A girl never forgets her first time, even if it’s far from his.
I remember the first time I paid attention to him. I was sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car when I was seven. A song came on the radio that caught my ear and I asked my dad who it was. “Well, that’s the Beatles,” he said. So began a lifelong long affair with everything mop top.
The first time I saw McCartney in the flesh was in 2010 for the opening show of his Up and Coming tour at Jobing.com Arena. Ten rows back and completely engrossed, I was blown away. (At one point, it felt like I was literally being blown away. The pyrotechnics nearly singed off my eyebrows.) He entered with so much energy, gusto and giddy glee that if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought it was his first arena show.
I’m a huge Paul McCartney fan, and in that way I’m totally biased. That said, his Up and Coming kickoff was the best concert I’ve ever seen in my life. I didn’t think anything could ever top it—not even Paul himself. But last night—four years later—I put him up to the challenge.
It’s hard to imagine anything is new to McCartney. He’s seen and done it all, but as he tours his new album, aptly dubbed New, he does seem refreshed. The album embarks on a new path for McCartney without totally veering off the road, covering moments past and loves present. Even though he’s a familiar face to most people on the planet, he continues to reinvent himself without being unrecognizable.
When the world’s longest-running rock star takes the stage, it isn’t a grandiose affair. Sure, there are lights following him and thousands of people screaming, but there’s a certain sense of humility, even if he has no real reason to be humble. He’s a showman, but not in the way we think about it in 2014. Early on he took off his jacket, garnering screams from women of all ages, and winking “OK, that’s the only wardrobe change in the whole evening.”
My biggest qualm with seeing legends perform in person is that they’re mostly self indulgent, which is understandable. They want to play their new material knowing full well most people came to hear the old stuff. Constantly singing lyrics you wrote in your 20’s in your 70’s would be taxing, but McCartney is all about the fans. He dove into a set list featuring songs from The Beatles, Wings and his solo work, satisfying all parties in the mix—especially his band. It’s impossible for them to wipe the smiles off their faces. They’ve been his backing band for the last 12 years, but they still can’t get over the fact that they get to play with Paul McCartney.
It’s impressive enough that a 72-year-old man is still touring at his age. It’s even more impressive that he continues to thoroughly kick ass. And he’s still the cute Beatle. McCartney charmed the pants off the crowd by reading their signs out loud, doing adorable grandpa dance moves and breaking through his slowly-but-surely deteriorating vocals to show off the face-melting sex symbol underneath.
The set list included the songs you’d expect—“Blackbird,” “Eight Days a Week,” “Hey Jude” and “Lady Madonna” all made an appearance—but even more impressive was the stamina he has to back all of it up. For an insane three hours he cut into 38 songs.
They’re songs you’ve heard a million times before, but McCartney finds a way to reinvigorate them with their background stories. Many are tales you’ve heard in pop culture before, but hearing them from the mouth of the man himself is sort of breathtaking. (Yes, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” is verbatim the copy from a poster John Lennon had hanging on his wall. After launching into an ultra-sexy breakdown of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy,” he told the story of when the Beatles went to go see “the man” live and he played the entirety of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Hendrix threw his guitar out of tune and called Eric Clapton out of the crowd to tune it for him. Take that, Clapton!)
Even in a crowd of thousands, McCartney finds a way to make his shows personal—and magical. Andrea and Adam, a young couple in the crowd, caught his eye with their sign which read “You’re ordained, we’re engaged. Please marry us tonight.” He brought the couple on stage and performed a 30 second ceremony, though I’m not sure how well that’ll hold up legally. (But seriously, just tell ‘em Paul McCartney sent you!)
If there was a contender to steal the show, it would be Annie, the 20-something dance phenom that he plucked out of the crowd for “dancing like a loony.” She hopped up and down on stage, getting close to the band and displaying a look of total disbelief to the tune of “Get Back.” I was in awe, too. It felt like watching someone else’s dream play out right in front of me.
The dreamlike show didn’t allow for lulls. Following a sweet rendition of “Let it Be,” the band blew the roof of the place—almost literally—with “Live and Let Die.” Their trademark pyrotechnics, fireworks and lights came into play, making the whole audience gasp. (I was looking down taking notes at this time, so for a fraction of a second I actually thought the place was being bombed. And I was kind of more concerned for McCartney than for myself. I’m not sure what that says about me.)
The show finished with an insane encore consisting of some of his biggest career toppers, including “Daytripper,” “Get Back,” “Yesterday,” and “Helter Skelter,” closing it all out with the Abbey Road medley of “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End.” And just like that, he disappeared from the stage without pomp or circumstance.
Eight Days a Week
All My Loving
Listen to What the Man Said
Let Me Roll It
Breakdown of Foxy by Jimi Hendrix
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five
The Long and Winding Road
Maybe I’m Amazed
I’ve Just Seen a Face
We Can Work it Out
And I Love Her
All Together Now
Everybody Out There
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Band On the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let it Be
Live and Let Die
Hi, Hi, Hi
Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End