While waiting for Paul McCartney to start his set Tuesday night at US Airways Center, I tried to think of living and performing musicians who are irrefutably rock legends (metal bands purposefully excluded).
I came up with The Who, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Rush, and The Beach Boys, and let's throw in U2.
I'm sure my list is far from complete, but it's still small. The chance to see a true musical legend doesn't come around very often. For me, Paul McCartney trumps them all. Sir Paul's work with the Beatles and beyond laid the foundation for all pop music that followed. He's one of the few people out there whose legacy is undisputable.
As we wrote last week, though many associate McCartney with sappy love songs and for being the clean-cut, straight-edge half of the Lennon-McCartney duo, McCartney has actually consistently been an artistic experimenter, from his spearheading of the concept album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (considered by many to be one of the best albums ever made) to the boundary-pushing albums he released as collaborator with Youth under the name The Fireman. Even now, at 72, when no one would bat an eye if he chose to disappear from the public eye, he is still performing and making new music -- his album New, came out in October, and to the surprise of critics, it was actually pretty good.
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The album was the premise but not necessarily the reason concertgoers packed into US Airways Center Tuesday night. Before the show started, the delightful and weird McCartney tune "Temporary Secretary" began playing through the loud speakers. The song is one of McCartney's strangest, starting with a frantic, somewhat urgent electronic instrumental riff, on top of which McCartney sings a somewhat robotic-sounding ditty about needing a temporary secretary. It was nice to hear, even if it meant it wouldn't be performed live. (It's a shame McCartney doesn't play some of his weirder stuff during his live shows, though he would probably get crucified for doing so in front of crowds hungry to hear hits). As the song ended, the lights went down and a dreamy, drowsy rendition of the lyrics of the "The End" came in through the speakers -- "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." The band, led by bass-toting Sir Paul, entered and launched into "Eight Days a Week."
The song touched off nearly 40 songs' worth of music, including two-dozen Beatles songs, six Wings songs, four songs from New, and a smattering of songs from his solo records.
The concert seesawed from old to new and back again; following "Eight Days a Week" was "Save Us," from New.
"Hey Phoenix, Ari-ZO-na," McCartney said after "Save Us" finished, emphasizing the third syllable with glee, as if saying the word for the first time. "I have got a feeling we are going to have a little bit of a party tonight! You ready for it?"
The band then launched into "All My Loving."
McCartney's voice sounded fantastic for the most part, nailing the signature falsetto parts in "All My Loving" (and, later, the guttural screams of "Helter Skelter" and "Hey Jude"). McCartney and company then played two Wings songs, including "Listen to What the Man Said," and then McCartney strapped on a guitar to play "Let Me Roll It."
After that ended, the band started into the main riff from Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady." McCartney did his best Hendrix here, soloing for a few minutes (all I'll say is that his guitarists, Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, would have ripped out better solos, but, hey, give him credit for trying.) After the interlude ended, McCartney launched into a story about how the weekend after the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's, he went to see a Hendrix concert. And though the album had only been out a few days, Hendrix kicked off his concert with a cover of the title track. McCartney called it one of the best compliments he'd ever received.
It was one of several touching stories McCartney has repeated at concerts throughout the years. He also told us about things he wished he would have said to Lennon, and about how he wrote "Blackbird" about the fight for civil rights in the American South. He also shared a story of writing "Being for the Benefit of Mister Kite!" with Lennon -- the two were in Lennon's room, McCartney said, and the lyrics for the song came directly from a poster hanging on Lennon's wall.
McCartney introduced "Maybe I'm Amazed" by saying, "I wrote this song for Linda." The song itself is a masterpiece of a love song, and the performance was nothing less. McCartney and company powered through the song, and when it ended, the crowd responded loudly, with many giving him a standing ovation.
He dedicated "Something" to George Harrison, and started out the song on solo ukelele, with the band providing subtle accompaniment. When he sang the lyrics, "You're asking me will my love grow," the band kicked into high gear, sparking a moving performance of the song, complete with a note-for-note rendition of Harrison's iconic guitar solo.
