Prince Kicks Off 'Musicology' Tour

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Every school should be this much fun.

Prince (search) is billing his "Musicology" (search) tour as a way to educate audiences accustomed to computer-generated hits about the joys of live music. He made good on that promise Monday at the tour's opener at Staples Center.

But who was he kidding?

This show is really about the history of Prince, especially given his pledge that this tour will be the last time he plays his hits live.

As he started the night with the title track of the upcoming album "Musicology," followed in quick succession by "Let's Go Crazy," "I would Die 4 U" and "When Doves Cry," audience members had to wonder how long he could keep up the momentum -- until they realized he could go all night.

He's Prince: he has a 25-year back catalogue of hits. And he blasted through it Monday with more panache, whimsy and skill than anyone in music today.

He knew it, too. The 45-year-old recent addition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (search) took playful digs at today's teen-pop creations and his aging contemporaries alike.

"We do not believe in lip-syncing," he yelled during "Controversy." Later, he called out, "I ain't never had my nose done!"

Prince has spent much of the last decade in a sort of self-imposed exile from the top of the charts, preferring to focus on jazz- and funk-infused compositions with his formidable backing band, the New Power Generation.

But on Monday, he grabbed as much well-deserved glory as possible, doing anything it took to keep the audience eating out of his hand through old and new songs alike.

His in-the-round style speech and constant interplay with the audience gave him and the band room to shine, with saxophonist Candy Dulfer playing comedic foil to his flirtations, the way Wendy and Lisa did in The Revolution.

Prince pulled out several surprises from his catalogue, but may have dug too deep at times. When he went into "I Feel For You," a song he wrote that was a hit for Chaka Khan (search) in 1984, he teasingly chided audience members who didn't initially recognize it.

"Y'all don't know my music!" he cried.

He also showed he could make do without gimmicks, taking the stage at one point with only an acoustic guitar to prove his mettle as a bluesman -- albeit, a charmingly dirty-minded one. That was followed by a moving a solo version of "Little Red Corvette." (search)

At one point during the two-and-a-half-hour show, Prince brought several fans on stage and released so much confetti it felt like being trapped in a snow globe.

Fans at the solidly packed Stapes Center saw no opening act. Instead, the show kicked off with a video featuring Alicia Keys' (search) speech inducting Prince into the rock Hall of Fame. As she spoke, images appeared chronicling his musical career, his fights with his record company and his constantly evolving facial hair.

Prince also referred frequently to the name he once changed into an unpronounceable symbol, asking the audience again and again, "What's my name?"

It's rare that a singer of Prince's artistry and career span is still alive to walk an audience through his musical career. The opportunity makes this show a must-see for any fan of pop music -- a lesson not to be missed.

Never one to underdo things, Prince made the first official night of the tour a multimedia celebration of his 25 years in pop music. A big-screen simulcast of the show was presented in digital sound at several New York movie theaters, with audience members receiving free copies of the album "Musicology," which won't be in stores until April 20. Ticket-holders at every stop of the tour will also get a copy of the disc.

The opening of the tour also corresponded with the start of Prince's new "Musicology Download Store" on his Web site. The program allows fans to download many of his songs for 99 cents each.

Prince added several dates to the tour after a round of initial sellouts; he's currently scheduled for 48 dates nationwide through the end of August.