SLIPPERY ROCK, Pennsylvania — Backstage at Slippery Rock University, Drake was calm and cool as always, but you could tell that the 23-year-old Canadian superstar was eager to kick off the first night of his Away From Home Tour.

Since collapsing onstage because of a knee injury last fall, Drake has had to focus more on his album (Thank Me Later, due out June 15) than on live performances. But on Monday night, he showed no signs of rust. With the lights down and the energy all the way turned up, Drake commenced his tour with “Forever.” Backed by a four-piece band and a DJ, Drizzy stepped to the stage and sang, “I want this thing forever, man.”

“I been waiting for this day for a long time,” Drake told MTV News a few hours before he hit the stage. “Ever since that night in Camden, I knew it would be a long time before I got to do my own show. I been training as far as my knee goes, really mentally preparing. I’m super excited. I’m back out here with a great live band, all guys from Toronto. I got great support. I got Francis and the Lights and I got K-OS out here. And I’ve got a new album that I’m proud of. It’s gonna be a good night.”

Even though Drake has obviously been concentrating on being a lyrical bulldozer, the Young Money cleanup hitter hasn’t sacrificed his crooning. Drake’s live singing sounds like it does on MP3s, and his bars cut sharp as the fans rapped along. “Faded off the brown,” he spit.

“Nino!” They answered, finishing his rhyme.

“Unstoppable” came next, and the fans went in extra heavy on the first verse, even drowning Drake out. “Uptown” followed. “I’m so excited to share this moment with you, because it’s really my first show back in six months,” Drake told the crowd, and then turned to the band, saying, “Take me somewhere, please.”

“Lust for Life” and “Houstatlantavegas” came in the aftermath.

Even at this young stage in his career, Drake’s stage presence seems to indicate that it won’t be long until he graduates from college basketball gyms to the Madison Square Gardens of the world. There’s just a certain connection elite MCs make with their audiences. Of course you have to have those monster radio hits and deeper album cuts (in Drake’s case, mixtape cuts), but some performers make the audience buy into the person, not just the rapper.

Drake is there already. He knows when to play up his ferocity, like with “Fear,” where he went with a more conversational style of delivery (especially with the closing verse). Drizzy can also play that shy, unassuming role for the ladies perfectly. He performed his part from “I Invented Sex” and switched around Trey Songz’ lines: “Which one of y’all coming home with Drizzy?” he sang. “Is it you? You sure?” he asked a young lady in the audience. He actually brought a woman onstage to dance with him while the band played Alicia Keys’ “Unthinkable,” but she was so nervous, Drake sent her back in about a minute. Another woman threw her bra at Drake during “A Night Off,” but it didn’t quite make the stage. Drake debuted the much-talked-about “Fireworks,” which will start off Thank Me Later. The record starts with the sound of fireworks and gives a snapshot of where the two-time Grammy nominee is in his life.

“Money just changed everything,” he rapped. “My 15 minutes started an hour ago … / Wayne put me right here … / Something I would die for, October’s very own, but it’s feeling like July 4.”

Later, Drake performed his string of collabos such as “Say Something” and “Bedrock,” during which he gave an extra-special tribute to Aaliyah. Lil Wayne was saluted on “Best I Ever Had.”

“When I say, ‘Young Money,’ you say, ‘Free Weezy!’ ” he instructed, and the exchange played out for a few minutes. “Free my brother Lil Wayne,” Drake said. “Over” was the closer as Drake encouraged more crowd participation, chanting, “I’m doin’ me, I’m doin’ me,” before he left.

via MTV