When Paul McCartney first sang “Two Of Us“ with John Lennon on the Beatles’ 1970 album Let It Be, the lyric to the song’s bridge seemed to pertain to an unsurpassed songwriting partnership that was about to come to an end: “You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.“
But when the 68 year old McCartney sang the gently plucked acoustic number to a sold-out crowd at the Wells Fargo (formerly Wachovia) Center on Saturday, it was clear that the song’s meaning had expanded to take in the nearly five-decade shared past between McCartney and the audience that showered him with adoration throughout the three date-night hours they spent together in South Philadelphia.
The left-handed Liverpudlian will no doubt once again be the beneficiary of all their loving when he plays the second of his two Wells Fargo shows on his “Up and Coming” tour on Sunday night. Some tickets remain, and are on sale at ComcastTix.com.
A funny thing happened, though, on the way to the retirement home for Sir Paul and his people. Thanks to a not-bad dye job, the “What’s the use of worrying?“ world view that he sang like a mantra in the ebullient “Mrs. Vandebilt” (off Band On The Run, his 1973 album with Wings), and a vegetarian diet that’s kept him fit and trim (a DVD of a PETA documentary narrated by McCartney was handed out gratis on the concourse), the cute Beatle still comes off as remarkably youthful.
And while the same can‘t be said for the bulk of the fans who have been down the full length of “The Long And Winding Road” (played at the start of a four song Paul-at-the-piano interlude) with him, Macca’s following as a whole has gotten remarkably younger over the years. In the 2000’s, only Eminem sold more CD’s than the Fab Four, and the power of the Beatles as a unifying cultural force in a fractured world remains undiminished.
With a measure of pride, McCartney, who was genial and chatty throughout, told a story about playing Red Square in Moscow and his realization that “so many people learn to speak English by learning lyrics to Beatles songs.” And after rocking out on “Day Tripper” along with the four vocally and instrumentally able musicians in his backing unit whom only identified as “this beautiful, fantastic band of mine,” he took a look around at the room full of parents (and grandparents) with their children and said: “I tell you what’s amazing about our audience: We’re getting lots of kids. How you doin’, dude? Wassup?”
That young and old audience, of course, is united in their desire to hear the old songs. McCartney does have new ones that are more than up to snuff: He included “Highway” and “Sing The Changes” both from Electric Arguments, his 2008 teaming as The Fireman with British producer Youth, and both songs were more fully realized and compelling than underwritten trifles like the 1970s Wings hits “Let ’Em In” and “My Love” that once again underscored that McCartney has always been at his best when challenged by a strong willed
But rather than force unfamiliar material on his fans, McCartney’s more than happy to take them on a spirited ride on the way back machine. Moving jollily about in a white shirt and braces - that’s British for suspenders - he switched off from bass to electric and acoustic guitar, and also played piano and ukelele, while whistling when necessary. All four band members helped out with harmonies, but McCartney himself was more than capable vocally, whether growling through “Get Back,” or reaching briefly for high notes in “Blackbird,“ which was written, he said as his response to Civil Rights struggles in the U.S. in the 1960s.
That performance was affecting, but the staging was hokey, with a picture of a bare tree with yes, a black bird, sitting on one branch projected on the video screen, and a three dimensional disco ball-like Moon lowered from the rafters. McCartney followed that song with “Here Today,“ his wan Lennon tribute from 1982’s Tug Of War, during which the Moon was for some reason joined in the sky by a similarly spherical Earth.
McCartney seemed much more comfortable a few songs later in the set, when he honored George Harrison with a heartfelt version of his late band mates’ “Something.” It was rendered at the start on the uke, Harrison’s favorite instrument, and also the one McCartney used when granting a request for “Ram On,” a rarely played fragment of a love song from 1971’s Ram.
Those weren’t the only tributes to the departed that were paid: “My Love” was dedicated to his late wife Linda, and at the end of Wings’ “Let Me Roll It,” McCartney and band stretched out credibly with crunching chords and spiky leads from Jim Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” followed by an amusing story of seeing Hendrix play a live 10 minute whammy bar happy cover version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” two days after the Beatles album was released in 1968.
In the midst of his final encore, McCartney brought two female fans on stage. He gladly obliged the first woman’s request to have him autograph the small of her back in preparation for a tattoo to be applied And the second was 19 year old superfan Dara Roberts, a recent graduate of Unionville High School in Kennett Square who attends Stanford University and suffers from cerebral palsy and scoliosis. She came on stage in a wheel chair wearing a 'Got Paul?' t-shirt, and her ardor was rewarded with a hug.
With that, McCartney got back to business: “You still want to keep rockin’, don’t you? “ he asked. Then he put the overstuffed evening to bed with a raucous "Helter Skelter (rollercoasters, not the Manson Family, were shown on the video screen), plus the closing reprise of “Sgt. Pepper,” mashed up with Abbey Road’s “Carry That Weight” and “The End,” leaving the arena full of Fab Four fans with an improbably fresh set of memories to take home with them, forty years after their favorite band broke up.