“How is he gonna top this?”
This was what I wondered as Paul McCartney ended his concert at the TUC on Saturday night. He and his band had just finished a breathtaking run of songs that, appropriately, drove the crowd nuts: “Band on the Run,” “Back in the USSR,” “Let It Be,” “Live and Let Die,” and “Hey Jude.” “Live and Let Die” featured lasers, smoke, fireworks and exploding gas jets you could feel the heat from in the 12th row. “Hey Jude” prompted as loud and fervent an audience sing-along as I’ve ever heard. He’d stone-cold killed it; would he just drop the mic and not come back? That’s a thing now.
Nope. McCartney is old school. After the requisite interlude of audience screaming, he returned and they cranked out “Day Tripper.” Of course he could “top that,” he’s Paul McCartney. That first encore ended with “Get Back,” for Chrissakes. The second encore was the real mind-blower, though. It started with “Yesterday.” Then, McCartney let some 64-year-old dooder from Rochester sing a verse of “When I’m Sixty-Four” and propose to his fiancée, which almost everyone found charming. Then he blew the roof of the sucker with “Helter Skelter,” and ended the extravaganza with the final suite of songs from side two—yeah, I’m old, too—of Abbey Road.
Good lord, I’m getting emotional just typing this.
So, as you’ve heard by now, it was quite a show. The 72-year-old former Beatle showed no signs of strain from the viral infection that had knocked him out for a couple of months. He never left the stage for a drum solo; he was a powerhouse.
Forget the legendarily desultory Beatles concerts you’ve heard about. McCartney came of age as a solo artist—with his band, Wings—at the exact moment arena rock blossomed, and he was an immediate success at it. He took to touring in a way his Beatle bandmates Lennon and Harrison never did; he even opened his 1975 album Venus and Mars with an ode to arena rock (“Rock Show”) that name-checked Jimmy Page. He likes this kind of thing. He’s at home up there.
Saturday night was a kind of culmination of this. McCartney and his band held nothing back in a three-hour show that left the audience exhausted, too. If you’re wondering what the breakdown was between Beatle and solo songs, it was seven new songs, seven Wings/”classic” solo songs—and 26 Beatle faves. At one point, McCartney joked about how the audience put down their phones during the new songs: “I know what you’re doing.”
He sure did. That’s why the set list was composed as if the intervening decades never happened. (Unless I blinked and missed him, the chronological streaming photo montage that filled the edges of the giant LED screen before the show excluded Michael Jackson.) He opened with “Eight Days a Week,” and never strayed far from the songs, Beatle and solo, that made him an icon.
This was a good and proper thing.
Too much certainty usually makes a critic obnoxious and (inevitably) wrong, but I will never see an arena show as good as the one McCartney put on Saturday night. The entire genre is in its twilight, and will barely survive the baby boomers who made it boom. (Maybe they can turn the TUC into a Costco in 15 or 20 years.) Even if it were to somehow limp along, however, nothing will ever top this.