By Todd Peterson
Updated March 30, 2004 02:58 PM

Prince, one of pop music’s most talented and influential performers over the past several decades, launched a tour Monday night that is certain to be a highlight for years to come.

The musician from Minneapolis began his “Musicology” tour at Los Angeles’s sold-out Staples Center with a performance that is intended to educate audiences about the joys of live music — and on that end he did not disappoint, according to reports.

In a two-and-a-half-hour set that included an early string of hits such as “Let’s Go Crazy,” “I Would Die 4 U” and “When Doves Cry,” Prince demonstrated why his music has made such an impact since his 1978 debut album “For You,” and his musical heyday of the 1980s.

He also made allusions to contemporary artists. During the performance of “Controversy” he said, “We do not believe in lip-synching,” the Associated Press reports. It was an almost-certain dig at Britney Spears, among other performers, whose latest tour has drawn heavy criticism from attendees who have claimed that nearly the entire event is prerecorded.

But Prince didn’t seem so much interested in tearing down others as he did in getting the message about his own music out. He has said that this tour will be the last time he plays these hits live, and that has caused many of the tour’s early shows to sell out well in advance.

Monday’s show also proved that Prince, 45, was at least as in touch with fans as many younger performers. In addition to the live performance in L.A., the show was simulcast at select theaters in New York, where audience members also received a free copy of the upcoming album “Musicology.” Concertgoers at every tour stop will also receive a copy of the album.

Monday also marked the start of Prince’s “Musicology Download Store” on his Web site, which allows him to sell his songs directly to fans.