Local Current Blog

Target Center at 30: Ten musical highlights

A model of Target Center was part of Norway Center's Gingerbread Wonderland in 2017. (Jay Gabler/MPR)

30 years ago today, Target Center opened its doors as a basketball arena that moonlights as one of Minnesota’s largest concert spaces. Built to be the home of the fledgling Minnesota Timberwolves and — as of 1999 — the Lynx, the 19,356-seat arena (making it, in size, slightly bigger than the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand and slightly smaller than the Xcel Energy Center) has also held numerous high-profile concerts. (It’s also where Jesse “The Body” Ventura held his gubernatorial inauguration ball.) Here are ten of the most memorable shows from the venue’s three decades.

November 30, 1994: Hole with Big Audio Dynamite

Just months after the release of her breakout album and the death of her husband Kurt Cobain, Hole frontwoman Courtney Love was out touring the country with former Clash guitarist Mick Jones and his genre-bending band Big Audio Dynamite. Alongside alternative rock openers Dada and Grant Lee Buffalo, Love and company put on a “Twisted Christmas” concert for the ages. Hole opened with the visceral “Plump” and ended with Live Through This’s notable hits: “Violet” and “Doll Parts.”

May 30, 1995: R.E.M. with Sonic Youth

Indie-rock godfathers R.E.M. were at the peak of their commercial success when they played a rousing set with experimental punk legends Sonic Youth. While the New York five-piece opener played a relatively brief set — starting things off with “Tom Violence” and the college radio hit “Bull in the Heather” — R.E.M. marathoned 25 songs that spanned their entire discography, before ending with the classic “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

August 10, 1998: Beastie Boys with A Tribe Called Quest

As the ’90s were coming to a close, these two dynamic hip-hop acts brought their street lessons to the Twin Cities. Although both groups were in what’s now regarded as a classic period, in the era of Jay-Z and Lauryn Hill, both felt a little old-school. “Their refusal to tinker with the basics occasionally results in stale, anachronistic cheerleading,” wrote critic Britt Robson in the Star Tribune, “but when either group is locked into a rhythm, their power is undeniable.”

August 25, 1999: Prince with Smash Mouth and Lenny Kravitz

Yes, Prince did at one point share a bill with Smash Mouth. While Prince would put on an epic trio of shows including a Target Center performance in 2007, this lineup was too compelling to leave off the list. Plus, it was 1999. While the Purple One only played the title track off of that album, he opened with “Let’s Go Crazy” before offering a mixture of golden-age favorites (“Nothing Compares 2 U” and “Raspberry Beret”) and newer standards (“The Greatest Romance Ever Sold”). Prince also performed some songs with Lenny Kravitz, though, sadly, he didn’t partake in a rendition of “All-Star” or have the Smash Mouth guys come out for “Purple Rain.”

June 11, 2008: Kanye West & Rihanna with N.E.R.D. and Lupe Fiasco

Before the release of Kanye’s auto-tune opus 808s & Heartbreak and only months after the passing of his mother, one of rap’s most controversial and influential artists embarked on a mega-tour with three of the most notable artists of the ’00s. Kicking things off was Pharrell and N.E.R.D. performing the infectious “Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom).” And while West staged a plethora of tracks from his first four albums, Rihanna was all hits: singing “Don’t Stop the Music,” “Shut Up and Drive,” and “Umbrella” in succession.

October 17, 2010: Gorillaz

In a rare occurrence, some friends from across the Pond joined us for a sprawling exploration of one of the best discographies of the millennium. Damon Albarn and his band of funky pranksters and merry crate-diggers were fresh off their release of the imaginative, ecological concept album Plastic Beach. This meant that the long-time pop act was still breaking in soon-to-be anthems like “Melancholy Hill” and “Stylo.” In the meantime, this comic-book act come-to-life thrilled with a gauntlet of jams: playing “Dirty Harry,” “El Mañana,” “DARE,” “Feel Good Inc.,” and “Clint Eastwood” to great fanfare.

May 30, 2013: LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Public Enemy, and De La Soul

Another absolutely stacked line-up perfectly suited for the arena treatment. Four eras of hip-hop excellence combined to create an unforgettable evening of party standbys and rap-head anthems. Despite these artists being a little past their prime, it’s still a compelling night if “Me Myself and I,” “Fight the Power,” “It Was a Good Day,” and “Rock the Bells” are the closing numbers of each set.

March 8, 2014: Arcade Fire with Dan Deacon and Kid Koala

In support of their then-new Reflektor LP, these formerly folk-inspired rockers became full-blown dance freaks; their electronic bonafides substantiated by the presence of analog acid-freak Dan Deacon. The band greeted fans dressed in sequined outfits and giant papier-mâché heads before opening with the brutal “My Body Is a Cage.” From there, frontman Win Butler and his crew went to work mixing old favorites like “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” with new gems — specifically ”Afterlife” and “Normal Person.” To close things out, the group broke into a version of Prince’s “When You Were Mine.”

November 10, 2014: Garth Brooks

One of country’s most consistent blockbuster artists, Garth Brooks was relentless when he came to Minneapolis in support of his record Man Against Machine. Then 52, Brooks executed several double-header concerts over the course of half a week. Who can blame him? The demand was there: pop-country has immense popularity in Minnesota. And Brooks delivered. He instigated singalongs to hits like “Rodeo,” “Two Pina Coladas,” “The River,” and “The Thunder Rolls.” Trisha Yearwood, his wife, came out to sing some duets; the Oklahoma native even sang a song specifically for a cancer survivor in the audience.

November 1, 2015: Janet Jackson

Introduced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Mayor Betsy Hodges officially named November 1 “Janet Jackson Day” in the city of Minneapolis. It’s more fitting then you might realize: Jackson recorded Control (1986), Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989), janet (1993), and The Velvet Rope (1997) at Flyte Tyme Studios (first in Minneapolis, then Edina) with Jam and Lewis. “It was 30 years ago this young lady got off a plane,” he told the Target Center crowd, “and the rest, as they say, is history.” Jackson rewarded her fans by performing every hit in her song-book, from “Burn It Up” and “Miss You Much” to “Control” and “What Have You Done For Me Lately.”

  • Darren B

    Prince was not on the bill for the August 25, 1999 concert and he didn’t play his own show. Smash Mouth opened and Lenny Kravitz was the headliner. Prince only guested with Lenny Kravitz during the American Woman encore.