“When we play a Beatles song, everyone has their phones out and it looks like a galaxy. When we do a new song, it’s like a black hole. But we don’t care! We’re gonna do them anyway.” Of course people across all generational lines were most eager to hear the Beatles tracks and then the Wings tracks but it’s not like Paul’s been sitting on his hands the last few decades and a couple of the ‘newer’ songs (four of the sixteen solo records he’s released have been over the last 15 years) resonated. “My Valentine” was a poignant love letter to his wife Nancy Shevell, in the tin pan alley style. The backdrop showed the accompanying video starring Natalie Portman and Johnnie Depp, with Portman providing ASL services and Depp’s be-ringed fingers playing acoustic guitar. Before playing “Here Today,” McCartney mentioned that he’d been conditioned to never say “I love you” to his male friends and so this heart-wrenching song to John Lennon about an imagined conversation was a surprisingly emotional highpoint of the evening.
Oh, he played some Beatles songs too. For a guy who’s a handful of days away from trying to blow out eighty candles, his voice sounded good and his energy level was up to par to play 37 songs, and that was on top of the baker’s dozen plus one that he did as part of the VIP package. I’m not going to lie and say his voice is the same as it was in the 70s and some of the higher register notes were a challenge but no shade here at all. His crack band been with him for a while now and played and sang in complete synchronicity with Paul for the entire set; in particular drummer Abe Laboriel Jr was a key component with expert time-keeping and harmonies. “Can’t Buy Me Love” was a safe choice as an opener, the sunny melody careening around the park while Paul’s trusty Hofner bass provided the bounce and mentally we all filled in the screams of girls from the Ed Sullivan show. McCartney swapped over to a brightly decorated Les Paul for “Let Me Roll It” and peeled off that signature riff, ending with an outro of “Foxy Lady.” Afterwards he relayed why they played it that way; two days after “Sgt Peppers” came out, Jimi Hendrix learned the song and played it at his show, so this was Paul’s way of extending the professional courtesy. There was also a funny story that involved Jimi’s Bigsby whammy bar and Eric Clapton but let’s not get bogged down in minutiae.
“1985” was a Wings song that brought the energy level up high, Paul’s insistent piano lines pushing it along into that glorious chorus, while a solo reading of “Blackbird” showed just how beautiful his songwriting can be. Utterly sublime, up on a telescoping platform all by himself with the sold-out crowd completely enthralled. There were two additional moments where Paul wistfully recalled his former bandmates, starting with a ukulele-driven version of “Something” where McCartney was playing a uke given to him by Harrison himself. Thankfully the cod-reggae style morphed into the full-band version, showcasing that The Beatles best songs weren’t all just Lennon-McCartney creations. And to start the encore, Paul brought up Peter Jackson’s efforts on the recent “Get Back” documentary, relating that Jackson told him he could completely isolate Lennon’s vocals if that was something Paul might find useful. As the band played “I’ve Got A Feeling” there were misty eyes in all sockets when Lennon’s part came on and McCartney was once again duetting with his long-lost friend. How strangely thrilling that feeling must be for Paul after all these years.
For a band that was basically only a viable outfit for eight years, The Beatles’ range was immense and all facets were on display tonight. The early R&B garage rave ups and busker sounds were apparent in the Quarrymen’s “In Spite Of All The Danger,” the psychedelic mind-expansion of “For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite” was paired with vividly colored animations on the backing screen. “We Can Work It Out” demonstrated their earnest forays into pop, “Ob-la-Di Ob-La-Da” showed that even geniuses can release silly throwaways but it was the medley-driven songs from the second side of Abbey Road that really shined. Hard to believe that “You Never Give Me Your Money” was played by McCartney before this tour, and “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” was the sing-a-long everyone was hoping for, until the na-na-nah parts of “Hey Jude” claimed that particular mantle. “Live And Let Die” featured thunderous explosions and pyrotechnics that were felt 20 rows from the stage, fireworks arcing over the stage and illuminating Kenmore Square. That McCartney could write a perfectly bombastic song for a James Bond movie is another testament to the versatility of his craft.
Back to Abbey Road, the show ended with the last three songs from the record (let’s forget this ever happened) and closed out the night in tremendous fashion – the love you take is equal to the love you make, and McCartney showed that tonight with plenty of love for his fans, giving it all. Speaking of which, the night ended on a funny anecdote. As I was leaving the park and trying to cross Lansdowne Street, the police kept people off the road as two large black SUVs and a black tour bus made their escape. In the front of the bus, next to the driver was Paul, casually waving to people as it drove off into the night.