August 16th, 2010
Photo by Michael Alan Goldberg
Paul McCartney started his Saturday night show at the Wells Fargo Center (or whatever they’re calling it now) with a warning, slightly touched with irony. “You never know what will happen,” he cautioned—and then launched into a predictable, crowd-pleasing set loaded with Beatles tunes and memory.
The audience knew exactly what to expect: A sludge through McCartney’s competent, if somewhat drowsy recent work; a smattering of Wings songs; and a generous helping of the wistful and the iconic, including the inevitable “Hey Jude” sing-a-long and “Yesterday” crowd sway (cell phones up, of course, and God bless the one nostalgic soul who could produce a lighter).
And McCartney, like the old pro he is, delivered. He gave the crowd what it wanted, be it grainy nostalgia (footage from A Hard Day’s Night scrambled on the screen during “All My Loving”), ’60s anecdotes (he peppered his stage dialogue with off-hand, first-name references to Jimi and Eric) or, for one sign-waving fan, “Ram On,” a plucky 1971 rarity.
He also provided the requisite John and George tributes: “Here Today,”—McCartney’s imagined conversation with the late Lennon—and peace sign held skywards and “Something,” a ukulele-plucking solo that built to a rollicking, if misty, homage.
McCartney has such a rich back catalog to draw from he couldn’t satisfy everyone, but he covered the bases, hop-scotching from Rubber Soul b-sides (an acoustic rendition of “I’m Looking Through You”) to Band on the Run thumpers (“Jet”) to early, boy band love letters (“All My Loving”). I would have swapped “Dance Tonight,” a jangly mandolin foot-tapper off 2007’s Memory Almost Full, for some more mop-haired Beatles songs but after nearly 50 years he must be sick of playing “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
If he’s tired of tearing through “Helter Skelter” or “Get Back” for the zillionth time, he didn’t show it. His voice is agile, if a little ragged, and he didn’t flag once during the three-hour, nearly 40-song set. Not bad for 68 years old. And judging from the feminine squeals when he emerged, lefty bass in hand, he’s still “the cute one,” even if that brown shag is now artificial. The crowd was packed with fiftysomethings, Shea Stadium screamers all grown up, now joining their children and grandchildren in an “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” chorus. Apparently all it takes is a couple of overpriced beers and the opening chords of “Day Tripper” to pare away the years and reduce the dowdiest suburban mom to a giggling 14-year-old.
The only surprise of the night was a pyrotechnic conflagration midway through “Live and Let Die,” incongruous in a no-frills set whose only props were a Union Jack and a dangling moon and whose only costume change, McCartney joked, was the removal of his Nehru-esque jacket. You can’t startle the middle-aged too much: they don’t appreciate things like that. Just give ‘em “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” at the end, and everyone will be happy.
We didn’t attend Sunday’s show, but we can prettily well guess how it went. (Lauren Smith)