I saw a Beatle. That’s not something you get to say every day. Probably not something you’ll be saying for long more. At 67, Paul McCartney is well past retirement age, but from his lengthy live show, you’d never guess it for a second. He’s still as sprightly as most forty-year-olds. In fact, he’s probably far more energetic than me.
Seeing your heroes is sometimes disappointing. Like when a kid meets Roy Keane or some other petulant footballer, you’re left with a bitter aftertaste. Not so with Paul McCartney. He leaves you on a high after the musical equivalent of wining and dining you for nearly three hours.
From listening to his recent live albums: Back in the World, Back in the US, and this year’s Good Evening New York, you would think Paul just sings and sings, but on stage, he’s actually a brilliant showman, and interacts fantastically with the audience. For Good Evening Dublin at the O2, he even threw in a few sentences of Irish here and there. When he said “Nollaig Shona Duit” following ‘Wonderful Christmas Time’ you would’ve believed his earlier quip about Liverpool being the real capital of Ireland: “only a short boatride away!”
I will admit to having looked at the setlists to give an indication of what to expect. But words on a page can’t really prepare you for thirty-something fantastic songs. The set was filled with Beatles tunes, Wings tunes, Paul solo tunes, and even two from his Fireman project. The ones that got the best response were obviously the Beatles songs, but each song got a magnificent welcome from an awestruck audience. It probably was the best audience I’d ever seen at a concert. There wasn’t your drunken louts, it was a dignified communal dance in time to the music. A bit like this?
After a long video intro (which was played alongside remixes of his own music in many guises – ballsy to come out to your own music, isn’t it?), Paul and his fantastic backing band took the stage around twenty past eight, and kept going until eleven p.m. They opened the same way as the rest of their shows with ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ and ‘Drive My Car’, two Beatles classics that let you know you were in for a marvellous night’s entertainment. The Wings song that followed, ‘Jet’ really got the crowd going with its fantastic rock riff. He then played the standout song from his most recent solo album Memory Almost Full; ‘Only Mama Knows’ maybe a newer song but it was as warmly received as the rest. There were many die-hard Macca fans in the audience.
I was never a massive fan of the title track from Flaming Pie, but live, it was pretty good. ‘Got to Get You Into My Life’ and ‘Let Me Roll It’ were much better though, the latter ending the same way it has all tour with a nice piece from Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’. Paul also told us a wonderful story about how Jimi covered ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ only two days after its release, and afterwards he (Hendrix) wanted Eric Clapton to come on stage to re-tune his guitar.
‘Highway’ from the Fireman and later ‘Sing the Changes’ were the least known of any of the songs, and caused some people to use them as a bathroom break. I stuck around throughout, and must say I loved both tunes. ‘Highway’ especially, with its fantastic chorus. I had listened to the new album once or twice when it came out, but totally forgotten it since. I may have to go back and revisit it.
Paul then switched to piano for ‘The Long and Winding Road’. For this, and some of the softer songs like ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Yesterday’, it was actually hard to hear Macca singing at all, due to the fact that 14,000 others were singing along at the same time. It was a wonderful experience, and his solo rendition of ‘Blackbird’ has made up for all the times I’ve played the opening riff while tuning my own guitar – now every time I do it, I’ll remind Gill of this concert, so I won’t be asked “playing that again?”
‘I Want to Come Home’ and ‘My Love’ are lovely little tunes, and provided that slow dance feel to the evening. I know I’ve mentioned it already, but ‘Blackbird’ was absolutely fantastic. ‘Here Today’ is a gorgeous tribute to John Lennon, and although the place was packed, felt quite intimate. The mandolin playing of ‘Dance Tonight’ was wonderful, and set us off dancing again. ‘And I Love Her’ always sounded to me like a song the Who never recorded (check out that opening vocal), maybe it influenced Pete and Roger, who knows?
‘Eleanor Rigby’ was another standout. Perhaps the highlight of the night for me as far as Beatles songs go. Absolutely amazing. Then Paul pulled out the ukelele for a fantastic version of ‘Something’ which was introduced with a little tease of ‘Oh Me, Oh My’ and a great story about George Fornby beforehand. ‘Mrs Vandebilt’ is another of those essential Wings tunes (complete with synthy keys), and is great live due to its singalong refrain “ho eh oh, ho eh oh”! ‘Sing the Changes’ is a Fireman song which sounds like Fleetwood Mac. That can’t be bad, right? It wasn’t either. Damn good live.
‘Wonderful Christmas Time’ was only played for the second time this tour, but it wasn’t at all rusty. The graphics on the screens behind and the sides were also fantastic. Not many people get to hear that McCartney classic, so we all should feel even more special. ‘Band on the Run’ was gorgeous, especially the breakdown section (Franz Ferdinand wished they could do it that well). ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ was never one of my favourite Beatles tunes either, but I may well be converted now. However, everyone loves ‘Back in the USSR’, with its old-school rock and roll feel. Gorgeous. “You don’t know how lucky you are”.
We didn’t get ‘I’m Down’ on Sunday night, which wasn’t a huge disappointment, nor was the lack of ‘Michelle’. But like everywhere else, we got…’A Feeling’. See what I did there? A nice song to slow things down before the fantastic final run of ‘Paperback Writer’, ‘A Day in the Life’, ‘Let it Be’, ‘Live and Let Die’, and ‘Hey Jude’. All magnificent songs. The last three especially. ‘Live and Let Die’ was a major highlight due to the pyrotechnics. What a show. (The fact that it’s a Bond theme helps too).
Paul took a break before coming back on for the first encore: ‘Day Tripper’, ‘Lady Madonna’ and ‘Get Back’ are all classics. ‘Lady Madonna’ was gorgeous, and ‘Get Back’ was another singalong highlight. Wonderful.
The second encore gave us a lovely quiet ‘Yesterday’, a rip-roaring ‘Helter Skelter’, and the usual ‘Sgt Peppers/The End’ ending. At thirty-six songs, it never went on too long, and everyone in the Point that night could have gladly stayed on for another thirty-six more.
The best gig of 2009. Without a doubt. If you missed it, I really feel for you. Amazing in every way.
Watch ‘Live and Let Die’ live in Dublin: