There Will Never Be Another Live Performer Like Paul McCartney

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Less than 24 hours after news of the horrific terror attack at a Las Vegas country music festival broke, Paul McCartney took the stage at Detroit’s brand-new Little Caesars Arena. Fresh off the whirlwind of a news day that included the false-starts regarding the declining health of Tom Petty, Paul looked into the sold-out crowd with a forlorn smile, saying, “Today has been a very sad day, but we’re just going to try to enjoy ourselves, alright?” Then he counted the band off, and out rang that iconic opening chord of “Hard Day’s Night,” immediately washing away all reservations of attending a large-scale show in the wake of a senseless tragedy.

At 75, McCartney’s voice is still sharp as ever, and his dexterity across every instrument put in front of him is completely astounding. Over the course of just over three hours, he hopped across the stage, switching from bass to electric guitar to acoustic guitar to piano and back. Did I know he could play the guitar? Yes, of course. Did I know he could shred a solo in a back-and-forth with his lead guitarist? No, I can’t say that I ever even considered it.

With a career-spanning set reaching all the way back to pre-Beatles group the Quarrymen for a performance of “In Spite Of All The Danger” and working right up to a rendition of his “FourFiveSeconds” collaboration with Kanye West and Rihanna, McCartney hit all the marks to satisfy every fan in attendance.

About halfway through the 40-song set, Paul held up both of his hands, with two fingers extended as the band launched into “Give Peace A Chance,” a rendition of John Lennon’s classic Vietnam-era anthem that took on a whole new meaning after the events of Las Vegas, creating an immensely moving and powerful few minutes of call-and-response as attendees held signs adorned with hearts surrounding the word “Vegas.”

As the set progressed, one thing became abundantly clear: Paul McCartney is very good at being Paul McCartney. There is a carelessness about him that symbolizes a whole different class of “cool,” one seemingly without ego that hasn’t existed for a very long time. “We know when you like a song, because the room lights up with all your phones like an intergalactic universe,” he said as he stood with one leg up on his piano bench and his chin in his hand. “And when you don’t like a song, it’s like a black hole. But we don’t care; we’re going to play them anyway.”

Looking around the arena, I learned a lot about generations that came before. Adults were transported right back to their youth, shrieking the “I love you”s that these days are typically reserved for Harry Styles. “I was eleven when the Beatles first came out on the Ed Sullivan Show,” the woman sitting next to me said. I asked if she had ever seen them or Paul before, and she shook her head. “That’s why this is so f–king cool!” she yelped before taking a picture of me for some unknown reason.

All around, grey-haired men and women clutched their spouses and their friends throughout tracks like “Let It Be,” and it dawned on me that there is nothing in contemporary popular culture that will ever have anywhere near the influence of the man performing onstage. Perhaps it is the advent of technology that has made it difficult for anything to become a larger-than-life phenomenon that permeates all boundaries of culture as the Beatles did over fifty years ago. One Direction might have come close in the early 2010s, but only for a specific demographic.

It is more than likely that nothing like the Beatles will ever happen again. But lucky for us, Paul McCartney is still around and still proving the staying power of live musical performance, especially in the wake of a horrific tragedy.

1. “A Hard Day’s Night”
2. “Save Us”
3. “Can’t Buy Me Love”
4. “Letting Go”
5. “Drive My Car”
6. “Let Me Roll It”
7. “I’ve Got A Feeling”
8. “My Valentine”
9. “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five”
10. “Maybe I’m Amazed”
11. “I’ve Just Seen A Face”
12. “In Spite Of All The Danger”
13. “You Won’t See Me”
14. “Love Me Do”
15. “And I Love Her”
16. “Blackbird”
17. “Here Today”
18. “Queenie Eye”
19. “New”
20. “Lady Madonna”
21. “FourFiveSeconds”
22. “Eleanor Rigby”
23. “I want to Be Your Man”
24. “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”
25. “Something”
26. “A Day In The Life/Give Peace A Chance”
27. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
28. “Band On The Run”
29. “Back In The USSR”
30. “Let It Be”
31. “Live And Let Die”
32. “Hey Jude”
33. “Yesterday”
34. “Day Tripper”
35. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”
36. “Helter Skelter”
37. “Golden Slumbers”
38. “Carry That Weight”
39. “The End”