RDS Arena, Dublin
The last time Paul McCartney played Dublin, it was 1963 and Beatlemania was in full swing. Legend has it that after the gig, John, Paul, George, and Ringo had to be transported out of the now-defunctThe last time Paul McCartney played Dublin, it was 1963 and Beatlemania was in full swing. Legend has it that after the gig, John, Paul, George, and Ringo had to be transported out of the now-defunct Adelphi cinema in the back of a newspaper van. This time around, a posh, dark-screened coach was on hand to take the 60-year-old singer and his band of slick session musicians back to base.
The heady excitement of those halcyon days is long gone, replaced by a coolly efficient professionalism that ultimately can only take one on the most bittersweet nostalgia trip. But the world is running out of Beatles, and so when one pays your town a courtesy call, you are duty-bound to keep the appointment.
Beneath overcast suburban skies, 30,000 souls filled the open-air RDS Arena and waited for the man of the moment to appear. But first came the surreal spectacle of people in exotic, aristocratic costumes gliding around the stage to chilled-out ambient music, followed by an eye-popping oriental circus featuring double-jointed women tying themselves in knots. Meanwhile, otherworldly costumed figures skipped through the crowd, carrying giant, multi-colored balloons, lending a "Sgt. Pepper's"-like hallucinatory aspect to the proceedings.
With the crowd's senses well-stirred, it was time for the main attraction. He arrived sporting jeans, a bright red top, black jacket, and his trademark Hofner bass. "Hello Goodbye" kicked off what was a flawlessly executed trip throughout the Beatles' blue-chip songbook as well as the more palatable moments of McCartney's uneven solo career.
Switching between bass, acoustic and Les Paul electric guitars, and a psychedelic piano, McCartney's versatility was there for all to see. His energy levels throughout the course of 160 minutes never waned. Fondly remembered anecdotes about the Fab Four served as fascinating preludes to some of the classics, which also had the effect of shrinking one's perception of the venue from big field to intimate fireplace.
"All My Loving" was an early highlight, during which the crowd watched archive footage of a hysterical and hormonal early-'60s audience themselves watching the Beatles. This was an odd, slightly post-modern experience—not least because the perky, fresh-faced hearthrob in the black-and-white video seemed to have little connection to the mature man standing before us.
Alas, the glory of each Beatles classic only served to underline the relative mediocrity of some of McCartney's solo material, such as "Lonely Road," which was augmented with a trite video of, naturally, a lonely road. McCartney's tribute to his current wife, Heather, "Your Loving Flame," was a sincere but overly sentimental piano ballad. Slipping into solo acoustic mode, he played a crowd-pleasing set that included "Blackbird," "You Never Give Me Your Money," and a wonderful rendition of "Fool on the Hill."
As a tribute to the departed Beatles, McCartney performed "Here Today," a direct and emotionally raw cri de coeur that addressed his troubled relationship with John Lennon, before producing a ukulele in honor of George Harrison.
McCartney then mixed old with new again, as "Calico Skies" was followed by "Two of Us" and an accordion-led "Michelle." Such Wings hits as "Band on the Run" and "Live and Let Die" retained their 1970s prog-rock associations, the latter coming complete with fireworks and explosions onstage. But most memorable of all was a superb version of "She's Leaving Home," which featured perfect harmonies from the band.
Everybody let their hair down for "Birthday," which rocked like a beast before such timeless hits as "Let It Be" and "Hey Jude" showed what a knack McCartney had for writing poignant, tender ballads that magically morph into anthemic stadium-sized singalongs.—NK