School was officially in session in Los Angeles last night as Prince kicked off his Musicology Tour at the Staples Center before a sold-out and star-studded audience that included No Doubt, Eddie Murphy and Hilary Duff.
Backed by an eight-piece band, the recently inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer lived up to his promise to reintroduce “real music by real musicians” during the tour by delivering a two-hour-plus history lesson on both his rich body of music and the history of American music, incorporating elements of jazz, funk, blues, acoustic blues, soul and rock into his catalogue of hits and rarities.
The show opened with a video montage of his career, capped by Alicia Keys’ induction speech of Prince into the Rock Hall a few weeks ago. As Keys said on video, “Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to get on your feet and pay homage to the one and only Prince,” the singer took the stage.
Dressed in a red jacket and white pants, Prince opened with “Musicology,” the title track to his forthcoming album (due April 20th), a copy of which was given to every fan who bought a ticket to the show.
Prince said the tour will be the last time he’ll play many of his older songs, at least for a while, and he wasted little time jumping into his wealth of hits. He followed up “Musicology” with a medley of several songs from Purple Rain, including “Let’s Go Crazy,” “I Would Die 4 U” and a funked-up version of “When Doves Cry.”
“Baby, I’m a Star” was particularly relevant on this night, as Prince is enjoying a career boost after the Rock Hall induction and his opening performance at this year’s Grammy Awards. He relished the spotlight and adoration in L.A. In addition to thanking the crowd repeatedly for their applause, he flashed a huge grin on several occasions during the night and during a thunderous standing ovation following a spirited acoustic version of “Little Red Corvette” during the encore, he almost looked moved to tears. Prince is clearly a performer who revels in the spotlight, and, propelled by a full arena, he was back at the absolute top of his game.
As he launched into “I Feel 4 U,” a song he wrote for Chaka Khan, he asked, “How many people know this song?” When the yelling was a bit stifled, he laughed, “Y’all don’t know my music.” But they knew it when he did a show-stopping rendition of “Controversy,” in which he announced, “We do not believe in lip-synching,” or when he kicked into Elvis Presley-like swooning and crooning, even writhing on the floor as he did in the film, during Purple Rain‘s soulful “The Beautiful Ones.”
And they knew it when he delivered a slow-burning funk version of “Sign O’ the Times” and a sing-along version of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” the 1990 chart-topper he wrote for Sinead O’Connor.
Prince closed out the main set with a rousing “Take Me With U,” which found several audience members dancing on stage at the invitation of the singer. After leading a dance party, a jazz show and a funk-fest during the main set, Prince played bluesman during the encores, delivering a sometimes risque, often amusing six-song acoustic set, culminating in “Little Red Corvette.”
The night ended with “Purple Rain,” complete with swaying audience members, a sing-along, and kick-ass guitar solos. As the band took it home, Prince slid down a pole a la Batman and vanished underneath the stage.