Better Than: YEEZUS. Also bigger than Yeezus. (See what I did there?)
In high school, a friend of mine met Paul McCartney. She worked at an amphitheater near where we lived and went to school and Paul had passed through on one of his seemingly never-ending tours. My friend didn’t know who he was. After loosely identifying that he was “some old guy from the Beatles,” process of elimination, and the close eye I had kept on the tickets for months put a name to a general body and made me jealous and confused for some time.
Even if you don’t know who Paul McCartney is, you learn that he probably knows you. The artist is an oddly intimate performer–even in a large arena like Barclays–who shares secrets and snippets of personal history like he’s at a dinner party. He manifests moments that feel like he’s whispering asides into your ears, like when he shared an anecdote about Jimi Hendrix asking for help tuning his guitar to impress Eric Clapton after “Let Me Roll It.” Translating the same magic of his lyrical universality that helped make the Beatles the pervasive presence we know and appreciate today, McCartney turned his set into a literal embodiment of that ethos.
With nearly 40 songs to play, McCartney stepped out on stage with a cool ease and only sat down during the night to play one of two pianos. Even before he took the stage Barclays Center became the home of an interactive Macca scrapbook which perfectly framed a set heavy in classic Beatles tunes and Wings hits. As the audience waited for his set to start, remixes of his songs soundtracked a slideshow of black-and-white pictures from his youth. Beginning and ending with Beatles songs, “Eight Days a Week” and “The End” respectively, McCartney kept close to his past and showed a devotion to his history.
With his intimacy and focus on the past, the most well-known of people in close relation to him to have tragically passed received their own moments of reverence. His late wife Linda was mentioned as the source of inspiration for his classic love song “Maybe I’m Amazed.” He dedicated the performance of it to friends in the audience. We were all his friends, he told us, but that this song in particular went out to the ones he knew a little bit better. While he performed it, video of the same shoot that offered up the famous photograph taken by Linda of him in a fur-lined coat cradling daughter Mary played in the background.
Later, he dedicated “Another Day” to famed producer Phil Ramone who passed away in March. After “Blackbird,” which he explained had been written in response to the civil rights activism in Arkansas during the 1960s, McCartney gave mention to John Lennon. This received a standing ovation and a few moments of Paul appreciating the crowd’s flow of emotion at the mere mention of Lennon’s name. He made two peace signs with his hands, raised them to the air, and proceeded to sing a song about the conversation he wished they had had, “Here Today.” After a small break from the tributes, McCartney returned with a ukulele and performed a sweet version of “Something” in honor of George Harrison. Pictures of George and Paul in recording studios acting chummy and solo shots of George played on the monitors.
The most lovely aspect of the show came in its lightness. Paul jumped around and delivered an endless number of jokes about the rain and his internal struggle about whether or not to read signs in the crowd like “Brooklyn Girls Do It 8 Days a Week” while also playing and singing. At nearly 71, he’s still agile and pitch perfect. Beatles songs still contained that boyish charm he always delivered so well while making some of the arena-worthy Wings hits feel warm-but-massive. In a set focused on looking back, there was a shared appreciation of living in the present and existing in the moment. As he finished his second long encore, he reminded us all that, at some point, we would have to leave.
Critical Bias: Sometime in junior high, I watched a clip of McCartney performing “Hey Jude” live on television and I swore to myself I would be one of those happy, confetti covered faces singing along in the crowd. We did it, kids.
Overheard: “For every person, it was kind of like revisiting their childhood. I kind of want to do it over again.”
Random Notebook Dump: The biggest lost opportunity of this year was the fact that a duet of “Live and Let Die” did not occur this weekend with Axl Rose and Macca. ESPECIALLY after that triumphant G N’ R set at Governors Ball on Saturday.
Paul McCartney’s 6/10 Barclays setlist on the next page.
Eight Days a Week
All My Loving
Listen to What the Man Said
Let Me Roll It / Foxy Lady
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
The Long and Winding Road
Maybe I’m Amazed
Things We Said Today
We Can Work It Out
And I Love Her
Your Mother Should Know
All Together Now
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
I Saw Her Standing There
Carry That Weight