Let’s face it, as a songwriter Paul McCartney has forgotten more songs than most good songwriters have written in their lifetimes. When you’re the genius responsible for so many of contemporary music’s finest moments and you changed the music world and popular culture with your band mates your biggest dilemma is what to include in your set list. Sure, nothing will ever surpass his work with the Beatles, but there are still some damn fine gems to choose from created in the years since.
The first time I saw McCartney was 23 years ago when he’d just began to reclaim the extraordinary legacy of the Beatles, prior to that his live shows had deliberately been weighted towards the music created in the years since. I knew then that those shows were the closest I would ever get to a live Beatles’ performance and he didn’t disappoint, although in the main the Beatles’ numbers included in his set were dominated by the hits.
This time around his choices were anything but obvious and that’s what made this concert even better. Naturally McCartney had to play Yesterday, Let It Be, Eleanor Rigby and Hey Jude and while you don’t even want to think about the number of times he’s had to perform those songs over the years, he still delivered wonderfully heartfelt renditions of each. But it was the unexpected choices that provided the show’s more reflective moments.
I was in tears as Paul played Blackbird, a song of hope for those being racially vilified in America’s south during the 60’s. It was followed by Here Today, a love letter to John written after Lennon had been murdered. I was still crying by the time he’d finished it. Later in the show Paul played tribute to George with a cover of Something using one of George’s favourite instruments – the ukulele. Tears once again streamed down my face as my teenage son asked why I was crying. How could I explain to him the emotional weight these songs carried for me? I was swept up in the moment of something lost and yes, nostalgia.
Paul tore into the fabulous Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five and then followed it up with Maybe I’m Amazed – his definitive love song to Linda sounding as powerful as ever, almost 20 years after she passed away. The magic continued to flow with a searing take on I’ve Got A Feeling with Paul on lead guitar riffing on Hendrix’s Foxy Lady as the song tailed out. His decision to include a number of John’s songs (A Hard Day’s Night, Being For The Benefit of Mister Kite) was a nice touch and A Day In The Life was magnificent.
McCartney shared far more anecdotes this time around, from George Martin’s influence on classics like Love Me Do to watching Hendrix blowing a room away as he recreated Sergeant Pepper’s in its entirety only two days after the Beatles had released it. The punch line where Hendrix called for Eric Clapton to come up on stage and tune his guitar was a ripper too.
The encore, like the set that preceded it was full of surprises and while Mull of Kintyre was delivered with a combined Queensland bagpipe contingent that rang loud and clear as we all sang along, it was McCartney’s inclusion of a blistering Helter Skelter that was truly inspired. By the time he wrapped it up with Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End fifty odd thousand fans had been treated to an extraordinary concert experience.
As I reflect on the concert some weeks later and the conversations with friends I’ve had about the show the one lingering question is: “was it just an exercise in middle-aged nostalgia and if not what relevance does McCartney hold in the 21st century?” It’s impossible to be objective about it when you’ve grown up with his music and where so many of those songs hold such emotional depth. For the older teenage girls sitting behind us who screamed with excitement and sang along like a tuneless, drunken choir to his 2015 hit FourFiveSeconds (recorded with Kanye West and Rhianna) it was undoubtedly one of their highlights of the night. For my 12 and 14 year old kids who are well schooled in the man’s music the entire concert experience was an incredible thrill – a moment that will be indelibly stamped on their musical consciousness for the rest of their days, not to mention mine.
*Paul McCartney at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. Photography by Dan Maynard.