“I’ve got a feeling you want to keep rockin’! So be it — let us rock!” This was 70-something Paul McCartney addressing his audience at Brookyn’s Barclays Center two hours into a concert that saw him singing his sweetest ballads and his most face-melting rockers, while jumping between electric and acoustic guitar, piano and his iconic Hofner bass. Saturday night’s (June 8) stop on his Out There Tour took him to Barclays for the first time, and was the first show of a two-night stand that concludes Monday (June 10).
This time around, he isn’t promoting a new album, but rather, sort of plugging the recent reissue of Wings’ 1976 live album Wings Over America. But, in a way, Sir Paul does have “new” material: He’s playing a number of Beatles songs that had never been performed live, either by the Fab Four or by any of the members on their solo tours.
Unbelievably, that group of songs includes the show opener, “Eight Days A Week.” McCartney has toured frequently since returning to the road in 1989, but has somehow never gotten around the playing that classic, which is kind of mind-blowing. But then again, this is a man whose two former bands dominated music and the radio dial in the ’60s and ’70s; there are simply too many songs to choose from in his catalog. But it was those eras — the ’60s and ’70s — that he concentrated on Saturday night: despite his impressive string of ’80s singles, and a good amount of somewhat under-appreciated work since then, he played just two post-’70s songs: “My Valentine,” from last year’s standards album, Kisses On The Bottom (probably with his wife, Nancy Shevell in mind; so many of the songs he performed were written about his late wife, Linda) and “Here Today,” which he wrote in tribute to his late friend John Lennon.
Also getting debut performances on this tour are some of the Beatles’ more eccentric songs: “All Together Now” (which McCartney joked, “Is one of my more intellectual songs,” referencing the child-like lyrics “One two three four/Can I have a little more?/five six seven eight nine ten/I love you!”), “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite,” “Your Mother Should Know” and “Lovely Rita.” And what that means is, Paul McCartney fans who have come to see him in concert over and over heard songs that they’ve never heard the man sing in concert before.
Of course, this wasn’t an audience that minded hearing stuff that they’ve heard before, and Paul gave them a lot of that: there was an embarrassment of Beatles riches. Among them: “All My Loving,” “Paperback Writer” (which Paul noted, he performed on the same Gibson electric guitar that he wrote the song’s riff on), “The Long And Winding Road,” “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Blackbird,” “Lady Madonna,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Something” (originally written and sung by George Harrison), “Ob La Di Ob La Da,” “Back In The USSR,” “And I Love Her,” “Let It Be,” “Hey Jude,” “Day Tripper,” “Get Back,” “Yesterday,” “Helter Skelter,” “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End.” What, no “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”? That song, often present in his sets, didn’t make the cut this time. Similarly, he skipped Wings’ “Jet,” but did play lots of their other classics, including “Junior’s Farm,” “Live And Let Die,” “Let Me Roll It” and “Listen To What The Man Says,” among others.
But here’s the question: for the prices that Sir Paul charges — tickets range from under $100 to over $300 — is it worth the price of admission? In a word: yes. It’s true that his voice is, in the parlance of the times, sometimes pitchy. But how many 70 year-olds are able to duplicate anything they did in their 20s with the same power and intensity? If you want perfection, the Beatles catalog has been remastered and is easily available. So, while his singing isn’t perfect, the joy the man brings to the stage is infectious. It’s clear from the moment he steps on stage, that Paul McCartney loves being Paul McCartney. He shows none of the jadedness that Mick Jagger does, and has no interest in having an adversarial relationship with the audience a la Neil Young and Bob Dylan. He knows that the fans love these songs, and he loves performing them. From his electric guitar solos to his between-songs banter, he loves every minute of his two hours plus on stage, and so do his fans.
One important reason why the shows are so good: Paul’s backing band, which he’s kept since 2001. Like his boss, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. loves every moment onstage. In fact, he’s such a powerful drummer (and it should be noted, great backup singer) that he’s probably the only reason why Paul’s bro Dave Grohl hasn’t joined the band. Laboriel has played for Sting, Clapton, Winwood, Kelly Clarkson and Lady Gaga, but he’s at his best with Paul. The band is rounded out by the guitar team of Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray (who switches to bass when Paul plays guitar or keys) and keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens, who has played with McCartney since ’89. These guys aren’t just sidemen – they’ve been together longer than the Beatles were – and their love for their boss and his music comes out in every note.
In recent years, McCartney has spent time on a variety of non-rock musical projects. But for every standards, classical or ballet excursion he goes on, he seems to return to rock and roll with the enthusiasm of a teenager in the ’50s. And for a few hours, he’s still able to make an audience of tens of thousands of fans feel the same way.