Fuse Rock Review: Paul McCartney Plays the Soundtrack to the 20th Century at Fenway Park
Before this turns into too much of a love fest, I should point out that Paul McCartney really needs to work on his between song banter.
By Adam Ellsworth.
Question: How many hits does Paul McCartney have?
Answer: So many that he played 38 of them over more than two and a half hours at Fenway Park Tuesday night, and I’m still marveling at the ones he chose not to play.
No “Jet”! He always plays “Jet”!
No “Can’t Buy Me Love”!?! Two trips to Boston in a row without “Can’t Buy Me Love”!?!
Why does he never play “Mull of Kintyre”? I love that song and it was MASSIVE (okay, only in Europe, but still).
“My Love”? Anyone?
Of course these thoughts only trickled in after the concert was over. After all, it’s kind of hard to complain about not hearing “Get Back” while you are hearing a particularly gnarly take on “Day Tripper” or a feedback drenched outro to “Paperback Writer.”
Honestly, I have no complaints about Tuesday night’s setlist. It’s just astonishing to think how many hits McCartney has that he can’t even begin to play them all.
The hits that were in the Fenway set were taken primarily from McCartney’s Beatle-years, but the Wings-era “Junior’s Farm,” “Listen to What the Man Said,” and “Let Me Roll It,” all played early on, were welcomed enthusiastically by the crowd.
And it was “Maybe I’m Amazed,” a McCartney solo song, that was the highlight of the concert’s first third. It’s not just that the song is an all-time classic, but that McCartney’s vocal performance, even at 71-years-old, was simply astounding. It would be an exaggeration to say the same for Macca’s vocals on every song he sang Tuesday night, but on “Maybe I’m Amazed,” he nailed the soft, ballad parts of the song, AND the screaming, Maybe I’m a man, maybe I’m a lonely man parts of the song. And all in the song’s original key too, which is how he still performs all his tunes.
Before this turns into too much of a love fest, I should point out that McCartney really needs to work on his between song banter. He has a fantastic backing band, his catalog is unparalleled, he has no qualms mixing up his setlist from tour to tour, and yet he goes and tells the same stories and anecdotes, and makes the same cornball gestures, from year to year. Surely he must have more to say than the exact same jokes he told four years ago! (Which are also clearly the same jokes he tells in the exact same spots of the set from night to night in whichever city he happens to be in.)
It’s impossible to stay mad at him though when he follows a stale, old “he told that one last time” joke with “And I Love Her” from A Hard Day’s Night, which is what happened at the halfway point of Tuesday’s main set. Next, he played “Blackbird,” which he always plays and which he always prefaces by explaining that it was written to show solidarity with the civil rights movement, but I’m not going to complain about either of those facts. Frankly, few things in life compare with being one of 30 or so thousand people singing along to “Blackbird” with Paul McCartney.
“Blackbird” was followed by “Here Today,” McCartney’s 1982 tribute to John Lennon. Again, McCartney always plays this song in concert, but it’s always moving. “A conversation we didn’t get to have,” is how he described it to the audience after he’d finished the song’s final notes, a thought that never stops being heartbreaking.
While hearing “Blackbird” and “Here Today” at a Paul McCartney concert is a given, it was a pleasant surprise to hear the show opening “Eight Days a Week” (believe it or not, the Beatles never played this song live, and until this tour, neither had a Wings-leading or solo Paul McCartney), “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Your Mother Should Know,” and “Lovely Rita.” Even more of a surprise was hearing “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” a Sgt. Pepper song originally sung (and written) by John Lennon. It was hardly the highlight of the night, but it was oddball enough to be memorable, and it’s amazing how far technology has come that such a studio creation as “Mr. Kite” can now be so faithfully reproduced live by five guys and no backing tracks.
Even had “Mr. Kite” fallen flat it wouldn’t have mattered because each song that followed was a monster. No curveballs, just the soundtrack to the twentieth century.
First was McCartney’s ukulele take on George Harrison’s “Something” (halfway through the rendition it turns into a full band version, which is a mistake: the solo ukulele half is the most heartfelt and emotional part of the performance), then the natural sing-along “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” “Band on the Run” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.” followed, and the crowd’s energy level, which was already high, went up yet another level. “Let it Be” was transcendent, secular gospel, and “Live and Let Die” came complete with fireworks and bursts of flame. Such pyrotechnics are old and tired, but as only “Live and Let Die” got such a treatment (it is a pretty bombastic song after all), I’ll give McCartney a pass. Finally, closing the main set was “Hey Jude” and the obligatory “Na, na, na,” sing-along. I will always believe that if enough people get together and start singing the outro to “Hey Jude,” world peace will break out (and I assume it will look something like the ending of the How the Grinch Stole Christmas cartoon).
During the first encore, the hits kept coming. First “Day Tripper,” then “Hi Hi Hi,” and then “I Saw Her Standing There.” “Day Tripper,” as noted above, sounded especially raunchy, even by that song’s standards. I could have done without Paul’s “Let’s get high on life” pronouncement before “Hi Hi Hi,” but nonetheless, Tuesday night’s rendition of that song was far superior to the rather tepid, faux rock and roll version currently available on May 2013’s Wings Over America reissue. As for “I Saw Her Standing There,” did Macca ever better that one? What could be more rocking?
The second encore opened with “Yesterday,” a.k.a. The Most Recorded Song in Popular Music History. For all the different recordings, and for all the people who have covered it, nothing and no-one beats Paul McCartney, aged 71, singing the song. There’s a rasp in his voice now that he didn’t have when he first recorded “Yesterday,” just days before his 23rd birthday, and a sense of loss that no young man can possess. Paul, aged 22, was not immune to loss; he’d lost his mother to cancer when he was just a teenager. But in the years since, he’s lost John, George, Beatles manager Brian Epstein, Beatles confidants Mal Evans, Derek Taylor, and Neil Aspinall, and of course his wife Linda. McCartney is the ultimate showman, and he probably knows to not think of such things when he sings a line like, “Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say,” but I know I was thinking of Linda, and the others, at that moment, and I’ve never loved the song more.
The rasp and the years were kind to “Yesterday” but not as much to “Helter Skelter,” which followed. It’s still a hellraiser of a song, but the original 1968 version is a tough vocal to match, and I think it’s time for McCartney to retire it, or at least move it to a less prominent spot in the set.
“Golden Slumbers,” “Carry that Weight,” and “The End” closed the night, just as they close Abbey Road (sort of, see below), the last album the Beatles recorded (though not the last album they released, which is a whole different story altogether). For me, Abbey Road isn’t McCartney’s greatest moment as a songwriter (“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” . . . really?), but it is his greatest moment as band member/band leader/de facto producer. From his bass playing (“Come Together” and “Something”), to his singing (“Oh! Darling”), to his overall vision for what a rock album can be (the second side’s “medley”), Abbey Road doesn’t work without Paul McCartney being at the absolute top of his game.
All this in mind, the only thing that was missing Tuesday night at Fenway was a third encore, when McCartney could have come out with just an acoustic guitar and performed “Her Majesty,” the true, literal end to Abbey Road. That song was tacked on at the end of “The End” and originally not even listed on the back of Abbey Road, making it a “hidden” track. Does McCartney ever sneak out on stage when the audience is long gone and perform “Her Majesty” to an empty stadium as the true end to his concerts? Probably not, but if he ever performs in Boston again, I’m going to hide out until they take down the stage just to be sure.
Paul McCartney played:
Eight Days a Week
All My Loving
Listen to What the Man Said
Let Me Roll It
Nineteen Hundred and Eight-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
I Saw Her Standing There
Carry that Weight