LOS ANGELES — It was a strange case of déjà vu: On the opening night of his Musicology tour, the former Purple Wonder took the stage at the Staples Center to the same words that ushered him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two weeks ago. Four video monitors facing the crowd replayed Alicia Keys' heartfelt introduction, and the audience exploded as her last few words faded: "... the one and only, Prince."
The tour, Prince's first nationwide trek in six years, has been billed as the last time he will play many of his hits. But Monday's set, surprisingly, kicked off with the title track from his new album, also called Musicology. The song served as a warm-up for the almost three-hour-long concert that followed: Prince, clad in white with a red tuxedo jacket and hat, used the song to brush off his dance moves. He then wiped his face with a handkerchief, brushed off his shoulders and gave a coy look into the audience.
"Los Angeles!" he shouted. Ticker tape and purple streamers fell from the ceiling as the band burst into "I Would Die 4 U," which was followed by short bursts of well-known songs from Purple Rain (most of the evening's hits were performed in abbreviated versions, with crowd-participation sections and searing guitar solos). A truncated version of "When Doves Cry" slipped into "Baby I'm a Star," which led into a brief jam on the song's riff; Prince capped the song by tossing his hat into the crowd and grinning at his fans.
The strings of hits were broken up with lesser-known tunes, the first of which was "Shhh" from 1995's The Gold Experience. But then the deluge continued with a brace of songs from early in Prince's career: "D.M.S.R.," "I Feel for You" and "Controversy." Interestingly, several key words in these songs were changed to convey religious, rather than sexual, connotations. As the band wrapped up the medley with a jam, Prince announced, "We do not believe in lip-synching: This is real. This is real music by real musicians."
Unlike many of Prince's earlier tours, the Musicology stage set is spare: It features a metal tube that doubles as both an arch and a fireman-style pole, a short guardrail on one side of the stage adorned with the "NPG" logo, and a circle of beads hanging center stage. Even the light show is minimal, consisting mostly of spotlights. There isn't much to see besides Prince himself, which seems to be the point.
"God," the moody B-side to "Purple Rain," was the palette-cleanser before a mellower stream of hits, which included a soulful version of "Nothing Compares 2 U." Then the beaded curtain dropped, completely surrounding Prince at center stage for "Insatiable"; even the funky "Sign O' the Times" was slowed down to suit this down-tempo section of the show.
Not until 1981's "Let's Work," with shout-outs to "old school" members of the crowd, did the party atmosphere resurface. "U Got the Look" took it even higher, as approximately 20 members of the crowd were ushered off the floor to spend the remainder of the show onstage with the band. Prince took this opportunity to slip in a new song, "Life 'O' the Party," during which he slyly directed the comment, "I ain't never had my nose done," to the Tinseltown crowd.
"Soul Man," the Sam & Dave hit later popularized by the Blues Brothers, was the only cover of the night. By this point, the band was hamming it up with the fans onstage; one girl even found herself playing a cowbell. "Kiss" and "Take Me With U" made for a crowd-pleasing end to the set, especially when one of the fans onstage tripped and fell when Prince called her to the mic to sing with him. "Too many trips to the bar!" he laughed.
The encore provided a change of pace along with the only costume change of the night: Prince, now wearing black pants and a sleeveless black turtleneck, sat on a chair and gave stripped-down performances of "Forever in My Life" and "Little Red Corvette," almost coming to tears before playing "Sometimes It Snows in April."
He was then joined by the full band for a version of "Purple Rain" that was a show in itself. Introducing it with "I love playing this song," he donned his famous purple symbol-shaped guitar and capped the song with a screeching solo. He then laid on the stage to touch the hands of his fans and called "One more!" over and over again before vanishing down the fireman's pole, while the band played on.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.