If there's a guy who could rightfully complain about being too popular, it's Paul McCartney. For more than 50 years, his songs, influence, and mythology have remained ubiquitous. Due to radio, James Bond movies, Beastie Boys samples, cover artists from Ray Charles down to your nieces and nephews playing The Beatles: Rock Band, and, of course, consistent marketing directly from within Apple Corps, these tunes will find you even when you're not looking.
Judging by the great expense and time commitment involved in an undertaking like McCartney's current Out There tour, the 72-year-old can't be too upset that his approval rating is still quite high. Still, Saturday's show at Target Field -- amid Governor Dayton giving the legend his own day in Minnesota -- showed even knights still need to have something to prove.
So many of McCartney's songs with the Beatles, Wings, and solo are blessed and cursed with their overwhelming hugeness. These moments on tape aren't just soundtracking Wes Anderson films, they're the indelible accompaniments to weddings, breakups, births, and deaths. All that potential emotional upheaval and drama at one's fingertips is more artistic firepower throughout a set than most acts can pack into an encore. ("If I don't do 'Hey Jude' I've missed an opportunity," he told the BBC last year.) When played back-to-back in the same order each night based upon a rigid setlist required for detailed lighting, stage, and pyrotechnic cues, it's much tougher to create spontaneity. Then again, such expertly rehearsed stagecraft has its own magic.
For the most part, questions answered on Saturday would be of the "Will I get to my seat before this show gets going?" variety. Valid, of course, but the sold-out crowd didn't seem hung up on concerns of "Can Paul still do it?" Looking upright, healthy, and just the right amount of shaggy, McCartney mugged and strummed like a man half his age as they kicked off with "Eight Days a Week." Leading the expert backing ensemble of guitarist Rusty Anderson, bassist Brian Ray, keyboardist Paul "Wix" Wickens, and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. -- all of them harmonizing like choir boys -- he moved quickly through 39 songs, and allowed for the single costume change of removing his dapper blue jacket.
"This is so cool," he said early on. "I'm just going to take a minute to drink it all in." That was one of the only minutes of nearly three hours of a hard day's night that he allowed himself.
The greatest source of venturing into the unknown came whenever McCartney pulled out a song from his 16th solo album, NEW, which arrived last fall. Recorded with producers like Paul Epworth and Mark Ronson, both of whom have worked with Adele and tons of other modern hit-makers, it's a polished grab bag of material about new love and old friends. The four songs represented a steer away from the nostalgic feel of the night for a spell -- even if the album's title track seems to take bits of "Got to Get You Into My Life" and "Penny Lane" and twist them in on themselves.
As Sir Paul sat behind a psychedelia-adorned upright piano, his falsetto leaps and joviality throughout "New" quickly put it alongside his best. Coupled with the potent new track "Queenie Eye," which sent beach balls soaring slightly awkwardly through the crowd, it was an all-too-short glimpse into the still-vibrant rocker's present state of affairs.[page]
The rare moments when McCartney let his voice do more of the talking stood out. He got a bit raw and hoarse behind the grand piano for "Maybe I'm Amazed," but the jubilance of Ray and Laboriel pulled the song up. Atop a rising platform for "Blackbird," he sang (with thousands of us along with him) with just an acoustic guitar as ornamentation. The emotional highlight remained his dedication to bandmate George Harrison for "Something," played first on the ukelele solo, and then built up with the rest of the band. The only reminder that much time had elapsed would be the occasional heel-cooling by audience members.
A few probably stayed seated for the swaying bliss of "Let It Be," which caused an unprompted crowd to light up the stadium with their cameras. The fog in the early going of "Live and Let Die" signaled a time to stand at attention. There were no warnings for attendees with pacemakers, so hopefully everyone felt fine after getting their eyebrows burnt off by the barrage of pyro, fireworks, and lasers. McCartney jokingly fretted and raved when it was done, complaining about the noise. With gunpowder still fresh in our noses, "Hey Jude" was the salve to close the main set.
"I do believe you want me to keep playing," he said amid the night's second (completely planned) encore. And everyone did. Cruising at this point, the night would wrap with a heavy reminder of the brand that got everyone to this point. After a sensitive "Yesterday" and insensitive "Helter Skelter," McCartney and band launched into the intricate three-song coda from Abbey Road for the finale. Fireworks were triggered, and a promise about doing this again next summer flitted on the breeze. With absolutely zero to prove musically, Paul McCartney's grit and endurance have become his greatest artistic strength.
Personal Bias: I grew up in a Beatles-friendly environment. These days, I favor McCartney's experiments like Ram, and I'll admit that Guns N' Roses' version of "Live and Let Die" is sick. It's hard to compare McCartney's music to anyone else's, because in most cases, he was the influence on them as opposed to the other way around.
The Crowd: Not entirely mature in age and well-heeled, but quite a bit so.
Overheard: "He needs a haircut" -- a fellow member of the local media. "If he's playing now, I'm gonna sue" -- an impatient fan waiting in line outside.
Eight Days a Week
All My Loving
Listen to What the Man Said
Let Me Roll It
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
The Long and Winding Road
Maybe I'm Amazed
I've Just Seen a Face
We Can Work It Out
And I Love Her
All Together Now
Everybody Out There
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
Hi, Hi, Hi
Carry That Weight
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