BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Forget for a moment that Paul McCartney recently turned 75 – although yes, he looks a bit grayer at the temples – and consider that he and his tremendous band performed 39 songs that clocked in a shade less than three hours at Infinite Energy Arena.
Now remember that he just turned 75 and shake your head in amazement.
McCartney’s “One on One” tour, which kicked off in April 2016 and is slated to run through the end of the year, is another opportunity to revel in music history. Those in attendance at Thursday’s show received an additional gift, because rarely does the music icon play venues this small (the sold-out crowd filed in at around 11,500).
He seemed to bask in the relative intimacy. After opening with “A Hard Day’s Night” (this tour marks the first time a Beatle has played it live since 1965) and “Save Us,” McCartney took a stroll to the front of the stage, hooked his thumb into the top of his pants and surveyed the squealing crowd with a satisfied smile.
“We are gonna have some fun in this room tonight,” he promised.
If McCartney performed a true career retrospective, he’d have to book a venue for a month. But this generous presentation solidly captured the highlights – from the first song he ever recorded with The Quarrymen (The Everly Brothers’-shaded “In Spite of All the Danger”) to his most recent unlikely collaboration with Rihanna and Kanye West (the breezy “FourFiveSeconds”).
In between were a slew of musical memories that proved McCartney still likes to rock and still can wring emotion out of the simplest lyrics.
He traded his trusty Hofner bass for an electric guitar to present the scratchy blues of “Let Me Roll It” (with a snippet of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” tacked onto the end) and huddled with his band for creamy renditions of “And I Love Her” and “Love Me Do.”
As usual for McCartney, it took a few songs for his voice to find its comfort spot, but once it did, it rarely faltered.
He slipped behind a black baby grand piano to dedicate “My Valentine” to his wife, Nancy, who was in the crowd, and sandwiched the bouncy Wings favorite “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” between the ballad for his current wife and “Maybe I’m Amazed,” the everlasting gem written for Linda McCartney.
The song’s raw passion is undiminished by time and McCartney imbued it with its signature unraveled yelps.
A wall of lights covered the back of the stage, while two massive, vertical video screens flanked the band (even those in the nosebleed seats enjoyed their own smaller video screens), allowing for high-def close-ups of every sweet McCartney grin and his ever-expressive drummer, the amazingly versatile Abe Laboriel Jr.
McCartney’s other veteran players – guitarist Rusty Anderson, guitarist/bassist Brian Ray and jack-of-all instruments Paul “Wix” Wickens on guitar, keyboards, accordion and harmonica – were also a joy to watch because they clearly have a blast playing these well-worn chestnuts.
On the majority of songs, the band members added rich harmonies (the signature “ba-ba-ba-bah’s in “Lady Madonna” and the veneer of haunting vocals provided by Laboriel and Anderson on the gorgeously sad “Eleanor Rigby” were highlights), and also turned the woozy “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” into an aural carnival.
What makes McCartney such an endearing presence – aside from, you know, being Paul McCartney – is that he still stands on stage with a twinkle in his eye and a desire to not only share his music, but the teeniest part of himself through stories.
He frequently chatted with the crowd – about the chord progression that jumpstarted “You Won’t See Me,” about giving The Rolling Stones their first No. 1 hit with “I Wanna Be Your Man,” about wanting to provide some hope during the civil rights movement with “Blackbird.”
But Beatles fans always appreciate a nod to history and McCartney provided it with a solo performance of “Here Today,” the gentle ballad written for John Lennon (“In life sometimes you want to say things to people and you think, I’ll say it another time…there’s a lot of stuff I never said to John.”) and his always-affecting tribute to George Harrison.
There might not be a more beautiful sonic live experience than the moment “Something” shifts from McCartney on ukulele to the full band kicking in like an exploding rainbow. It’s a moment worth revisiting a hundred times.
While there was never a lagging moment in the show (even recent songs “Queenie Eye” and “New” are buoyed by McCartney’s deft melodic touch), the final third, including a full-throated “Band on the Run” and propulsive “Back in the U.S.S.R.” prodded anyone who might have taken a momentary breather to launch themselves upward.
The traditional fireworks that accompany “Live and Let Die” were barely minimized in the smaller arena and the frenzy of the literally fiery version of the piano-pounder was juxtaposed with “Hey Jude,” a song fans might still be singing along to if McCartney hadn’t briefly exited the stage to prepare for a treasure-stacked encore that, for some acts, might constitute half of their set (“Yesterday” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” were among the closers).
McCartney loves music too much to ever declare a farewell outing, and between his apparent stamina and the sturdiness of his band, he just might stay on an endless tour.
Trust us, no one would complain.