Thirty songs into his set at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night, Paul McCartney seemed like he was just getting started — and then he welcomed “a friend of New York and a friend of Yankee Stadium” onstage. It was Billy Joel, wearing a black jacket and baseball cap, who promptly sat down at the grand piano. “Are you ready for this?” McCartney asked him. “Yeah, man!” Joel responded. They kicked into a rowdy “I Saw Her Standing There,” trading verses between Joel’s furious piano solo, which he played grinning like the Beatles-crazed teenager he once was.
It was a perfect surprise for McCartney’s second and final night at the stadium, a perfect warm July night that clouds had threatened early on. McCartney and Joel have collaborated frequently in recent years: McCartney surprised fans when Joel closed out Shea Stadium in July 2008, and Joel returned the favor the following summer appearing onstage when McCartney baptized Citi Field.
But Joel’s presence was particularly welcome this time; he hasn’t played a proper concert in two years and puzzled fans when he abruptly canceled the publication of his memoirs in March. When asked weeks ago if he’d join McCartney at Yankee Stadium, he said, “If he wants me to play, I’ll play. You don’t say no to Paul McCartney.”
Like those Citi Field shows – and all of McCartney’s shows since he reemerged on the road in 2002 after years without touring – he gave the people what they wanted. Joined by his four-piece band, he packed his three-hour set with quick blasts of Sixties pop (“Magical Mystery Tour,” “All My Loving,” “Drive My Car”) and classic winding epics ( “The Long and Winding Road” and “Band on the Run”). And there was plenty of his classic cheesy humor. “Who’s this guy Derek Jeter?” he asked the crowd. “I hear he has more hits than me!”
In recent years, McCartney has opted for sporadic runs of shows rather than full-on, consecutive-date world tours. In turn, he seems to relish the stage all the more when he does play live. He regularly played up his presence, lifting his classic Hofner bass above his head, air boxing, and mock-shaming the crowd for enjoying the over-the-top pyro in “Live and Let Die.” Early on, he removed his military-style jacket to reveal suspenders, inciting several audience howls. “That’s my big wardrobe change of the night,” he said. “Hopefully there will be no malfunctions!”
The acoustic portion of the set featured gorgeous renditions of “I’m Looking Through You,” “I Will” and “Blackbird.” “How many people here have tried to learn that one on guitar?” he said; around one-third of the crowd in floor seats raised their hands.
He paid tribute to John Lennon “Here Today,” written as a lost conversation with John Lennon and began “Something” on George Harrison’s ukulele, until it grew into a gorgeous full band arrangement. These moments and several others are familiar to those who have seen McCartney in recent years, but it’s hard not to enjoy them not matter how many times you’ve seen the show.
Still, there were several surprises – most of all, Help’s folky, dramatic “The Night Before,” performed live for the first time, well, the night before. He also busted out several Wings classics; their 1974 rocker “Junior’s Farm” and the groovy “Let Em In” and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five.” McCartney rocked out especially hard to “Mrs. Vanderbilt” – which he noted was a big hit when he played it in Ukraine.
McCartney ended with a homestretch of hits: “Let It Be,” a “Hey Jude” sing-along and a raucous “I’ve Got a Feeling,” which after finishing, the band sped into double-time and jammed off a James Gang-style blues riff. His third and final return to the stage featured “Yesterday,” “Helter Skelter” and Abbey Road’s closing medley. “I told you we were going to have a good time,” he said during the encore. It was an offhand comment – but it’s still astonishing to see how much McCartney, at 69, still cares.