“We have finally found somebody under the age of 50!” McCartney crowed after Rihanna joined him for “FourFiveSeconds,” the song they recorded last year with Kanye West. (He could just as easily have upped that unofficial cutoff by a couple of decades; at 70, Young is, true to his name, the youngest of Desert Trip’s headliners, with Bob Dylan the oldest at 75.)
Rihanna was certainly the fashion hit of the night, if not festival, wearing a pin-striped suit with no shirt underneath… not unlike Dylan the previous night, who also went bare-chested underneath a suit jacket. Great minds dress alike? Rihanna’s hair also rivaled McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” pyro for the greatest visual monument of the night; while McCartney’s own moptop was severely tousled by the high desert wind, RiRi’s hair seemed to whip halfway across the stage at times, but her co-star was experienced enough to stay out of its way.
Fest-goers who’d only heard reports from weekend 1 might have worried that Rihanna was replacing Young as McCartney’s cameo player of choice, but there was no need for concern there. Later in the set, Young exactly reprised the appearance he’d made with Macca last Saturday, sharing lead vocals on a “Day in the Life” that led into John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” That peace-loving high-mindedness was followed by a Young guitar solo on the very low-minded “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?,” a Beatles cult favorite that McCartney had never played in concert prior to bringing Young up for it last weekend.
The only switch-outs in McCartney’s 38-song, 2-hour-and-45-minute set were “Got to Get You Into My Life” subbing for “Can’t Buy Me Love” and, in the encores, “Birthday” filling in for the previous weekend’s “I Wanna Be Your Man.” (Maybe McCartney figured that if the Stones were going to drop their tribute to the Beatles, “Come Together,” he would retaliate by dropping his de facto tribute to the Stones.)
But there was another happy addition, besides the Rihanna duet: As a band member started to count off “Helter Skelter” in its usual spot, McCartney seemed to suddenly be struck by what night of the week this was, and he sang the opening line of Little Richard’s “Rip It Up”: “Well, it’s Saturday night and I just got paid…” As planned out as most of these festival surprises were, this was clearly a real one, as McCartney sang a cappella for a bit, finally joined by his drummer and then bass player. “That’s it. It’s Saturday night -- I couldn’t resist,” he explained after a couple of stanzas, and it was back to “Helter Skelter,” in one of the strangest and best segues ever.
It actually wasn’t the first time in the set that a fan would have thought of Little Richard, or at least a fan with a sense of history and of McCartney’s primary vocal models. At 75, against all odds, the former Beatle is still able to pull off that Richard Penniman howl, repeatedly, in the desert, over a nearly Lawrence of Arabia running time. Toward the beginning of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” maybe the most demanding number in his set, he struggled with a couple of notes, then rallied to deliver it with all the robust vigor it demands, as his keyboard player Wix Wickens laughed and clutched at his own throat in abject admiration.
McCartney was celebrating the final night of a very long tour. Young, on the other hand, seems to be, like Dylan, on a Never Ending Tour, and it might take him a few years of being on the road with his current backing band, Promise of the Real, to get through all the songs they’ve rehearsed. Seven of the 20 numbers they played Saturday were not part of the previous weekend’s Desert Trip set, something Young made a point of playing up.
At one point he began playing an electric guitar riff, then quickly stopped himself, saying, “we played that last weekend. We only have so many songs,” he added playfully, and then picked up a posterboard-sized placard from the floor that lists all the songs he and the band have to choose from. On one side of the board were “electric” songs, on the other side “acoustic,” with dozens of possible picks the group has apparently rehearsed on either side. If there’s any sort of competitive edge underlying the chumminess among Desert Trip headliners, Young touting the fact that he could literally play all weekend all by himself counted as an amusing show of braggadocio.
On this particular night, “Cowgirl in the Sand” filled the epic slot that “Down by the River” had the previous weekend, seeming to go on for 15-20 minutes, though not many thought to set their stopwatches to count for sure. But it was the recent “Seed Justice” that prompted the most comical and topical moments of Young’s set.
Bringing a large basket out on stage, Young quipped that Mick Jagger was the Little Red Riding Hood who had left it behind the previous night. Then he baited the crowd with the opportunity for some local cheerleading: “What do you think of California?” Some moderate cheers. “Well, I didn’t hear much. I’m from Canada and I make more noise about California than you do!” Then, to his point: “There’s a California seed law that says you can’t take these seeds from one county to the next because they’re organic. So I’m gonna give you some seeds, and you can take these seeds wherever you want, and then go and report yourself to the police.” He and the band took packets from his basket and threw them into the crowd. “They’re absolutely free, but if you break the law, you might not be, so keep your seeds in your pocket! California seed law -- it’s a piece of shit! Hey, I’m sorry -- am I off-subject?” Well, possibly, but to paraphrase another song in the set, long may he ramble.
Desert Trip wraps up Sunday night with repeat performances by Roger Waters and The Who.
Neil Young + Promise of the Real setlist:
"After the Gold Rush"
"Heart of Gold"
"Long May You Run"
"Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)"
"Out on the Weekend"
"Comes a Time"
"Words (Between the Lines of Age)"
"Cowgirl in the Sand"
"Like a Hurricane"
"Rockin’ in the Free World"
Paul McCartney setlist:
"A Hard Day’s Night"
"Got to Get You Into My Life"
"Let Me Roll It"/"Foxy Lady"
"I’ve Got a Feeling"
"Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five"
"Maybe I’m Amazed"
"We Can Work It Out"
"In Spite of All the Danger"
"I’ve Just Seen a Face"
"Love Me Do"
"And I Love Her"
"FourFiveSeconds" (with Rihanna)
"Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite"
"A Day in the Life"/"Give Peace a Chance" (with Neil Young)
"Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?" (with Neil Young)
"Band on the Run"
"Back in the U.S.S.R."
"Let It Be"
"Live and Let Die"
"Rip It Up"
"Golden Slumbers"/"Carry That Weight"/"The End"