Fireworks and cannons accompanied the triumphant version of "Live and Let Die," played just before the main set ended.
McCartney played not one, but two encores. After a brief intermission, he came out waving a giant American flag, while his guitarists followed, one waving the Arizona flag and one waving a Union Jack. (Don't feel special, though, Arizona -- he does that for all the states.) The band launched into "Day Tripper," with Paul back on bass after doing stints on guitar and piano. The Wings song "Hi, Hi, Hi" followed, and then a performance of "Get Back," after which the band left the stage again.
But not for long. The final encore included "Yesterday," "Helter Skelter," and then the entire medley from the end of Abbey Road -- "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight," and "The End."
McCartney also brought a couple on stage that had been holding a sign that said, "You're ordained. We're engaged. Please marry us tonight." He pointed out that wasn't actually ordained, but went ahead and married the couple anyway, wryly adding, "though I'm not sure if that will stand up in the court of law."
It was a night of great songs, written by a tremendous songwriter in the twilight of a legendary career. Not many times do you see a show and get to say, "I saw a legend last night" afterward. But that was the experience of more than 10,000 people at US Airways Center. Who knows how many more people will get the chance?
See next page for set list and Critic's Notebook
Last night: Paul McCartney at US Airways Center.
The crowd: On the floor, it was mostly older couples and families with younger kids. The stands held everyone from all walks of life.
Random notebook dump: "Younger people never saw McCartney pander. We never saw him age, never saw him sell out, be cloying, or make desperate pleas for relevancy. To us, the man was always old. The Beatles were what we knew and loved, and the man's work in the monumentally influential band will always outshine what he did afterward."
Random notebook dump 2: "You can't really get mad at an ex-Beatle for doing something the Beatles did 50 years ago."
Songs he should have played: "Temporary Secretary," "Got to Get You Into My Life," "Oh, Darling!" to name a few. Setlist:
1) "Eight Days a Week" (Beatles for Sale)
2) "Save Us" (New)
3) "All My Loving" (With the Beatles)
4) "Listen to What the Man Said" ( Wings, Venus and Mars)
5) "Let Me Roll It" (Wings, Band on the Run)
6) Foxy Lady solo section
7) "Paperback Writer" (Single, Revolver era)
8) "My Valentine" (Kisses on the Bottom)
9) "Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five" (Band on the Run
10) "Long and Winding Road" (Let It Be)
11) "Maybe I'm Amazed" (McCartney)
12) "I've Just Seen a Face" (Rubber Soul
13) "We Can Work it Out" (Rubber Soul
14) "Another Day" (Ram)
15) "And I Love Her" (A Hard Day's Night)
16) "Blackbird" (The White Album)
17) "Here Today" (Tug of War)
18) "New" (New)
19) "Queenie Eye" (New)
20) "Lady Madonna" (Single, later released on Hey Jude)
21) "All Together Now" Yellow Submarine
22) "Lovely Rita" (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
23) "Everybody Out There" (New)
24) "Eleanor Rigby" (Revolver)
25) "Being For the Benefit of Mister Kite!" ( Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
26) "Something" (Abbey Road)
27) "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" (White Album
28) "Band on the Run" (Wings, Band on the Run)
29) "Back in the U.S.S.R." ( The White Album)
30) "Let It Be" (Let It Be)
31) "Live and Let Die" (Wings, Live and Let Die soundtrack)
32) "Hey Jude" (Single)
ENCORE (1 of 2) 33) "Day Tripper" (Single)
34) "Hi, Hi, HI" (Wings, Wings Over America)
35) "Get Back" (Let It Be)
ENCORE (2 of 2)
36) "Yesterday" (Help!)
37) "Helter Skelter" (White Album)
38) "Golden Slumbers" (Abbey Road)
39) "Carry That Weight" (Abbey Road)
40) "The End" (Abbey Road)
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