Review: Paul McCartney, Bringing It at 75

IMG_4250Paul McCartney was just kidding a half century ago, when he painted a picture of a grandfatherly existence at 64, doing the garden, digging the weeds and wondering whether he’d still be needed.

Eleven years after that artificial milestone, people very clearly need him.

And as he continues to thrill the hinterlands at 75 with stops on his “One to One” tour, arenas sell out and fans get on their feet for a wealth of Beatles songs, many of which were never performed live when the group was around.

He’s not including “When I’m 64” on the current swing, which stopped Sunday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, but he could scarcely fit it into a setlist that was already 39 songs long. Add in the wealth of his hits from Wings and solo outings, he could concoct three completely different rosters of splendid music to play.

How can you beat a concert that begins with “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Junior’s Farm” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” and chooses only the most delicious obscurities sprinkled amid the well-known anthems. The first was “Temporary Secretary,” an early stab at electronica whose performance came with graphics that aped Kraftwerk too.

With a lean four piece band behind him, they were able to knock out the arena-ready themes from “Band on the Run” — the album most reflected in the generous sho. But they also became a more spare unit, with acoustic guitars, standup trap set and accordion to do the first thing he ever put on wax — “In Spite of All the Danger” from The Quarrymen followed by “You Won’t See Me” and “Love Me Do.”

The latter was probably the heart of the show — the first Beatles’ UK single, simply played, coming with a story about its recording (“I can still hear my nerves in my voice,” he says). More than that, it came off like any acoustic-led singalong to Beatles songs that millions all over the globe have participated in for more than 50 years — but this time with the guy who originally wrote and sang it. The degree of communal joy of the spontaneous singalong to this singular cultural moment can’t be overstated.

Though his talented band — of guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, forceful drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., and keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens, who replicated horn and string sections from original records as well as playing harmonica and accordion —  were able to replicate every favorite turn of those Beatles and Wings tunes, there was also a concern the band would turn into another Fab Faux with a famous guy sitting in. Indeed, it’s hard to play so many great Beatles songs without turning every one of them into a singalong.

The seasoned pro got around this a couple of ways — he’d tag on a coda to a couple of songs. After playing “Let Me Roll It,” he’d add a jamming concoction of “Purple Haze” and “Rollin’ and Tumbling,” and top it with a story about Jimi Hendrix in the clubs. “I’ve Got a Feeling” got similar treatment — after having completed requirements of the original, jamming out at the end. For his George Harrison tribute of “Something,” he flipped the order, starting it on ukulele only to have Anderson and the band kick in with the guitar solo of the original recording.

The requisite balladry of “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be” late in the show rose above the choral singalong through the muscular drumming of Laboriel.

McCartney showed his versatility not only in carrying on with the revered Hofner bass, but also on electric guitar (a Cornhusker sticker affixed to one) and piano. Playing acoustic was his way to really get one to one when Wix’s keyboard strings backed him on “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yesterday.” But when he went solo acoustic to play “Blackbird” (a song he insists was written in response to Civil Rights struggle, a story I’ve never bought), the simplicity was undercut when the platform on which he stood suddenly began to rise a good two stories, with bright video screens on each side, showing flowers in bloom. It wasn’t needed.

The presentation throughout was spectacular, with films and light shows cleverly paired to each song, with new variations continuing to unfold throughout the night. Giant images of McCartney (and sometimes his band) flanked the stage, and many of the older fans would try to focus their camera phones (flash on) at the screens instead of the man (getting videos of videos).

But some of the stagecraft was clearly overkill — particularly when a series of loud explosions, fire pots and streams of flame accompanied the already over-the-top “Live and Let Die.” Even McCartney pretended to act that it was too much, covering his ears in mock distain at its end.

It’s a testament to his songbook that a 75 year old entertainer (who still looks slim and acts boyish on stage) can not just fill arenas but do so with songs that are half a century old. Has this ever happened before? It would be the equivalent of Rudy Vallee filling stadiums in the 1970s; Louis Armstrong entertained into the late 1960s, but not with shows dominated by his Hot Five recordings from the ‘20s.

If there is some wear and tear at the edges of his voice,the sole complaint some can muster at these shows,  it only seems to add some poignancy and vulnerability to songs like “Yesterday” or “Golden Slumbers,” both of which emerged in the encore. He can still do his rock ’n’ roll shouts and almost everything else he originated on the records.

Best of all, he’s not just an oldies act, playing two strong songs from his most recent album “New,” that fit in with the rest to the set because they seem constructed from elements of old Beatles songs, and reaching another high point with a pithy  “FourFiveSeconds,” the surprising Rhianna / Kanye West collaboration from last year that got a louder singalong reaction than, say, “We Can Work It Out.”

Indeed, with so much attention this summer on the 50th anniversary of the landmark “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, he did very little from it — the title song’s shorter reprise and one John Lennon contribution, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”

Like everything else, the latter was great to hear and very well executed musically and visually, but the songwriter had little interest in marking making a big deal of the influential album’s golden anniversary and just move ahead.


The setlist for Paul McCartney Sunday was:

  • “A Hard Day’s Night”
  • “Junior’s Farm”
  • “Can’t Buy Me Love”
  • “Jet”
  • “Temporary Secretary”
  • “Let Me Roll It”
  • “I’ve Got a Feeling”
  • “My Valentine”
  • “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five”
  • “I’ve Got a Feeling”
  • “Maybe I’m Amazed”
  • “We Can Work It Out”
  • “In Spite of All the Danger”
  • “You Won’t See Me”
  • “Love Me Do”
  • “Blackbird”
  • “Here Today”
  • “Queenie Eye”
  • “New”
  • “The Fool on the Hill”
  • “Lady Madonna”
  • “FourFiveSeconds”
  • “Eleanor Rigby”
  • “I Wanna be Your Man”
  • “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”
  • “Yesterday”
  • “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
  • “Hi, Hi, Hi”
  • “Get Back”
  • “Golden Slumbers”
  • “Carry That Weight”
  • “The End”
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