Paul McCartney casts a lonely shadow on stage
by Seth Rogovoy
(BOSTON, Mass., October 1, 2002) – There was something bittersweet and poignant about Paul McCartney’s triumphant performance at the Fleet Center on Monday night, the first of two sold-out shows at the arena, on the second leg of his “Driving Rain” comeback tour that began last spring.
Aside from McCartney being the world’s most boyish 60-year-old, the sweet part was the way in which Sir Paul fully embraced his musical past, particularly the work of his early band, The Beatles. Songs from the rich Beatles catalog comprised the bulk of McCartney’s generous, three-hour, three-dozen-song concert, making this the closest thing to a Beatles concert (outside of “Beatlemania”) the world has seen since the mid-1960s. Many of the songs, including “She’s Leaving Home” and “Getting Better,” had never been played live by McCartney or any member of the Beatles before this tour.
Fans of McCartney’s post-Beatles group, Wings, weren’t disappointed either, with many of that group’s infectious hits, including “Band on the Run,” “Let ‘em In” and “Jet,” also given the royal treatment.
But it was precisely because so much of the show was focused on songs from the Beatles and Wings catalogs that there was a heightened sense of poignancy about the proceedings. Although he was accompanied by a versatile, lean ensemble of four musicians who replicated the sounds of McCartney’s previous bands with pinpoint accuracy, he still seemed remarkably alone on stage.
So much of the joy inherent in the music of the Beatles and Wings was in the camaraderie those groups shared. The various tributes he paid over the course of the concert to departed friends, partners and bandmates -- including John Lennon, George Harrison, and Linda McCartney (who was a member of Wings) -- only served to highlight his solitude inside the music.
Not that this cast a pall over the proceedings, which were remarkably celebratory. Aided by a vocally enthusiastic audience, McCartney tore through versions of early Beatles favorites like “All My Loving,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Saw Her Standing There” with the same innocent, doe-eyed expression and sideways head-bopping that provoked shrieks of hysteria in 1964. He delivered a particularly strong version of “She’s Leaving Home,” emphasizing the narrative with an unusually direct emotional punch. The pitch-perfect, Beach Boys-inspired harmonies of “Back in the U.S.S.R.” were as quaint as the chorus, which served to highlight the fact that McCartney outlasted not only his key bandmates but a powerful world empire.
There were literally dozens of musical and emotional high points in a show that also revealed McCartney to be a musician of startling prowess, moving with ease from bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitar, piano and electric keyboards. He even played a number on ukulele, which he used for a solo version of “Something” in memory of his recently departed former bandmate, George Harrison.
“Coming Up” was rendered with more funk and less disco than the original hit version, and “Let Me Roll It” was dripping with McCartney’s finest soul belting. His voice never faltered, and he delivered soaring renditions of “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yesterday” and “Maybe I’m Amazed,” among other favorites.
McCartney dismissed the band for the middle portion of the show, during which he delivered intimate, solo versions of “Blackbird” – which he revealed to have been inspired by the American civil rights movement – and a particularly pointed version of “You Never Give Me Your Money,” whose lines about good deals gone bad hung in the air as an epitaph for the Beatles.
The concert took an odd turn toward the end when McCartney played “Freedom,” a song he wrote in the wake of 9/11 for a benefit concert in New York. The audience was primed for the simplistic, jingoistic rocker, and hundreds of fans came prepared to unfurl their personal Old Glories while the Englishman, playing the role of Tony Blair, sang of his willingness to fight for freedom. The fact that this song was directly followed by a version of the James Bond theme song, “Live and Let Die” – replete with the most exciting pyrotechnics of the evening, including exploding fireworks – made one wonder if McCartney is a closet Republican, and how John Lennon would have felt about all this.
In any case, McCartney brought it all home with the gentler fare of “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude,” before returning for two encores, concluding with a medley of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (the “reprise” version, with the apt line, “we hope you have enjoyed the show”) and “The End” from “Abbey Road,” which as all Beatles fanatics know is the final song recorded by the Fab Four, thus bringing to a perfect close one of the most memorable concerts in history.
[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on October 3, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]
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