About two-thirds of the way through the first of Paul McCartney's three concerts at New York's Citi Field Stadium, fireworks erupted to punctuate "Live And Let Die." After McCartney sang the song's title phrase, the off-beat was punctuated with an eruption of color both on and above the stage: "To live and let die . . . BOOM!" But while the light show seemed to fit the James Bond theme, the set derived its real power from McCartney's mellow charisma and the joy he takes in revisiting his past without wallowing in nostalgia.
Unlike Mick Jagger, who races around stadium stages as if training for an athletic event, McCartney moved mainly to his piano and back. He nodded to the concert's obvious antecedent: The Beatles famously played Shea Stadium, the previous home of the Mets (although, as he pointed out, the performance was mostly drowned out by screaming girls). And he eulogized his former bandmates: John Lennon with "Here Today" and George Harrison by singing "Something" on a ukulele Harrison had given him. But McCartney mostly concentrated on the songs rather than the show.
And what songs. After "Live And Let Die," McCartney and his band closed the concert with a parade of Beatles favorites, including "Hey Jude," "Day Tripper," "Yesterday," "Get Back," and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." He dipped into his history extensively throughout the show, opening with "Drive My Car," rocking through a furious version of "I'm Down" and segueing from "A Day In The Life" into Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance."
Although each of the Beatles has sometimes strained under the weight of the band's legacy, the smile on McCartney's face was obvious even without the giant monitors mounted on the sides of the stage. His crackerjack band tore through songs like "Back In The U.S.S.R." as though they had something to prove, but McCartney can take the adoration of his audience for granted.
Impressively, McCartney isn't content to limit himself to that. He sang the obvious Wings hits like "Jet" and "Band On The Run," but also performed recent solo material like "Flaming Pie" and "Only Mama Knows." He even performed "Sing the Changes" and "Highway," two songs from the 2008 album he released as The Fireman, which few in the audience would have heard. Because of McCartney's evident enthusiasm, or the fact that they were surrounded by Beatles hits, the new songs all drew impressive applause.
It's no secret that McCartney is interested in his legacy, as well as that of his band, so it's an interesting time for him to return with a short tour that started with a widely praised performance at the Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival. September will bring the release of the Beatles "Rock Band" game, long-awaited reissues of the band's albums, and perhaps another wave of Beatlemania for both Boomers and the younger fans who continue to seek out the group's music. McCartney may have nodded to this by playing footage from the game during his set, which delighted the few viewers who knew what they were looking at. From another act, it might have seemed like a marketing ploy. From McCartney it seemed like a way to remind fans that the man who wrote many of those songs can still play them as well as he - or anyone - ever did.