Seeing Paul McCartney live in 2017 is a propositioned weighted with history, a history perhaps more widely known than that of just about any other living musician. However, despite the nostalgia factor, McCartney has remained a competitive commercial force, continuing to release new music intended to both appease long term fans and have a chance at the charts.
Kicking off with 1964’s ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and continuing with a run of recognisable, if slightly juiced up songs, including 1974’s ‘Junior’s Farm’, ‘All My Loving’ and ‘Let Me Roll It’, the mission statement was set. With the familiar sight of McCartney playing a Hoffner bass, and backed by two guitarists, a drummer and a keys player, the sound was decidedly ‘classic rock’, with crunchy, sustained electric guitar pushed aggressively to the front of the mix and the rhythm section sounding tight but pumping. McCartney was clearly determined that if he was giving us nostalgia – which, as evidenced by the video footage of The Beatles playing during ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, he was – it was going to be exciting.
Now 75 years old, there were points when McCartney’s voice was audibly a bit strained, such as during the intro of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, but interestingly he seemed to have less trouble doing his more forceful rock’n’roll vocal, which sounded great.
There was a certain unabashed, and probably unavoidable, daggy element to the show, including the cheesy lead guitar tones, McCartney’s dad dancing and clearly rehearsed, probably exaggerated, stories in between songs, but that was all part of the fun.
At about the halfway mark the band began to hit their stride and McCartney’s voice seemed to have warmed up, and possibly been turned up as well, dedicating a very sweet rendition of 2012’s ‘My Valentine’ to his wife Nancy.
An acoustic section included a country stomp take on ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’, as well as the pre-Beatles composition ‘In Spite of All the Danger’, the 1958 demo of which was included on 1995’s Anthology. With McCartney on acoustic guitar and one of the guitarists handling bass duties, the less amped up sound suited much of the earlier material, including ‘Love Me Do’, ‘You Won’t See Me’ and ‘And I Love Her’, the latter featuring hand drums and rhythm sticks.
It’s important to note that even though this was clearly a show designed for stadiums and was being mixed to maximise the sound onstage in the most exciting manner, there was clearly never a point where anything was being added that was not coming from the band. McCartney famously has always run a tight ship, and the group were completely locked in together on every note.
A portion of the stage elevated Sir Paul, with a single spotlight lighting up his microphone to create some sort of intimacy in such as massive setting, with an image of the moon and then a waterfall appearing on the front of the raised section. McCartney then delivered stirring solo takes on ‘Blackbird’ and his 1982 Lennon tribute, ‘Here Today’, with his slightly shakey voice merely adding to the emotion of the latter.
‘Queenie Eye’ and ‘New’ were the sole inclusions from his most recent album, 2013’s New, and stood up surprisingly well, free from the slick production of that record. The dad rock version of the Kanye West and Rihanna collaboration ‘Four Five Seconds’ on the other hand, was okay, but didn’t really add anything to the show.
As a reward McCartney dipped straight into ‘Eleanor Rigby’, his acoustic downstrokes emulating the cello part of The Beatles’ recording, while the keys filled in the rest of the strings.
Donning a ukulele given to him by George Harrison, McCartney paid tribute to his late bandmate with a lovely stripped back version of ‘Something’, that too quickly morphed into the full band Abbey Road version, somewhat breaking its own spell with its note-for-note accuracy.
‘Band On The Run’ was one of the night’s highlights, its iconic intro receiving a warm response, with the band seamlessly moving between its many sections and McCartney himself sounding impossibly youthful. Similarly, the gospel influences in his piano and vocal were pleasantly evident in the following song, ‘Let It Be’. ‘Live and Let Die’ has always been a bombastic Bond theme, but tonight’s inclusion of extraordinarily loud pyrotechnics managed to shock everyone with their sudden explosions and very real fire, which were fun, even if serving as a distraction from the song itself.
There were probably a few too many similar bluesy rock’n’roll numbers, such as ‘Birthday’ and ‘Back in the USSR’, but when McCartney emerged for an encore of ‘Yesterday’, it was an almost overwhelming moment.
Closing with the Abbey Road medley of ‘Golden Slumbers’/ ‘Carry That Weight’ / ‘The End’, was a final and fitting conclusion, the musicians not missing a step through each change and McCartney screaming the “Oh yeah, alright!” part like it was 1969 again. Bidding us goodnight with two thumbs up and a final explosion of fireworks and confetti, there was no doubt that we had been treated to not merely an exercise in nostalgia, but a thrilling show by a still vital performer who happens to have written some of the most famous songs in the world.
Originally published in Beat Magazine. Photo by David Harris.