“You must be bored by now,” Paul McCartney said to a fan holding up a sign that read this was their 113th McCartney show. Macca’s performance on Sunday night (Sept. 17) at Madison Square Garden — the second of two nights and part of his ongoing One on One tour — was anything but boring as the 75-year-old legend roared through his decade-spanning (and sing-along friendly) catalogue.
When McCartney stepped on stage at exactly 8:34 (there was no opening act, McCartney opts to go on when he feels the venue is sufficiently full), he gave his guitar one simple strum and struck a rock star stance — he was ready. “Tonight,” he said, “we’re going to have some fun.” He opened with 1964’s “A Hard Day’s Night” then boomeranged into “Save Us” off his 2013 solo album New. The back-to-back tracks set the tone for the variety of the three-hour long set that followed, which found balance between McCartney’s many eras, dating all the way back to his proto-Fab Four days in The Quarrymen.
“Now we’re going to take you back in time,” McCartney warned. “This goes back before the Beatles… [this was] the very first song we ever recorded.” He and his band then took a trip down memory lane with the slow rockabilly love song “In Spite of All the Danger.” Elsewhere in the set — mainly during “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” or “A Day in the Life” — McCartney took the crowd on a different sort of trip, complete with psychedelic-inspired visuals that were displayed on the large monitors behind and above the stage. Both tracks came from The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year: “That’s surely not possible, that’s before my time!” McCartney joked.
Aside from vibrant flower-power designs (and the pyrotechnics and indoor fireworks during ’70s Bond theme “Live and Let Die”), other eye-catching components of McCartney’s live show featured early footage of a young McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr goofing off in the studio, on stage and in the streets. The impressive arc and longevity of McCartney’s career was most apparent when later in the set, behind-the-scenes studio footage showed him sitting with Kanye West instead. This, of course, appeared on screen as McCartney sang his 2015 collaborative hit “FourFiveSeconds” that features West and Rihanna.
Seeing Paul McCartney in concert is like listening to a rock-n’-roll history book on tape, as in between songs he often shared brief anecdotes — like the time Jimi Hendrix asked Eric Clapton to come on stage and help tune his guitar during one of his earliest gigs (McCartney’s performance of “Let Me Roll It” at the Garden ended with an instrumental jam “as a tribute to the late great” Hendrix). Or the time producer George Martin spontaneously decided that McCartney should sing the chorus of “Love Me Do” rather than Harrison, so that George could play harmonica while Paul sang. “I can still hear the fear in my voice [on the record,]” McCartney admitted. “But not tonight!” McCartney also mentioned an early encounter in a cab with Mick Jagger, and deemed any stories of a rumored bitter rivalry between the Beatles and the Stones to be “fake news.”
While McCartney’s impressive performance — never even pausing for intermission — proved his vocals and stamina are well intact, he made sure his lighthearted humor was spotlighted as well. He engaged in a whistle battle with a concert goer, shook his butt during the sultry acoustic solo towards the end of “And I Love Her,” and later faked a stage dive. But the most impressive, and important, quality that McCartney still posseses is the ability to unite a crowd. Songs like “Blackbird,” which he delivered while elevated on a platform that stood several feet tall; “Let It Be,” which saw McCartney offer a spoken-word coda of the song’s lyrics to ensure his words sunk in; and the unifying, arena-wide chant during “Hey Jude” proved how McCartney’s music and message remain forever relevant.
When he returned to the stage for his encore, McCartney strummed through “Yesterday” acoustically and alone. He was rejoined by his band for a raucous run through the Beatles classics “Day Tripper,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” and “Helter Skelter” before the set came to a fitting close with the Abbey Road medley of “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End.” After the band took its final bow, huge clouds of thick smoke and red, white and blue confetti burst from the stage, and just like that, Sir Paul was gone — but what a trip it was.