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MUSIC REVIEW

Prince proves he's still got the look

Pop icon wows FleetCenter crowd with old favorites, eclectic covers

One goes to a Prince concert expecting to hear "Let's Go Crazy," "When Doves Cry," and "Raspberry Beret," all of which he performed during his fine two-hour-plus concert at the FleetCenter last night.

But it was an eclectic set of cover songs -- from the Rolling Stones classic "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" to Rufus featuring Chaka Khan's soul chestnut "Sweet Thing" -- that really distinguished the first of Prince's three-night Boston stop on his "Musicology" tour.

"This is school," he told his near-sellout audience at one point, and indeed the evening was a lesson in, as he put it, "real music by real musicians."

"Boston, we don't believe in lip-synching," he informed the crowd. "We don't believe in MTV. We really don't believe in the radio."

During his 30-minute unplugged set -- just Prince and a purple acoustic guitar -- he rolled out and reinvented old favorites such as "Little Red Corvette" and "Cream," and gave a nod to the Stones and Rufus with tunes that became audience sing-alongs.

By that midway point, the once-palpable audience irritation with the show's late start, more than an hour past its scheduled 7:30 p.m. beginning, had dissipated. After an opening video montage featuring Alicia Keys inducting him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, Prince kicked into the muscular funk of "Musicology."

Backed by his excellent seven-piece band, New Power Generation, Prince, radiant in a red jacket over white shirt, pants, and bejeweled heeled boots, was in a loose, playful mood.

"Boston, ya'll been waiting for me, haven't you?" he teased.

In the first 15 minutes, he played a host of hits including "Let's Go Crazy," "Baby I'm a Star," and "I Would Die 4 U." On the latter song, he slyly changed the lyric "I'm your messiah" to "He's your messiah," a reflection of his newfound faith as a devout Jehovah's Witness.

As has been the case on this tour, Prince steered clear of his more salacious music. Still, with a 25-year catalog, such songs were hardly missed -- especially when he instead performed Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," complete with a shattering guitar solo that would make Jimmy Page proud.

On stage, Prince seemed to enjoy himself, as well as his band, featuring sax great Maceo Parker who, accompanied by only keyboardist Renato Neto, performed Louis Armstrong's sentimental "What a Wonderful World." And deserving special mention is drummer John Blackwell, whose spellbinding stick-twirling solos were also a highlight.

To no one's surprise and everyone's delight, Prince closed the show with "Purple Rain," and certainly made good on his earlier promise when he said, "Boston, it's gonna be a beautiful night."

Prince is scheduled to perform tonight and tomorrow at the FleetCenter.

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