Paul McCartney was playing air guitar when he showed up at New York’s Grand Central Terminal Friday night around 7:40 p.m. His livestreamed YouTube concert was starting in just a few minutes, but first he wanted to give us in the audience a few instructions. He’d start the broadcast alone on camera, with the crowd in complete silence. “Then I’ll just move a little more over this way and sing, ‘Hey Jude…'” he continued. “And you’ll sing, ‘Don’t make it bad…’ And that’s your big moment!”
There were about 200 of his closest friends, fans and total strangers there in Vanderbilt Hall, a beautiful chamber off the main commuter concourse. Meryl Streep was one of them; Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, Jimmy Fallon and Jon Bon Jovi were among the others. We practiced our bit once – “Just the one line!” he reminded us — then did it for real with the cameras rolling.
If you’ve attended any of McCartney’s shows in the last decade or two, you know how amazing it feels to sing “Hey Jude” along with him. It’s one of the greatest live music experiences you can have, taking a sad song and making it better right there in real time. “Hey Jude” never fails. It’s a reliable crowd-pleaser for an artist who loves nothing more than pleasing crowds. And this all-time classic song just celebrated its 50th anniversary a few weeks back. So it says a lot that he didn’t perform it Friday night after that brief tease in the show’s intro. This was a different kind of McCartney show, leaner and lighter on its feet, less interested in hitting every familiar note and more invested in having a good time. Forget the baggage — this Friday night arrived without a suitcase.
McCartney was there to remind us about his great new LP, Egypt Station. (Get it? Stations, trains, Grand Central?) But he only played three songs from that album, including the charming New Wave groove “Who Cares” and the extraordinarily horny pop gem “Fuh You.” He was having too much fun to slow down, giving us a streamlined, re-energized tour through his catalog, from “Love Me Do” all the way to “FourFiveSeconds.” There were fewer ballads than usual, so his hard-rocking performances of “Helter Skelter,” “Birthday” and “I’ve Got a Feeling” set the tone for the night. Even the very sweet “My Valentine” got a new arrangement, with McCartney crooning through a busted megaphone.
He was in a fantastic mood all evening, kidding around with the crowd and himself. When some wise guy asked if “Love Me Do” was a new one, McCartney good-humoredly shot back, “What is this, a town hall?” When he flubbed the lyrics to “Blackbird” twice, it just made him seem endearingly human — and what a moment when he got it right the third time.
A third of the way through the show, he broke out “From Me To You” for only the second time ever as a solo artist (the first was earlier this summer in Liverpool), hitting those early-Beatles wooo!‘s with style and grace. Musing on the moment, he took us back to February 1963, when he and John Lennon wrote “From Me To You” on a tour bus, introducing an unprecedented complexity in the song’s chords: “Come on, give it up! G Minor! We were going places!” More than half a century later, the bus is still rolling, and the songs still sound like nothing else. If you have a chance to see his Freshen Up tour when it hits the U.S. next spring, don’t miss it.
“A Hard Day’s Night”
“Hi, Hi, Hi”
“Can’t Buy Me Love”
“I’ve Got a Feeling”
“Come on to Me”
“Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five”
“From Me to You” (first U.S. performance since 1964)
“Love Me Do”
“I Saw Her Standing There”
“Back in the U.S.S.R.”
“Let It Be”
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”
“Carry That Weight”