AAMI Park, Melbourne – Tuesday December 5, 2017
Fifty-three years since he first set foot in Melbourne and 24 since his last concert here, Paul McCartney still has the ability to thrill an audience; albeit an older and more sedate one. In three hours, the former Beatle – though he will never be a former Beatle in the eyes of the audience – proved that not only is he one of the greatest songwriters in pop music history but also one of the greatest entertainers.
Where some musicians have difficulty coming to grips with their back catalogue (Bob Dylan, anyone?) McCartney embraces it; though he did note that the audience doesn’t want to hear the new songs but he was going to play them anyway. And where some veteran musicians find it difficult to communicate with their audiences (Dylan, Van Morrison?) McCartney is chatty to a fault. After a near Springsteen-length show no-one here would ever suggest that they did not get value out of every cent of their ticket cost.
Of course, Sir Paul’s voice is not quite as crisp as it was – after all he is 75. (Can this be possible?) The surprisingly compact backing band covers the high notes and fills in the harmonies so that for all intents and purposes the songs are delivered in splendid fashion – even those from Sgt Pepper’s. Rusty Anderson on guitar, Brian Ray on guitars (and occasionally bass), Abe Laboriel Jr on drums and Paul Wickens on keyboards combine for a surprisingly powerful show that delivers astonishingly accurate renditions of the classics. It might have been tempting to overload the show with other musicians, maybe backing singers and a horn section, but McCartney opts for the bare minimum which turns out to be brilliant enough.
The depth of McCartney’s song catalogue and a testament to his talent is the fact that three years ago when I saw him in Dallas three years ago the 39-song set list there contained 12 entirely different songs than tonight’s 40-song set. Fans could easily compile an entire list of other songs that could be equally satisfying. The fact that McCartney played a whole swag that the Beatles never performed live, including three from Sgt Peppers, was a bonus.
But it is not only McCartney’s ability to play the songs so faithfully that engages the audience from the very first notes of the opener, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. McCartney is also a great storyteller, peppering his show with vignettes about the John and George, The Quarrymen, giving Mick and Keith a song that became the Stones’ first No.1 single and more. It was a history lesson in music and words.
McCartney noted that when he appeared in concert in the ‘60s with his mates in The Beatles they could never hear themselves playing and when he asked the audience top scream we got a taste of what it must have been like.
What McCartney delivered was not so much a potted history of his musical life – illustrated by photos and film footage on the large video screens – but more like an extended summary. Children and teenagers this night enjoyed a music lesson par excellence. No doubt in years to come, when they fully appreciate it they will recall to their children how they saw one of The Beatles! (That’s what I told my daughter).
The evening offered a tour through McCartney’s solo catalogue and Wings’ material, and ranged right up to his most recent single, 2015’s ‘Only One’ recorded with Kanye West. Along the way there were plenty of detours: way back to the Quarrymen and their demo (‘In Spite Of The Danger’); remembering George Harrison with ‘Something’ (started with the ukulele); paying tribute to John Lennon; singing ‘Valentine’ for his wife Nancy; dedicating ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ to late wife Linda; and many more. All the while the audience sang along to the hits, encouraged by Sir Paul to do so, especially on ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.’
About the only aspect of the evening that fell a little flat and signalled an exit for some to the bar were the newer songs and McCartney realised that this would happen. “We can tell from up here which songs you’re enjoying,” he said. “When we do a Beatles song it lights up from your phones like a galaxy of stars. When we do a new song it’s like a black hole. But we don’t care, we’re going to do them anyway.”
Just as happened when I saw him in Dallas, the concert moved to another level with ‘Band On The Run,’ a Wings’ song that was not only a highlight but also one that has aged very well indeed. It injected something special into the evening. The screen behind the showed film of the photo session for the album cover!
How do you pick other highlights from a concert packed with them? ‘Live & Let Die’ with its spectacular pyrotechnics is up there. The complex ‘For The Benefit of Mr Kite’ and ‘A Day In The Life’ (with its added coda as a tribute to Hendrix) were equally spectacular. The final three songs of the night – a medley from Abbey Road – was a treat. The Quarrymen selection was a very nice surprise. ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Hey Jude’ which saw McCartney at the piano remain some of his greatest ballads.
In the end, it seems that McCartney has constructed a set list to please everyone, including himself. The evening might have been heavy in nostalgia but sometimes there is nothing wrong with that, especially when it is delivered so magnificently (despite the dubious sound for the first half hour of the show).
As we walked away, the lingering feeling was that we had been lucky to have been in the presence of true musical greatness. I wondered if people felt that way when they saw Beethoven?
Paul McCartney continues his OneOn One Tour tonight at AAMI Park. (Other tour dates below).
A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
2. Junior’s Farm (1974)
3. Can’t Buy Me Love (1964)
4. Letting Go (Venus and Mars, 1975)
5. All My Loving (With The Beatles, 1963)
6. Let Me Roll It (Band On The Run, 1973)
7. I’ve Got a Feeling (Let it Be, 1970)
8. My Valentine (Kisses On The Bottom, 2011)
9. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five (Band On The Run, 1973)
10. Maybe I’m Amazed (McCartney, 1970)
11. I’ve Just Seen a Face (Help, 1965)
12. In Spite of All the Danger (The Quarrymen, 1958)
13. You Won’t See Me (Rubber Soul, 1965)
14. Love Me Do (Please Please Me, 1963)
15. And I Love Her (With The Beatles, 1963)
16. Blackbird (The Beatles, 1968)
17. Here Today (Tug of War, 1982)
18. Queenie Eye (New, 2013)
19. New (New, 2013)
20. Lady Madonna (1968)
21. FourFiveSeconds (2015)
22. Eleanor Rigby (Revolver, 1966)
23. I Wanna Be Your Man (With The Beatles, 1963)
24. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! (Sgt Peppers, 1967)
25. Something (Abbey Road, 1969)
26. A Day in the Life (Sgt Peppers, 1967)
27. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (The Beatles, 1968)
8. Band on the Run (Band On The Run, 1973)
29. Back in the U.S.S.R. (The Beatles, 1968)
30. Let It Be (Let it Be, 1970)
31. Live and Let Die (S/T, 1973)
32. Hey Jude (1968)
33. Yesterday (Help, 1965)
34. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) (Sgt Peppers, 1967)
35. Helter Skelter (The Beatles, 1968)
36. Mull of Kintyre (1977)
37. Birthday (The Beatles, 1968)
38. Golden Slumbers (Abbey Road, 1969)
39. Carry That Weight (Abbey Road, 1969)
40. The End (Abbey Road, 1969)
REMAINING PAUL MCCARTNEY TOUR DATES
December 9: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, QLD
December 11: Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney, NSW
December 12: Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney, NSW
December 16: Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, NZ