I’ve been saying to myself recently that I need to cut out the superlatives in my gig reviews. Either that, or start going to some bad ones! Hardly surprising then, that Paul McCartney in the 02 (Dublin) was emphatically NOT a bad gig.
Having queued for a couple of hours in the sub zero Arctic wasteland that was the Dublin docklands yesterday, we got a nice spot about 3rd row centre, and waited for our feet to thaw out, and for a Beatle to appear before our eyes. Then, sure enough, just about 8.15, one appeared. And a very healthy looking Beatle it was too. McCartney is in amazing shape for 68, and makes a good case for the benefits of vegetarianism!
But, of course, our main concerns were more his vocal chords and musicianship, and it’s safe to say these are even healthier.
From the opening moments of Magical Mystery Tour (‘Roll Up, Roll Up..’) through to the closing lines of the show (‘The Love you Take, is equal to the Love you Make’), the strength of McCartney’s performance never wavered. Of the 4 or 5 Macca shows I’ve seen, this was surely the best. Just a perfect occasion, great venue, great sound, great atmosphere, an almost flawless concert.
It’s hard to describe how emotional a Paul McCartney show is. I think it is just how much we all have those songs in our heads, and how they are such a part of the landscape. Also the fact that the Beatles never toured after ’66 has raised the importance of seeing the songs now in conditions much better than in the 60s (better sound etc, plus great arrangements and performance). I was born shortly after the Beatles broke up, so for me it is not direct nostalgia, as I fell in love with their awesome body of work as a child in the 1970s, and indeed at 37 years old, I was far from being one of the youngest in the 02 last night. I think it’s true to say there is a shared universality to the Beatles music that has an extraordinary effect at a McCartney concert – eg I heard one male radio presenter this morning saying how he was in tears on at least 4 occasions!
Anyway, in case I’m getting carried away, I’ll come back down to earth and do a bit of regular song-by-song reviewing;
- Magical Mystery Tour is his best opener, just seems to work well, nice background imagery on the big screens
- Drive My Car – sometimes played as opener, a classic rocker from Rubber Soul, also works well in slot 2
- Jet – catchy slice of Wings pop, not a favourite of mine, but goes down well
- Only Mama Knows – it’s a pity he abandons his albums so quickly, and why does he ignore the best song from ‘Memory Almost Full’ (Mr Bellamy)? However, Only Mama Knows is a good rocker, and works great live. While I’m having a ‘go’ at the setlist – I also regret that he has 100% abandoned the ‘Chaos and Creation’ album (2005). Arguably his best album since the 70s.
- Flaming Pie – he still does the occasional song from this decent album, and the title track is as good as any
- Got to get you into my Life – after two relatively unknown songs, the crowd go wild for this song – the big brass part is a good hook at a live gig, played of course by Wix Wickens, a key band member. Every unusual sound you hear at a McCartney concert is played by him – at one point on Sunday I spotted him simultaneously playing a keyboard part with his hands and a trumpet part with his mouth via a device attached to his head! Apart from the colouring provided by Wix though, credit is due to McCartney and his band, for not relying on over the top arrangements – these guys manage to breathe new life into the Beatles songs, yet still keep things relatively simple. The guitar players and (especially) the drummer, all get the thumbs up from me
- Let Me Roll It – competent and powerful, but I’d say it would get tiresome if one went to multiple Macca gigs
- Highway – first of two bloody excellent songs from the experimental Fireman album. These really work well, and fit in nicely to the setlist
- Long and Winding Road – I suppose (other than the opening song for impact), this was the first really big emotional heavy hitter of the evening. One of those songs that he has done every single concert since God knows when, but you would never know it.
- I Want to Come Home. Brand new song. ‘’Classic Macca ballad’’ are my early thoughts. Evidence of his melodic genius, lyrically nothing unusual.
- My Love. Classic 70s power ballad, tonight with a heartfelt tribute from Macca to Henry McCullough (in the audience), who played the famous guitar solo back in the day.
- Blackbird. Stunning solo acoustic performance, both guitar wise and vocally.
- Here Today. The John tribute. In truth, not really a great song (1982), but genuine all the same
- Dance Tonight. When I first heard this one, I thought ‘surely a song as bad as that can’t be that catchy!’, but my feet were tapping on Sunday night, despite myself.
- And I Love Her. Nice semi acoustic arrangement.
- Eleanor Rigby. Always powerful. A nice low key arrangement with backing vocals and strings (via keyboard). If anyone says to you McCartney doesn’t write good lyrics, play them this song. Or Penny Lane.
- Something. Paul really does play a great version of this, night after night. Having seen Bob Dylan play it in Liverpool this year, I thought I’d never experience anything like that again, but watching McCartney on stage, with those pictures of George on the big screen, as the guitar player plays a lovely version of the famous solo, it came close.
- Mrs Vandebilt. McCartney gets a bit of criticism for not changing his setlists much, but to be fair, every new tour, he does add in a few new ones, and a few re-introduced Beatles or Wings numbers. This is one of my favourite Wings songs, so I was ecstatic to hear it. A truly excellent arrangement, works very well, and the crowd loved it despite it not being overly familiar to everyone.
- Sing the Changes. Another Fireman song. Very uplifting.
- Wonderful Christmas Time. Well, being 20 December, no big surprise. I’m sure even Macca wouldn’t claim it to be a classic, but good fun on the night
- Band on the Run. Always good.
- Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da. Not his greatest Beatles composition, but who’s going to complain with a White Album tune world premiere (ie, premiered this tour). Also, it works well live, and the arrangement is very reggaefied and uptempo
- Back in the USSR. Amazing rocker, night after night, which perfectly exemplifies the tightness of this band
- I’ve Got a Feeling. Was great to see this introduced a few years ago. Nice dirty riff, showing off the rootsy feel of the Let it Be album
- Paperback Writer. One of the highlights of the show for me. Such a good song, and I think, one of 7 or 8 new ones for me, at this show.
- A Day in the Life / Give Peace a Chance. So good to see him tackle the John verses on this classic Lennon/McCartney song, not an overblown version either (Neil Young, I’m looking at you!), semi acoustic, with some use of effects for the transitional sections, segueing cheesily if effectively, into Give Peace a Chance
- Let it Be. Another emotional showstopper. No other words come to mind.
- Live and Let Die. Ok, the only out and out major showbiz type performance of the night, with massive explosions and pyrotechnics (down the front you could feel the rush of heat from the fire!), but massively enjoyable, not to mention appropriate, for this over the top rock opera type Bond number.
- Hey Jude – a great song, even if the singalong bit has been done to death, but very enjoyable, and brings the main set to a close.
- Day Tripper. Another debut for me. Nicely done.
- Lady Madonna – not a song I’m crazy about for some reason, but the crowd love it as Paul plays some nice rocking piano
- Get Back – popular rootsy rocker
- Yesterday. An ever so slightly over rated song in my opinion, but boy does he play it well
- Helter Skelter - clever putting it just after Yesterday, as these two songs showcase the two extremes of McCartney – from gentle ballad to the loudest out and out rocker in the Beatles canon. If truth be told it’s probably not a very good song, but is quite unique and works well in the encores.
- Sgt Peppers / The End. He’s been playing these two together for years now, and they are always a stunning conclusion, encompassing a great band performance, and finishing with the famous lines about the love you take, etc.. Almost 3 hours later, it’s a fitting end to a show we may not see the likes of again. Happy Days. And Happy Christmas!