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Paul McCartney in Minneapolis: Vital as ever while honoring the past

Paul McCartney Wednesday in Minneapolis.

Paul McCartney Wednesday in Minneapolis.

In the first quarter of 2016, an embarrassment of rock 'n' roll riches has been laid before the Twin Cities: The Who. Iggy Pop. Bruce Springsteen. AC/DC. Black Sabbath. And, yes, Prince.

For the mortality-aware concertgoer, the subtext is clear: These are rare and noble music beasts. We must pay our respects and Ticketmaster fees before they're summoned to the great gig in the sky. That logic certainly applies to Paul McCartney, 73, living. fucking. BEATLE.

The first of Macca's back-to-back Minneapolis shows arrived Wednesday, and it didn't have the trappings of a dutiful hit parade from a fading star. Instead, fans at Target Center got 2.5 hours of a still-vital artist plowing through an unrivaled catalog of songs. 

If death hung heavy in the air — and constant reminders of John Lennon, George Harrison, Linda McCartney, producer George Martin, and Prince made sure that it did — the mood was still celebratory. We're witnessing pages of rock history come to life, after all, and the knighted, mythic creature performing the songs still seems to believe in their power. The packed crowd of around 19,000 did, too. 

That power was immediately put on display with opener "Hard Day's Night." The current One on Our tour is apparently the first solo trek on which McCartney has played the song. The impishly whimsical performer belting out the canonical Beatles jam might not be Boss swol, but he's lively and his voice still feels ripped from 1964. 

Sir Paul followed up that LBJ-era pop masterpiece with 2013's "Save Us. He then pointed out the obvious: "We're gonna play old songs, new songs, in-between songs — this and that." The mix of jams was well-curated, with the uncharacteristic Kraftwerkian bleeps/bloops of 1980 solo cut "Temporary Secretary" serving as the evening's only obvious dud. 

In terms of historic scope, Paul took us from 1958 (the quaint, country-skiffler "In Spite of All the Danger," from proto-Beatles act the Quarrymen) to 2015 (McCartney taking the Rihanna/Kanye leads on a goofy yet convincing blues-folk reworking of "FourFiveSeconds"). Songs from his most recent release, 2013's New, were kept to a minimum. 

The first mention of Prince came early. Bluesy Wings track "Let Me Roll It" segued into an instrumental riff on Hendrix's "Foxy Lady," prompting Macca to say, "Tonight is a tribute to the late great Prince!" Seemed like the obvious place to insert an actual Prince song, but whatever. Instead, McCartney went into an anecdote about watching Prince performing at a small club this past New Year's Eve. "We saw the new year in together and that was beautiful — God bless you Prince!" 

Paul sat down at the piano for the night's first tribute: "My Valentine" for current wife Nancy Shevell, sappy but sweet and full of swelling strings. "Maybe I'm Amazed," performed with the impassioned conviction of someone unafraid to pour it all into a serious, massive love song, went out to his late first wife, Linda. 

During the folksy, stripped-down portion of the evening performed in front of a digitized barn, "Love Me Do," bursting with trademark McCartney whimsy, was dedicated to George "Fifth Beatle" Martin. The legendary producer died in March ("Without George there wouldn't be the Beatles — we love you George!"). The minimalist stage set-up concluded with acoustic Hard Day's Night heartwarmer "And I Love Her." Paul turned his back mid-song to literally shake his ass. Rapturous applause. 

Later on, George Harrison's Abbey Road ballad "Something" began with a simple uke intro, before exploding into a mass of scorching guitars ("Let's hear it for Georgie!"). During the encore, the audience was treated to guitar-charged flickers of Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" ("He's your guy," Paul touchingly reminded us). 

McCartney was slowly raised into the sky on a pulpit-like structure while strumming out the gorgeous civil-rights solidarity number "Blackbird." Cool, unnecessary use of hydraulics. John Lennon was then commemorated from atop the stand with "Here Today" (a "conversation we never had"). "It's really personal!" barked an accurate/awful fan during the otherwise silently tender moment.

The hits and theatrics ramped up in the second half. "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!," the lyrics of which were partially stolen from a circus poster, Paul tells us, featured a bombardment of requisite psychedelic imagery, lasers, and fog. The audience was not-so-subtly reminded of the drugs they took 50 years ago. Tempo-shifting Wings smash "Band on the Run" led into "Back in the U.S.S.R.," replete with a barrage of Russian insignia. The on-point guitar party was followed with a neat anecdote about Russian government officials expressing their Beatles love, post-Cold War. 

Paul performing "Let It Be" at the piano is all any music fan could really ask for. That said, imagine if the four yahoos backing McCartney cooled it with the harmonies and noodling. Or, better yet, if he embarked on a piano and a microphone tour, a la Prince.

Dramatic, stadium-made Wings epic "Live and Let Die," with its flame cannon blasts and literal fireworks, left the lingering smell of gunpowder throughout the encore. That whiplashed into the polite, gentle opening notes of "Hey Jude," which blossomed into an arm-waving singalong. 

The encore began with an acoustic rendition of "Yesterday," featuring slight keyboard-generated strings. Powerful stuff. Then Wings ("Hi, Hi, Hi"). Then Prince ("Let's Go Crazy"). Then a tear through Beatles cuts "Birthday," "Golden Slumbers," and, finally, "The End," with Paul reminding us that "the love you take is equal to the love you make." 

Prince's love symbol was projected on the big screen as McCartney walked off to blasts of purple confetti and fog, concluding a night colored by death but enlivened by the fact we're here to see Paul McCartney. 

Critic's bias: He's a Beatle. 

The crowd: Truly demographic-spanning, with an obvious tilt toward boomerdom. A sense of anticipation buzzed beforehand — we're getting to see a fucking Beatle

Overheard in the crowd No. 1: "Missed my chance with Johnny Cash ..." Hence the entire thesis of this review! Acknowledge the looming specter of death and beat it to the ticket box office. 

Overheard in the crowd No. 2: "Hey look it's George — in a hat!" remaked my genuinely excited date upon seeing one of hundreds of nostalgic photos pasted on the big screen throughout the night. 

Random notebook dump No. 1: As CP music editor emeritus Reed Fischer pointed out in his 2014 McCartney review, bro's got sick endurance

Random notebook dump No. 2: Quirktastic "The Fool on the Hill" seems tailor made for kazoos.

Setist: 

A Hard Day’s Night

Save Us

Can’t Buy Me Love

Letting Go

Temporary Secretary

Let Me Roll It/Foxy Lady 

I’ve Got a Feeling

My Valentine

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

Blackbird

Here Today

Queenie Eye

New

The Fool on the Hill

Lady Madonna

FourFiveSeconds

Eleanor Rigby

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!

Something

Ob La Di, Ob La Da

Band on the Run

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Let It Be

Live and Let Die

Hey Jude

Encore

Yesterday

Hi, Hi, Hi/Let’s Go Crazy 

Birthday

Golden Slumbers

The End