It’s a little bizarre that a man only four years younger than my father is able to transfix an audience in sweltering heat for just short of three hours. On Tuesday night at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Paul McCartney, forty-nine years after taking the U.S. by storm with The Beatles, played his heart out, shirt soaked with sweat, and gave a performance that fans are sure to remember for another forty-nine years. Just as with Springsteen’s recent concerts, last night’s show begged the question: why don’t all performers work as hard and show as much appreciation as this guy does? If a seventy-one year old McCartney can do it, why not (fill in the blank of some of the lame performances you’ve seen lately)?
After seeing McCartney in 2005, I decided that I wasn’t going to attend any more of his shows. I’d noticed he’d aged in the two years since I’d seen him last, and I didn’t want to see this iconic singer/songwriter continue to degrade before my eyes. But allowing my son to see him this time around changed my mind, and eight years later, McCartney almost seems to have become younger, withstanding the blistering heat and deftly managing a set list that didn’t once take him out of the spotlight.
Of particular note last night was the setlist, offering surprises that left many of the die-hard fans elated. For me, the inclusion of “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” was worth the price of admission alone, but he surprised with other songs: “Junior’s Farm,” “Hi, Hi, Hi,” “Listen to What the Man Said,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and several songs never performed live before this tour, including “Lovely Rita,” “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” “Another Day,” and “Your Mother Should Know.” One of the most effective songs of the evening was another unexpected song, “Mrs. Vanderbilt” from his largely represented Band on the Run album, as even the unfamiliar in the crowd willingly shouted out the “Ho, Hey Ho” refrain.
McCartney’s skipping of thirty years of repertoire between Tug of War’s “Here Today” and last year’s “My Valentine” is about the only criticism I could possibly make of the show. It would have been cool if Paul had at least made a gentle nod to his compositions of the 80s and 90s, substituting a couple of the lesser interesting Beatles tunes for “Stranglehold,” “My Brave Face,” “Off the Ground” or “The World Tonight.” But this is quibbling. Backed my his proficient band of the last decade, the performances were uniformly fantastic, almost to a fault at times as keyboardist Paul Wickens recreated nearly note for note the brass and saxophone parts from McCartney’s repertoire, though his strings were a nice addition on songs like “Eleanor Rigby,” “The Long and Winding Road” and “Yesterday.” Band members Rusty Anderson, Brian Ray and the particularly entertaining drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., supported McCartney throughout, and their impeccable backing vocals helped to mask McCartney’s weakening upper register. Paul’s falsetto, however, required no masking, as showcased on songs like “Something” and “Maybe I’m Amazed.” That he still has such brilliant falsetto at seventy-one is amazing to me, and it’s a skill that, if lost, would perhaps cause him to call it a day on live performing.
Ending the show with “Helter Skelter” and the last of the Abbey Road medley, McCartney completed a sampling of what is likely the most impressive repertoire of a live performer today. There were audience members in attendance who had seen McCartney play in Milwaukee in 1964 with The Beatles. I doubt they saw as good a show then as they did last night.