The list of rock performers who could have been considered Prince’s peers in terms of pure musical talent is very short, but near the top of it would surely be Paul McCartney. At McCartney’s Wednesday night show at Target Center — the first of a two-night stand — the former Beatle paid tribute to our hometown hero, whose newly-gilded star adorned First Avenue right across the street.
“Thank you Minneapolis, thank you Prince,” said McCartney after covering a portion of “Let’s Go Crazy” while his video screens displayed Prince’s trademark Love Symbol. “So many beautiful songs, so much beautiful music. And he’s your guy!”
Earlier in the show, McCartney mentioned that he was dedicating the performance to the late rock icon, and described spending New Year’s with Prince, at a show in St. Barts. “I’ve been a fan of Prince’s a long time, and I’ve been to many of his concerts in London…but I was very lucky this New Year’s Eve. He played a little show in a little club, and I happened to be there, so we saw the new year in together. That was beautiful. God bless you, Prince!”
The rest of McCartney’s show reminded me of advice Prince gave to André 3000, who was suffering from a case of nerves before OutKast reunited a couple of years ago. “Just give them the hits,” said Prince, according to André. Wednesday night, McCartney gave us the hits — hits on hits on hits. If Wednesday’s show wasn’t the epic event that McCartney’s 2014 Target Field show was, there was certainly no one asking for their money back.
Fully half a century after the Beatles retired from live performance, McCartney still seems to be relishing the opportunity to play, before a live audience, the songs he wrote with that band. Over half McCartney’s long set consisted of Beatles songs, and that’s even if you count the concluding Abbey Road medley as a single song. Still spry and in good voice at 73, McCartney seems to be luxuriating in his status as the sole surviving frontman of the singular band of the rock era.
For his ironically named “One on One” tour, McCartney performs with his tight four-piece band on a stage covered in screens displaying projections that are typically nostalgic and psychedelic. There’s no flying above the audience a la Katy Perry or Phish, but the stage does push him up towards the rafters during a solo acoustic set; disconcertingly, on Wednesday night he was ascending into the heavens while plucking the initial notes of “Blackbird,” turning what should have been a humble little moment into a strange multimedia showcase.
McCartney’s been playing “A Hard Day’s Night” on this tour for the first time as a solo artist — he opened with it on Wednesday — and on stage, his demeanor still suggests the scampish pack of young men who made that movie. He told humble-brag stories about visiting Russia and recording with George Martin and one of his more obscure (but lately acclaimed) solo singles, “Temporary Secretary.” After many numbers he mock-staggered around like someone who’s just stumbled into a surprise birthday party and doesn’t know what to do while everyone’s singing to him.
Near the middle of the set, Sir Paul strapped on an acoustic guitar and joined his band downstage while screens descended to display a cute little house graphic for a low-key set of songs that began with a number McCartney recorded with Beatles predecessors the Quarrymen, “In Spite of All the Danger.” At the opposite extreme, “Live and Let Die” featured pyrotechnics so intense that they left even the artist himself dropping his head to his piano and waving his arms as if to say, “Enough! Enough!”
The vast scope of McCartney’s achievement was made most dramatically clear by his performance of “FourFiveSeconds,” the 2015 collaboration with Rihanna and Kanye West that put McCartney back in the top ten for the first time without the Beatles since — I love this fact — “Spies Like Us,” his title track from the 1986 Cold War comedy.
McCartney didn’t seem to know quite what to do with the new number — he sort of growled the lyrics, and brought his band in like a sledgehammer to needlessly accompany the spare song — but what was impressive was that it existed at all, something that the relatively few gen-Y and gen-Z audience members immediately perked up at. While the Beatles were a singular phenomenon, McCartney’s kept his melodic gift as much in fighting trim as his vegetarian bod.
The big McCartney news in recent days has been his confirmed booking at Desert Trip, the head-spinning convergence of classic rock gods. The festival has been derisively nicknamed “Oldchella” due to its septuagenarian headliners, but age-shamers must find it an inconvenient truth that McCartney — like the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan — is very much alive, and still playing shows that put his gifts on extravagant display.
That makes it all the more poignant that Prince is gone already, a generation younger than McCartney at age 57. As McCartney left the stage after sounding the final chords of “The End,” he left one last salute to Prince: while smoke machines ran at full blast (something the oft-beclouded Prince would surely have appreciated), confetti cannons created a purple snow.
— Jay Gabler (@JayGabler) May 5, 2016
A Hard Day’s Night
Can’t Buy Me Love
Let Me Roll It/Foxy Lady [Hendrix cover segment]
I’ve Got a Feeling
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five
Here, There and Everywhere
Maybe I’m Amazed
We Can Work It Out
In Spite of All the Danger
You Won’t See Me
Love Me Do
And I Love Her
The Fool on the Hill
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Ob La Di, Ob La Da
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
Hi, Hi, Hi/Let’s Go Crazy [Prince cover segment]
Abbey Road medley