Paul McCartney has toured nearly every year in the past decade, and acting on the assumption that many concertgoers would have seen him in concert fairly recently, he promised that his 2013 "Out There" jaunt would bring out some deep cuts. During the interminable retrospective video that opened his Saturday night show at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, some of us (who had strenuously avoided setlists posted online in order to preserve the surprise) played a parlor game, guessing some songs he might play.
SPOILER ALERT: Suffice it to say that when McCartney opened with "Eight Days a Week" followed by the 1974 single-only "Junior's Farm" and then "All My Loving," we knew it was no idle promise.
At 71, Paul doesn't need to tour – clearly, he's doing it because he wants to, but unlike the road-addicted Bob Dylan, even when reaching deep into the vault, he's much more about pleasing crowds than confounding them. He remains a masterful showman and a supremely engaging performer, regaling the crowd with comic asides and stories from back in the day, smiling and waving and pointing at random audience members like they're his old pals. He also had fun with the hand-written signs that crowdmembers waved at him: "'Please sign my wife'? I can't be signing wives at this stage of my career!" "Did you really name your English bulldog Macca?"
His veteran four-piece band renders the songs faithfully but with a flair that largely comes from powerhouse drummer Abe Laboriel, who also provided some stellar harmonies (and gave Paul a lift in spots where he couldn't quite hit the notes he could when he was 25). Likewise, the production was world-class, with a dazzling but unobtrusive light show and pyro on "Live and Let Die" -- and a neat trick for the nosebleed seats we hadn't seen before: the visuals projected behind the band were also projected onto the stage floor, which really must mess with the musicians' sense of balance at times.
And while McCartney's voice showed some wear in places – whose wouldn't after playing nearly three-hour shows for five weeks, let alone five decades? – he remains a formidable musician, showing off his bountiful gifts not only as a singer and songwriter but also as a bassist, pianist and not least as a lead guitarist, with a remarkably fiery style for someone so often associated with prettiness and poppiness.
Clad in a sleek black suit with a white shirt and throwback Cuban heels, his look reflected the moment: modern but backward-looking, and unmistakably Macca.
As for crowd pleasing, he could barely put a foot wrong: The 36-song set featured exactly two songs released after 1975, and focused heavily on psychedelic-era Beatles and the "Band on the Run" album, which vies with Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" and Lennon's "Plastic Ono Band" as the best Moptop solo LP. Some highlights: "Paperback Writer" (where he played the same Epiphone guitar that he used for the song's recording nearly 50 years ago); "I've Just Seen a Face"; "And I Love Her"; "Blackbird" ("How many people have tried to play this song on the guitar?" – nearly half the house cheered); and a brace of mid-'60s deep cuts including "Lovely Rita," "Your Mother Should Know," "Eleanor Rigby" and Lennon's "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," which was probably the biggest did-not-see-that-coming in a night filled with them.
As usual, the evening featured many tributes: "Here Today" for Lennon; "Something" for Harrison; "Maybe I'm Amazed" for Linda; a vamp on "Foxy Lady" dedicated to Hendrix (Paul talked about a Jimi show in London where the guitarist opened with "Sgt. Pepper" two days after the album was released); "Another Day" for legendary producer/engineer Phil Ramone, who died earlier this year.
The show's second encore was a McCartney career microcosm: "Yesterday" followed by "Helter Skelter" and then the "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End" medley that closes "Abbey Road." It was a skillful finale to a masterful show that left us with only one complaint: He didn't play "Jet" …
Eight Days a Week
All My Loving
Listen to What the Man Said
Let Me Roll It/Foxy Lady (instrumental)
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
The Long and Winding Road
Maybe I'm Amazed
I've Just Seen a Face
We Can Work It Out
And I Love Her
Your Mother Should Know
All Together Now
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
Hi Hi Hi
Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End