It's good to be Prince

He's found religion and still
wows the crowd, even without
playing his most explicit songs

Ever since His Royal Purpleness reclaimed his name and let go of the unwieldy "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince" and that indecipherable glyph, he's been busy writing new music and keeping his diehard fans happy through his exclusive online Web site NPG Music Club.

His legal hassles with his former major record label have been well-documented, but they evidently haven't soured him from working with The Big Boys again. Prince has chosen as his new administrator Universal Music Publishing Group, and while that company will take care of distributing past, present and future releases and reissues, most importantly he will retain the all-important publishing rights.


"Prince Live at the
Aladdin Las Vegas"

NPG Music Club/Hip-O

That means you'll be able to find in stores recent releases previously available only through his music club, like the religious-leaning "The Rainbow Children" (Prince is a recent Jehovah's Witness convert), his latest studio album "N.E.W.S." and a CD set comprised of live material from his last "One Nite Alone" tour.

Another souvenir from that tour is this DVD showing highlights of a concert last December in Las Vegas. It's an accurate depiction of Prince and his New Power Generation band funkin' things up on stage before a packed house, with special guests Nikka Costa (singing her hit "Push and Pull") and Sheila E. joining the festivities.

Prince is still ever the charismatic showman, decked out in a sharp, dark double-breasted pinstripe suit, complete with a white kerchief, which he brandishes like an effeminate dandy. His band is solid to the core, featuring his longtime tenor saxophonist Eric Leeds and legendary James Brown sideman Maceo Parker on alto. Trombonist Greg Boyer rounds out the horn section, and the rest of the NPG is filled out with bassist/back-up vocalist Rhonda Smith, keyboardist Renato Neto and drummer John Blackwell.

Sheila E. still looks and sounds fabulous, but her slick percussive work, unfortunately, is only highlighted on two songs, the Latin-influenced "The Everlasting Now" and the DVD's bonus clip of the bluesy "The Ride," where she shows her command of the standard drum kit as well.

Since his religious conversion, Prince has taken the explicitly sexual songs in his repertoire out of his concert playlist. Granted, that's quite a bit of choice material going unplayed, but the man still knows how to mix up his remaining fan faves, amped-up new material and spot-on covers during the course of an evening.

1980s songs "Take Me With U" and "Pop Life" still have a fresh lilt to them, and a bit of the "Sign O' the Times" track "Housequake" (as well as the Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster") get a bit of play during "1+1+1=3." The latter makes for a good little workout for the band, featuring some generous horn soloing and an impromptu dance line on stage made up of some of Prince's more exuberant music club members.

(Except for the occasional shot that shows that, yes, the place is packed, any other evidence to this fact is lacking. The ambient house sound is mixed pretty low on this DVD -- and this with no additional audio playback options on this disc.)

Some lesser-known songs get some play as well: The ballad "Gotta Broken (Heart) Again" from his second album "Dirty Mind," the encore solo number "Sometimes It Snows in April" and, from "Diamonds and Pearls," the light and jazzy band showcase number "Strollin'."

Prince is still a staunch believer of the spiritual power of music, transcending both race and genres. He and the band do three songs in a row that illustrate that belief -- "Strange Relationship" (with Prince channeling Ray Charles), a vintage J.B.'s joint, "Pass the Peas," that obviously features Parker and the horns, and an inspired stab at Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," complete with psychedelic stage lighting.

Two songs from "The Rainbow Children" also sound better in concert. "The Work" is an apt tribute to Prince's hero James Brown, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business and the slavery-based (in both historical and personal music biz terms) "Family Name" slips adeptly from funk to rock.

It's Prince's intention to preach the good news and, more than 20 years after his debut, he's still got the goods to back him up. "Don't hate me because I'm fabulous!"

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