Relationship, and I am very happy as this is one song that always sounds great live. It’s played with great gusto on this recording, and the bass and keyboards in particular are to the fore. Prince seems to derive a lot of energy from the song, and he sings with great enthusiasm. Rhonda gets her moment in the spotlight with the bass groove to end the song, and even though it sounds good, I know that live it would have been even better. I loved hearing it here, I just wish this was a soundboard. It could have gone for longer too, Prince keeps it on a tight leash here before the next song begins.
Things take a guitar turn as Prince calls “Turn me up Scotty, crank this up” as his guitar intro to When You Were Mine begins. This song has never dated to my ears, it still has a freshness to it which is hard to ignore. Prince gives it a standard run through, and his guitar does sound nice and crisp all the way through. His vocals aren’t as full on as I have heard on other recordings but his guitar is what I am listening to on this one. He does play a brief solo as the song reaches the end, but its down in the mix, and I have to listen carefully to get the maximum enjoyment from it.
The guitar is turned up to 11 for the next song as Prince rips into Whole Lotta Love. The opening riff is absolutely iconic and Prince more than does it justice. His falsetto is a surprisingly good suit for the song, and he unleashes some screams and yells that Robert Plant would be proud of. This performance isn’t about the song though, it’s about Prince and his guitar playing ability. The first couple of minutes is just the entree before Prince turns his guitar up and begins to go wild. This the solo I have been waiting for, it’s completely unhinged, and wild sounding. At two minutes long it actually sounds much longer as there is a lot going on in there, it really is like being in a storm. Near the end of his solo there is a frenzied yell from someone in the crowd who is obviously enjoying it as much as I am. Prince himself ends the solo with a scream, before returning to singing the verses. Princes singing over the breakdown is almost as good as the solo, and a great way to segue into the next song.
The next song is Family Name, and the transition from Whole Lotta Love is dark and brooding as Prince gives a spoken intro about being disconnected from his past. The music does brighten as the band and horns play more, but sadly the song is dragged down by the lyrics. However I do manage to ignore them long enough to enjoy the music and the band. The bass heavy finish is overworked, and my overall feeling by the end is “I’m pleased that’s over”
Take Me With U is far more easy going, and much more familiar for the crowd, I can easily hear them singing during the song. There is a little distortion on the recording, but it’s only a few seconds worth. In all fairness I have probably heard this too many times over the years, and I am by now somewhat jaded. It is however very enjoyable, included the inevitable segue into Raspberry Beret.
Over the opening chords Prince again speaks to the crowd, telling them “Music is art, for it to remain that way it must ask hard questions, and that’s what we’re trying to do tonight”. It has me scratching me head, several times he has talked about asking hard questions, buts it’s hard to know what those questions are. Raspberry Beret is a feel good sing along song for the crowd, they have plenty of chances to sing through the song, and Prince does call for the house lights to be turned on, adding further to the casual atmosphere. The song ends with the crowd singing one final line, and without pause Prince calls the next song.
The Everlasting Now follows, and once again the horns are to the front. Although I am not a great fan of the Everlasting Now, I do find myself dancing and singing along with it. I become even more animated when Prince plays his Santana medley midsong. It’s only for a couple of minutes, and a great couple of minutes they are. Not only Prince and his guitar, there is plenty of horns and keyboards thrown into the mix as well. Prince thanks the crowd as the band plays its way back into the Everlasting now. The latter part of the song is more jam like, and Eric Leeds has another solo. His is the last moment in the song, as his closes his solo, Prince calls “thank you and good night”
Prince resumes with only a piano for company, and begins the next part of the set with an appropriate rendition of One Night Alone. It’s not a song I am overly familiar with, and I find myself really enjoying it on this recording. The lyrics are a nice fit for the beginning of the piano set and as Prince sings “are you ready for one night alone, with me” he segues easily into Adore.
For some reason I don’t immediately recognize it, and I am kicking myself once I pick up the lyrics. Adore has been over played in my house for years, yet it is still a song that I come back to. It was such a big part of my teenage years, and I still appreciate the sentiment and feeling in it, as well as the dash of humour. I find this version a little slight, it is gentle on the piano, and Prince doesn’t push the vocals too hard. The recording is nice and clear without all the band, and the piano set is the cleanest part of the recording. Prince plays a truncated version, there is a section where he scats – skipping some verses, before he brings it gentle to a close with a piano flourish and a final refrain.
