Monday, July 20, 2009

Rock Show

Paul McCartney at CitiField
July 18, 2009

At the second of his three concerts inaugurating the New York Mets’ new ballpark, CitiField, Paul McCartney held an audience that would have been content with mere ‘60s nostalgia in thrall for over two and a half hours with a rollicking set that included all-time Beatles classics, hits from his solo and Wings years, and even a curveball or two (appropriate considering where he performed).

By opening with a proficient version of the bouncy “Drive My Car,” Sir Paul and his crack band began the evening as if they were an oldies radio station plunked down in center field. But the 1-2-3 punch of the next trio of tunes—the always-driving rocker “Jet” followed by the pounding “Only Mama Knows” and funky “Flaming Pie”—made clear that McCartney was going to celebrate his long and winding career, not apologize for it.

It’s a strange notion, because McCartney is a master of memorable melodies who, at his best, would make Schubert, FaurĂ© and Mozart envious. But back in 1976, when McCartney first toured America with Wings, he distanced himself from the Beatles by playing only five Fab Four songs; it was obviously a shrewd move back then, but he’s since made peace with the fact that he was in the world’s biggest (and best) rock band, and the current song list bares this out: 21 Beatles tunes, compared with 6 from Wings and 7 solo songs. Hey, why not, when you can end your main set with the ultimate audience sing-along, “Hey Jude,” and return for eight encores that run the gamut from “Day Tripper” to “The End,” including an emotional “Yesterday” and raucous “Helter Skelter” played back to back...surely no coincidence, in that they showed off the extremes of his musical personality.

That’s not to say that Paul’s post-Beatles work was given short shrift. “Let Me Roll It,” always a concert favorite, ended with an instrumental jam that nodded to Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” and featured a sizzling guitar solo by the youngest 67-year-old musician on the planet. Another Band on the Run track, the sing-along standout “Mrs. Vandebilt,” was happily resurrected, as was the lovely acoustic anti-war ballad “Calico Skies” from 1997’s Flaming Pie.

Sir Paul’s latest (and mostly terrific) album, Electric Arguments—which he recorded as The Fireman, his experimental side project with producer Youth—was represented by the lilting, instantly hummable “Sing the Changes” and the upbeat rocker “Highway.” A few more new tunes would have been nice, of course, but then the “hits-only” fans would have had more opportunities to visit the bathroom or the food and drink stands

McCartney’s instrumental versatility was much in evidence throughout his solo mini-set, which he began with an acoustic “Blackbird,” followed by his profoundly personal John Lennon tribute, “Here Today” (after which he admitted to choking up at one point during the song) and an irresistible “Dance Tonight,” for which he pulled out his trusty mandolin. Later, his George Harrison tribute—where he performs “Something” on the ukulele, which he mentions George loved to play—gained new life when the band joined him to finish a note-perfect rendition of Harrison’s greatest song, which McCartney laughingly said Frank Sinatra considered his favorite Lennon-McCartney tune.

Among other highlights were a sublime version of “A Day in the Life,” which was interrupted before the final verse for a snippet of Lennon’s always timely “Give Peace a Chance,” and an energetic “I’m Down,” which McCartney prefaced by noting it was also performed at the Beatles’ first Shea Stadium concert in 1965, an evening most notable because the music could barely be heard thanks to unceasing female screaming for the 35 minutes the band was onstage.

Sure, this longtime fan could carp that McCartney doesn’t delve deeply enough into his staggering post-Beatles song catalog: where are the underrated rockers like “Stranglehold,” “Beware My Love” or “Old Siam Sir,” the never-performed hits like “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Helen Wheels” or “Getting Closer,” or the hidden gems like “1985,” “Back Seat of My Car” or “Wanderlust”?

But Sir Paul has always been the Beatle who most wants to be liked, and so putting up with schmaltz like “My Love” (dedicated to Linda and “all the lovers in the audience”) or glitz like “Live and Let Die” (complete with the requisite explosions and fireworks) is part of being a real fan, especially if it means getting powerhouse two-hour and forty-minute concerts like we got at CitiField.

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