King Prince

"Clap your hands all you sexy people!" Prince told the audience.

And people, we were not sexy. We were geeks through and through, slapping high fives and dancing with the finesse of a tipsy 5-year-old, whooping with every familiar riff. And yet, the beautiful thing about Prince was that it didn't matter. Just like every snowflake is unique, everyone is sexy to Prince.

"I don't care what you looked like when you came in here, I'm gonna shake that 'do loose!" he warned the audience. Yes, Prince was funny. And charismatic. And better than ever. Friday night's show at the American Airlines Center, his second stop in Big D on his Musicology tour, showcased an unparalleled performer at the top of his craft. It was as if he had never been gone, as if he had never been weird, never gotten "experimental" and "difficult," never painted "slave" across his forehead. It was as if we had never lost touch. More than a quarter-century after he hit the scene, Prince still ruled.

He started with a bang--literally, a poof of white confetti--launching into "Let's Go Crazy" as latecomers hustled through security and practically elbowed the elderly out of the way to get inside on time. Prince strutted and slinked across the cross-shaped stage in a red bowler hat and natty red suit, looking like 20 years had been nothing but a mere suggestion. Is it possible that Prince is not aging? He looks the same, sounds the same, which is to say he looks and sounds terrific. He kept slamming us with Purple Rain-era hits: "I Would Die 4 U," a tease of a lick from "When Doves Cry" and then "Baby I'm a Star." It wasn't until he briefly left the stage 15 minutes into the set--to slip into something less comfortable, presumably--that people actually dared to sit down.

Later, when he took the stage solo with only an acoustic guitar, the stadium show seemed to shrink a little, get warmer and more intimate. Without his band to play with and off of, Prince seemed to need the crowd a bit more, nudging us to scoot closer and sing along to "Little Red Corvette" and "Raspberry Beret." Whenever we faltered--like, what are the lyrics to "Cream" anyway?--he shot back a one-liner.

"Don't lip-synch up in here," he said, a wry smile on his lips. "I know that's what you're used to, but it ain't gonna work tonight."

Age and love seemed to have mellowed him. (Before his late-night performance at Erykah Badu's afterparty, Prince nuzzled with his wife, Manuela Testolini, for hours.) He didn't need so much of the flash and pretense that have often obscured his best asset: his talent. Songs from his latest, Musicology, sat confidently beside the classics. When I heard "On the Couch," I couldn't help but laugh at his romantic entreaty, delivered in that pleading Prince falsetto: "Don't make me sleep on the couch/Love Jones is on the TV again/I wanna go down south."

When the crowd roared at the euphemism, he stopped midsong. "What y'all hollerin' for? I mean down south to Texas."

Later, he got even more playful with his music, mixing up his own songs with a stirring rendition of the old Negro spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and cutting up with Beyoncé's "Bootylicious" and Alicia Keys' "Fallin'." The crowd welcomed him back for an encore that included "Purple Rain" and "Nothing Compares 2 U," which was a fitting sentiment. Nothing could compare. Or did.

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Sarah Hepola

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