There are few positions more enviable in the history of pop music than the one that Paul McCartney has come to occupy. As a member of one of the most influential and celebrated bands of all time, McCartney helped shape the modern era of fanaticism that accompanies great pop songwriting, moved on from there to create in his wildly inventive left-of-field band, Wings, and eventually settled into a role as a solo artist that’s been so prolific he even put out a new album, Egypt Station, late last year. When he reviewed the new record last September, what our critic Steven Hyden couldn’t get over is how much Macca still cares, even while other figureheads of his era have abandoned live music, or retreated from their fans, or begun dabbling in other mediums (Bob Dylan paintings, anyone?), Paul is still completely committed to the music. And it, in the popular phrasing of the time, shows.
Though I’ve seen him once before — a send-off Jersey stadium show at MetLife in 2016 right before I moved to Los Angeles — watching McCartney take the stage at Dodger Stadium for his Freshen Up tour had a certain bittersweetness to it, given the knowledge that the Beatles themselves played their second-to-last show on that same stage in 1966. Paul, ever the historian, clocked that, of course, noting that there were probably a few members in the 2019 crowd who had been there some fifty years ago, and getting enough screams to conclude he was correct in that assumption.
My commute to the show was much shorter than when I saw him in Jersey, where I took a bus, to the subway, to a train, and then finally walked into the glowing stadium. In Los Angeles, my current apartment in Echo Park is just down the street from Dodger Stadium, so I saw the early scores of senior citizens — and some young people — began the pilgrimage up my hill to the stadium starting around 6 p.m on Saturday. Heading up myself at the more reasonable timing of 6:45-7 p.m, it was astonishing to see the enormous age range of attendees for the show. And even though a Paul McCartney cincert is certainly for fans of his own generation, there were plenty of young folks there as well, whether it was to accompany the elders of their family, or to carry the torch on their own.
At this point in his career, though, a McCartney setlist doesn’t change much, even over the course of three years. He still kicks off the show with “A Hard Day’s Night,” and makes sure to throw a Wings song in within the first two or three songs (we got “Junior’s Farm” on Saturday), he still plays “Let Me Roll It” into a “Foxy Lady” jam breakdown, and regales the crowd with stories about the way Jimi Hendrix used to operate, namely asking if Eric Clapton is in the crowd to re-tune his guitar. (Clapton was, but he hid, as Paul tells it).
And yes, he manages to talk about the unspeakable loss of his creative partner, sometimes-rival/sometimes-friend John Lennon, using the lens of “Here Today” as a conversation they never got to have; he busts out a ukulele George Harrison gifted him during a jam session one day to begin “Something” before bringing the rest of the band back in to give one of the greatest love songs of all time its due.
There were new gems in this iteration of his live show, because Egypt Station is in the world, so we got “Who Cares,” a kiss-off to jerks and bullies and the rest, and “Come On To Me,” an overtly sexual song for a many of 77, that still managed to land. Of course we got “Fuh You,” a pretty gorgeous new song about falling in love, and staying there, spiked with plenty of fuh-ing desire. These new songs definitely stood out in the setlist as some of the brightest and most current, even if, as Paul himself noted, the crowd reaction to any Beatles hit is on a whole different level than anything else the band plays. “That’s ok, we’re going to play ’em anyway!” he concludes.
And though hearing classics like “Eleanor Rigby,” “Back In The USSR,” “Let It Be,” and “Hey Jude” will probably always be thrilling, the most tender and exciting moment of the show came during the encore, when Ringo Starr made his way up to the stage, and joined Paul on a stripped back drum kit for a reprise of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” straight into “Helter Skelter.” This marked the pair’s first appearance together in five years, and I screamed like I had Beatle Mania when Ringo swaggered out on stage. As the last two remaining Beatles, both seem to know the weight their connection carries, not only with the crowd, but within themselves.
It feels good that they have managed to preserve a surely tenuous relationship, and maintain cordiality for moments like the one they gifted the crowd with on Saturday night. It was the last stop of the tour, so along with Ringo, Paul brought out Eagles legend Joe Walsh to play the crowd out of the stadium. As these icons ultimately make their way off the largest stages in the world, and into the pages of history, it’s gratifying to note that, at least in Paul’s case, he’ll be singing every step of the way.