The roughly 16,000 fans who poured into Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for Saturday evening’s Paul McCartney concert had a pretty good idea of what would unfold over the next few hours. Judging by the vintage t-shirts and balding heads, many had seen him before and knew it was only a matter of time before they swayed in unison to “Hey Jude,” felt the heat from the “Live and Let Die” fireballs and screamed about the Jailer Man and Sailor Sam during “Band On The Run.”
Over the past eleven years, Paul McCartney has toured pretty heavily with the same four-piece band and these things have become ritualized. That’s not to say the show has become boring. It’s nearly impossible to feel anything but excitement watching McCartney play many of the greatest rock songs ever written, and he’s careful to bring more than a few surprises each time he comes around.
Also, it’s impossible to feel bored when McCartney is obviously having this much fun. (It’s not like he needs the money at this point.) “At an event this cool,” he said before breaking out the 1976 Wings hit “Listen To What The Man Said,” “I just want to take a moment to myself to drink it all in.” He then stepped to the front of the stage, held up his vintage Hofner bass and soaked in a deafening applause.
Unfortunately, the stellar show got off to a rather weak start. A DJ played a long set of remixed Beatles and McCartney songs before a collage of vintage photos began scrolling on two screens. They went roughly in chronological order over a megamix of McCartney songs. It must have lasted about twenty-five minutes, but it felt like an eternity. By the time McCartney and his band finally took the stage, the crowd had already heard a solid hour of his music.
All was forgiven when he played the opening notes of “Eight Days a Week.” Hard as it may be to believe, prior to this tour he’d never actually performed the song live, even with the Beatles. It set the tone nicely for the evening. Without an album of new original material to promote, Macca had plenty of time to reach way back into his catalog.
“Listen to What the Man Said” was a huge hit for Wings, but until the tour launched last month, he hadn’t touched it in thirty-seven years. The goofy “All Together Now” (from the Magical Mystery Tour sessions) is about as obscure as a Beatles song can get, but it was a great unexpected treat. Another Magical Mystery Tour track, “Your Mother Should Know,” was also dusted off after forty-six years to the delight of everybody.
Other resurrections were less successful. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and “Lovely Rita” (both from Sgt. Pepper) have never been played live for good reason. Not only are they not great songs (at least by Beatles standards), they are also studio creations that don’t transfer well to a concert setting. Paul gave them both his absolute all though, and he gets a lot of points for boldness.
The rest of the night was familiar to anyone that’s seen McCartney this past decade. There was the usual spat of dedications: “Maybe I’m Amazed” to Linda McCartney, “Here Today” to John Lennon and a ukulele rendition of “Something” to George Harrison. He also dedicated “My Valentine” to his wife, Nancy Shevell, and “Another Day” to the recently departed Phil Ramone.
Then there’s the songs he simply can’t leave off any setlist. It would be hard to count how many times he’s sang “Blackbird,” “Lady Madonna,” “We Can Work It Out” and “Let It Be,” but it’s never like watching Van Morrison sleepwalk through “Brown Eyed Girl” for the millionth time. He still sings them with passion, and even something as well-worn as “Yesterday” manages to remain very moving. He wrote that one when he was twenty-two, but it’s more poignant when he sings the song of loss and regret at seventy.
His age was a topic on the lips of many fans. All throughout the night fans were asking each other exactly how old he is, and others simply looked it up on their phones and seemed stunned by Wikipedia’s answer. He’s a walking billboard for vegetarianism, and even though he’s lost a bit of his upper range, his voice remains remarkably powerful. He barely seemed to be sweating by the end of the two-and-a-half-hour show, though many fans did look a bit worn out.
The energy level was even more remarkable during the encores. “Day Tripper,” “Helter Skelter” and “Get Back” were all blistering, while a blissful “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End,” wrapped everything up perfectly.
McCartney is heading to Bonnaroo next week, and then he’s playing stadiums everywhere from Warsaw to Quebec City. It would be a tough schedule for anybody, but McCartney clearly lives for this. Crazy as it sounds, he very well might pull a Chuck Berry and still be at this late into his eighties. Why the hell not?