By Chaz Lipp
We here at Cinema Lowdown are primarily movie-oriented, but when you witness an artist such as Paul McCartney live in concert, it’s hard not to want to tell everyone about it. Besides, though not often cited as such, McCartney happens to be a multiple Academy Award nominee – and one-time winner (with The Beatles in 1970 for Best Original Song Score, Let It Be) – so his film credentials are formidable in their own right.
On November 25, 2012, Paul McCartney performed in Vancouver B.C. for the first time since The Beatles were there in 1964. Unlike that 30-minute circus of screaming teenagers and barely audible music, McCartney’s show (for a capacity crowd at BC Place) lasted two hours and 45 minutes. The setlist was quite literally career-spanning, with the earliest song (“All My Loving”) dating back to 1963 and the most recent (“My Valentine”) coming from his 2012 album Kisses on the Bottom
. Much has been made about McCartney having turned 70 this year, but it’s hard to ignore that fact when watching a seemingly ageless performer bounding around a stage with nary a break.
Audiences expect nothing short of a monumental event when they attend a McCartney concert, and that’s exactly what they got. Opening with “Magical Mystery Tour,” he covered all the familiar territory thereafter, making sure to include all the expected anthems. “The Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be,” “Hey Jude,” and – in the final encore – “Yesterday” were all performed for tens of thousands of singing, swaying fans. For those who haven’t seen McCartney do this material in person, it really is quite an experience. Even for those who have (this was my sixth McCartney concert experience), the thrill never seems to wear off. Beyond The Beatles material, songs like “Jet” and “Band on the Run” have lost none of their power in the stadium setting.
Some of the highlights, however, were the lesser-performed numbers. After the opener, McCartney launched into a rousing rendition of the 1974 hit “Junior’s Farm,” a song he’d resisted doing in concert for many years. It was, in fact, an abbreviated version (without the verse about the Houses of Parliament) but still terrific to hear. Deep tracks off Band on the Run were quite a treat too, with high energy renditions of “Mrs. Vandebilt” and “Nineteen Hundred and Eight-Five.” He introduced the old Beatles tune “The Night Before” as being one he didn’t play the last time around – quickly noting that the same thing applies to most of the set, given his prolonged absence from Vancouver. But the point was still clear for anyone familiar with his concerts of the last 22 years or so. “The Night Before,” from the Help! album, is a song he only recently began performing.
Another relatively recent addition to his concert repertoire is “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da,” a Beatles track long singled out for critical derision. You’d never know it from the boisterous reception it received at BC Place, with the entire crowd bopping and clapping along in unison. And though it has figured into his concerts regularly since the mid ‘70s, “Live and Let Die” just keeps getting more and more spectacular. For most artists the explosive fireworks show would be a show-stopping finale, but McCartney just kept on going – even as the entire stadium was blanketed by a cloud of view-obscuring smoke. He saved the best surprise for nearly the end, with an emotional rendition of “Mull of Kintyre” featuring Vancouver’s Delta Police Pipe Band on bag pipes. This Wings tune was a smash in many parts of the world, but not the U.S. As such, McCartney never performs it in the States. It’s reserved the U.K., Australia, and Canada, making it a rare treat for anyone (like myself) who ventures up from the U.S. to catch the show.
His touring band has been together for ten years, the longest period of time he’s ever had the same group of musicians regularly backing him in concert. After all that time, Rusty Anderson (guitars), Brian Ray (guitars, bass), Paul “Wix” Wickens (keyboards), and Abe Laboriel Jr. (drums) are a very tight unit. For some songs, McCartney allows very little deviation from the original arrangements (for instance, the exact same guitar solos for songs including “All My Loving” and “The Night Before”). But they really get a chance to shine when given some leeway to put their own stamp on things. Newer material like “Dance Tonight” (with hilarious “choreography” by Laboriel, including a little “Gangnam Style” pony riding) and The Fireman’s “Sing the Changes” sounded fresh and lively. Little touches like the extended rave-up ending to “I’ve Got a Feeling” and an instrumental jam of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady” (both with McCartney tearing it up on lead guitar) gave the band ample opportunity to flash their chops.
It was a great night in Vancouver and it’s hard to imagine anyone left unfulfilled. Paul McCartney paid tribute to his entire legacy, leaving no stone unturned. “Maybe I’m Amazed” was dedicated to his late first wife, Linda. “Here Today,” his 1982 musical eulogy to John Lennon, was one of the best of the quieter moments. And he began “Something” on ukulele as a tribute to George Harrison, with the band joining in to recreate the full Abbey Road arrangement. Speaking of that Beatles’ classic, the concluding medley “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” served as a fitting conclusion for the show.