The Most Beautiful Girl In The World gets quite a cheer from the crowd, and I am sure more than a few of them are disappointed when Prince sings the opening line before moving on.
Condition Of The Heart really gets my pulse racing. Another long-time favourite, I am over joyed to hear it here. Someone in the audience agrees with me, and there is an audible “Yeah!” from the crowd. He doesn’t play a full version, electing to instead sing the first verse, and then play piano for a minute or so. I can’t complain too much about it, I love what we have here, and it takes me right back.
I could have predicted that Diamonds and Pearls would appear in the piano set, I just didn’t expect it to be quite as short as it is. As is his way, it only gets a brief play, it’s very nice but frustratingly short.
For me things get back on track with a full rendition of The Beautiful Ones. The band are back behind him as he plays, and it’s a shame that the recording loses Prince a shade behind the drums. I enjoy the piano and especially the singing, it’s disappointing the drum beat comes across just too loud in places. The horns play great, especially as a counter point against Princes vocals in the latter part of the song. Prince’s vocals sound a little tired near the end of the song, then again maybe I am being too harsh on one of my favourite songs.
The crowd gives an appreciative cheer to Nothing Compares 2 U, and then goes on to trade lines with Prince through the song. After the first verse/chorus Candy Dulfer comes to the fore with an exquisite sax solo, before Prince comes back for the next verse. The audience is well warmed up by this stage, and singing in strong voice as the song comes to the end. A nice concert moment, and one captured well on the recording.
I was excited when I heard Condition Of The Heart, but I am even more so when I hear the beginning of The Ladder from the same album. This takes on more importance here, as mid-song Prince delivers a monologue that comes back to some of the themes he has already commented on earlier in the evening. The early part of the song is very faithful to what is heard on album, then with a call of “break it down NPG” Prince begins his speech. He speaks of the troubles worldwide (pre 9/11) He urges the crowd to stop looking at the differences between people and concentrate on the similarities. He talks for some time, before ending with “Naw, I didn’t come to preach, but I gotta get that out” and then gets the crowd on board for a singalong of the chorus. It’s actually very uplifting, and with Eric Leeds again playing it’s a classic concert moment.
I was thinking it would be a fantastic way to close the show, and then Prince goes on to play Starfish And Coffee. Although very short, it’s a very sweet song and again showcases another one of Princes famous piano songs.
Sometimes It Snows In April follows, and I am loving how many of these old songs Prince is pulling out. He doesn’t over play it, with just him and the piano with the merest sound of the band behind him. His voice is as smooth as you could expect, and I just close my eyes and enjoy the moment. I am surprised that the crowd doesn’t try to sing along with the final few lines, they are respectfully silent to the end. Prince finishes the song to a round of applause, before beginning to play more on the piano.
He begins by telling the crowd “I always say I ain’t gonna play this song, and I always end up playing it anyway. I’m just trying to move on with my life” He then speaks for another couple of lines, before playing the opening chords of Purple Rain on the piano. There is a quiet cheer from the crowd and then the band comes in. Although not a great version, it is still very enjoyable. As the crowd sings the chorus you can hear him beginning to work the guitar, and it’s far more audible as the second verse begins. Then with a simple “good night” he begins to solo. As much as I sometimes tire of Purple Rain, I always find something to enjoy in the solo. This one proves true to form, it manages to be as I expect, but still with a twist or turn for me to latch onto. Prince rallies the crowd with a final speech before they sing as one voice “ooohh, ooohh, ooohh” The song and the show end with Prince “peace and be wild” before the final sounds of the keys and the strings à la the album recording.
I knew there was a good reason I remembered this one – it was a long long show. Covering almost 3 CD’s, it was worth the time invested in it to take a listen, my only recommendation would be don’t try and blog about it. The show was a good representation of the ONA tour, and I really got a lot of enjoyment out of listening to some of the songs thrown into the set-list. This configuration of the NPG was very versatile and worked well with some of his more jazz infused songs heard here and for that I applaud them. Even though it was a good recording rather than great, it never overly detracted from my enjoyment. It was worth every minute.
See you next time