Size didn’t matter to Prince. At least when it came to audience and venue.
Whether he performed for 12 people in a small space at Paisley Park or for a Super Bowl full of fans with millions more watching on TV, he threw down with full authority and stirring passion.
When it came to his second annual posthumous “Prince Live on the Big Screen” in Minneapolis, size did matter. So did distance.
In April of 2018, two years after Prince died, the Big Screen concert — that’s real live musicians accompanying a video of Prince performing — felt too soon. Too emotional. Too inappropriate. Too exploitative. Too expensive.
Plus, with maybe 7,000 people in Target Center, it felt too empty.
On Friday, the Big Screen show was reprised at the Armory in Minneapolis. The revamped fortress with its wonderfully upgraded acoustics is half the size of the Timberwolves’ arena. And, as was the case last year, the place was only half full, with about 3,000 people.
But sadness didn’t hover over the crowd this time. Despite tickets costing as much as $199, fans were happy to be there and thrilled to witness Prince in all his onstage majesty. People danced gleefully without ever thinking they needed a partner. They followed his every cue, whether to sing, wave their arms or “touch the sky” by pumping their palms in the air. They partied like it was 2009, not 2019.
The concert footage was a 2¼-hour mashup from shows in Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C., in March 2011. The songs didn’t necessarily follow the setlists from those nights — in fact, Friday’s show opened with “D.M.S.R.,” which was an encore in Raleigh — but that didn’t matter.
What this cut-and-paste concert proved was — lest Hugh Jackman or anyone else forgot — that Prince was the greatest showman.
Of course, this evening was preaching to the Purple choir. But watching these riveting performances potently reminded us of Prince’s mastery in so many areas — a heartfelt singer, dazzling dancer, virtuoso guitarist, soulful pianist, terrific arranger, precise bandleader, playful performer, moving lyricist, versatile songwriter, fashion visionary, remarkable stage director, inspiring human being. In short, the most complete rock star ever.
That’s why the Purple faithful miss him. They’re trying to get through life without the creator of their soundtrack, the musicmaker who orchestrated their romances, the philosopher who gave them words to live by. To paraphrase one of his songs, no rock star could ever take the place of their Prince.
Backed by a well-rehearsed group of 14 of his former musicians, Prince delivered a hits-heavy performance, with enough deep tracks (“Insatiable,” “Scandalous,” “Adore,” “Extraordinary”) to appease the aficionados. So what if it was essentially the same show as the one at Target Center.
The solo piano medley underscored his supreme sexiness, the melding of “Controversy” and “Housequake” showcased his command of irresistible rhythms, and “Kiss” captured his moves — part robot, part mime, all sexy dancer — in gold-sequined glory.
The vocal highlight had to be his impassioned duet on “Nothing Compares 2 U” with Shelby J, who, in Minneapolis, was wearing the same outfit that she had on the screen in North Carolina.
That kind of attention to detail would have been appreciated by Prince. Technically, the sync between the live musicians and the filmed and recorded Prince was impressive. And, in an emotional new wrinkle, the actual guitar that Prince was playing on screen during “Purple Rain” was resting on a stand in front of the stage as he and the band performed.
Before the first note in the evening was heard, Prince, in a spoken word introduction in the darkness, philosophized that music should be organic and unexpected. During the concert, he shouted his mantra a few times: “Real music by real musicians.”
“Live on the Big Screen” may not have been truly organic and totally live, but it was an unexpected joy to experience.