By Chaz Lipp
If you’ve been to a Paul McCartney concert during the last 20 years or so, you pretty much know what to expect. Since 1989, McCartney shows have been at least 50 (usually more like 60-70) percent Beatles classics mixed with key hits from the ’70s and beyond, plus a few new tracks from whatever his latest project happens to be. He knows exactly how to please the largest audience possible when playing arenas and stadiums, therefore his formula changes very little from tour to tour.
This was definitely not the case when McCartney played Seattle’s Safeco Field (the 14-year-old venue’s first public rock concert) on the July 19, 2013 stop of his Out There tour. He had something special cooked up for Seattle. After opening the encore portion of the show with a rollicking “Day Tripper,” McCartney introduced Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear – the surviving members of Nirvana – to the stunned crowd. As they had done twice in the middle of December 2012 (first at the Hurricane Sandy relief concert and again on Saturday Night Live), the quartet stormed through “Cut Me Some Slack,” the heavy rocker written and recorded for Grohl’s documentary Sound City. McCartney soloed wildly on a cigar box guitar (a gift from Johnny Depp) while Grohl punished the drum kit.
As the song wound down and the 45,000+ audience thundered its approval, McCartney’s regular touring band returned to the stage. The surprises continued as Macca invited the guest trio to “stay and jam,” launching into the familiar galloping intro of “Get Back.” Grohl was out front on guitar this time, with Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums again. Following a short break, McCartney returned with his acoustic guitar for “Yesterday,” with seemingly the entire stadium singing along word for word. Then the supergroup returned (with Grohl behind the kit once again) and crashed into Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” with McCartney once again energized, delivering his most frenzied vocal of the night. “Helter Skelter” followed, rocking more ferociously than usual (Grohl was back out on guitar, sharing Macca’s mic for backing vocals on the chorus).
If that weren’t enough, the final encore consisted of the “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” medley from Abbey Road, with Grohl, Novoselic, and Smear back onstage for an extended solo section. It all added up to a one-of-a-kind concert experience. These encores climaxed the three-hour show, threatening to overshadow the already strong main set that preceded them. However, McCartney didn’t disappoint, especially for those seeing him for the first time. He rolled out plenty of surprises earlier in the evening; songs he’s performing on tour for the first time. The biggest surprise was a faithful rendition of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” an odd choice given that it was a Lennon vocal originally. Also from Sgt. Pepper, debuting on this tour, was a terrific version of “Lovely Rita.”
McCartney has cycled through so much of his Beatles catalog, he’s running out of songs that haven’t been done live previously. But for this tour he is rolling out the relative obscurities “Your Mother Should Know” and “All Together Now” (“One of our more intellectual ones,” he joked as the sing-along wrapped up). “Eight Days a Week” wasn’t necessarily his strongest set opener, but again it was a tune that even Macca veterans hadn’t heard in concert. For the first time since 1976, he’s doing “Listen to What the Man Said” and it sounded spirited and was well-placed early in the set. “Another Day,” his debut solo single from 1971, has returned to his set for the first time since 1993.
Some of his between-songs patter comes off a little stale if you’ve heard it before (Jimi Hendrix played “Sgt. Pepper” at a London club only three days after the album was released, “Blackbird” was inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, George Harrison was a good ukulele player, etc). But again, McCartney deftly gives the illusion of the first time for those who haven’t caught his show before. Though he’s been performing the Tug of War track “Here Today” as a tribute to John Lennon since his 2002 tour, it never fails to captivate audiences. The “Foxy Lady” jam that followed “Let Me Roll It” is a staple of Macca’s set, but in Hendrix’s birth city it took on new resonance (and McCartney’s lead guitar lines did seem more impassioned than usual).
A few of the venerable Beatles classics have worn out their welcome (I don’t personally need to hear “The Long and Winding Road” or “Eleanor Rigby” in concert again). Some of the quieter numbers get a bit swallowed up in the vast stadium setting. But the fireworks display for “Live and Let Die” is never less than spectacular and the “Hey Jude” sing-along is always an emotional highpoint (I love the funky groove the band gets into during the “na na na” refrain). And for a song he’s only relatively recently started doing, the oft-reviled “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” absolutely brought down the house.
But after the final fireworks embers died and the last of the confetti was carried away by a gentle nighttime breeze, some 45,000 Seattleites are likely to remember July 19, 2013 as the night a former Beatle jammed with the surviving members of most beloved band associated with their city.