Paul McCartney at Dodger Stadium: Concert Review
Pop music’s favorite lefty returns to L.A.'s baseball stadium 48 years after the Beatles headlined the venue
The years have certainly taken their toll on Paul McCartney. Due to the unavoidable levies that are endemic to the aging process, Sir Paul now looks about 53 and sounds maybe 40 — which is to say that anyone who walked into Dodger Stadium on Sunday nervous that their hero might not be able to deliver the kind of show he always has, left reassured that 72 is the new middle age after all. Those Dodger dogs were tasty, but in watching the literally and figuratively paunch-less McCartney cut such a fountain-of-youthful figure for 2 hours and 45 minutes, more than a few of us were considering a late-inning conversion to veganism.
In the lead-up to the show, McCartney joked about how he’d be performing a longer set this time than he did during his last appearance at the venue, when the Beatles played one of their patented half-hour sets at the close of their touring career in 1966. The curious thing is that McCartney has really only started doing nearly three-hour sets in the last decade, as opposed to Bruce Springsteen, who has the legendarily epic shows of his youth to live up to. Although some confidantes over the years have claimed that there’s an opacity to McCartney’s personality, anyone looking at these setlists would have to assume some kind of generosity of spirit at work there, or that, at worst, dude is just a people-pleaser nonpareil. Whatever’s motivating him at this stage — largess? legacy-building? — each night really is a loooong and winding road, albeit never quite long enough.
That eagerness to please extends to both casual comers and cultists. Hardcore fans who’ve seen McCartney on his five previous world tours will use the playing of staples like “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” as the occasion for a power nap. (“Live and Let Die,” maybe too, except that the traditional booming fireworks display precludes that.) There are other rewards for your years of service as a severe Beatlemaniac, however. Among the encores, “Hi, Hi, Hi” is making its first appearance on a McCartney tour since the Wings Over America trek in 1975 — and not a moment too soon for lovers of polygons and bananas as sexual metaphors, or just anyone who loves a rousing closer.
More notably, he’s picked out three Beatles songs that he never performed on tour before: the long-overdue “Lovely Rita,” “All Together Now” (described as one “for the kids,” with background animation featuring minion-like critters) and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” That last pick is a slightly controversial one, since John Lennon sang the psychedelic circus reverie on Sgt. Pepper and had always seemed to take sole credit for its writing before McCartney recently declared that he’d had a hand in it, too. But hearing our man handle its famously complicated Hofner bass line and tackle its vocal for the first time in history was itself worth the $250 top ticket price, if you’re that kind of fan.
Other Fab-related material was making an encore on this tour, like the inevitable reading of McCartney's posthumous Lennon salute, “Here Today,” and his now familiar ukulele-driven reading of George Harrison’s “Something.” On the other hand, when McCartney switched from bass to lead guitar for “Paperback Writer” and announced that he was playing the same Epiphone Casino he’d played on the original recording, you could suppose that maybe he wanted to grab back a little of the props that are usually falsely afforded to Harrison for the riffing on that single, just as he was claiming that “Mr. Kite” co-writing credit. There’s no doubt that McCartney is a guitar hero when he wants to be, and he proved it by tagging on about a minute’s worth of shredding on Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” onto “Let Me Roll It,” his other major six-string showcase.
The star also spent a considerable amount of time behind pianos — first a grand, then a smaller one at center stage whose color design looked right out of Peter Max or Pepperland. Between “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” and “Lady Madonna,” you could almost make the case that all the years McCartney spent on bass or guitar were wasted when he really should have been redoubling his efforts on being the funkiest rock pianist alive (or at least tied with Elton John for those honors).
Less spectacularly syncopated, but no less an ebony-and-ivory highlight, was “Maybe I’m Amazed.” It was here, of all places, where you might expect to find a man of McCartney’s vintage protecting his voice on tour. But while this wasn’t necessarily the most ecstatic reading he’s ever given of his Linda-themed debut solo ballad, there was no sense of his holding back from the romantic howls that drive the tune to its climax. McCartney staked his initial claim in the Beatles as the guy who brought the vocal Little Richard influence to genteel Brit-pop, and eventually, as it turned out, he managed to answer the musical question, “What if Little Richard were a sensitive ballad singer?” That was the unlikely combination he brought — and still brings — to the fore in “Amazed.” It was his ability to be both our Sinatra and our Elvis that made him the finest all-around pop star of the 20th century, and still arguably the only singer alive today whose demographic can’t be narrowed down much beyond “the Western world.”
That said, he’s silly…not so much with the love songs nowadays, but with lots of silly stage commentary. McCartney can hardly seem to end a song without following it up with a little bit of ridiculous dancing, as if to suggest the song is still going on his or our heads. “And I Love Her,” of all the songs, even found him turning around and doing a very slight twerk for the multistory video screens, as guitarist Rusty Anderson did a no-doubt practiced eye roll. Although he’s usually not this spontaneous on stage, McCartney invited up a woman whose daughter had been holding up a sign reading “Will you be my mom’s only tattoo?” and obliged her with an autograph on her forearm. Then, in his workmanlike way, hustled them offstage when the daughter seemed to want an extra favor. Without seeming too sentimental, he made just enough references to the Beatles’ previous appearances at the stadium: “There’s a few people here in the audience who were here in 1966. Come on, girls, let’s hear the screams.”
Screaming seems to have taken a remarkably minor toll on McCartney’s own voice. Serious audiologists who believed they heard the signs of pitch correction on his 2009 live album may have been looking for it here, but the occasional strained note that may have alarmed those listening for signs of aging was probably ironically a relief to anyone worried that he’s gone all Auto-Tune on us. And it was hard to find too many notes, much less full verses, where anything had been dialed down to adjust for lowered vocal expectations. Maybe it’s also worth noting that while McCartney sat on a stool when he sang “I’ve Just Seen a Face” in ’75, he now performs the acoustic segments while standing, again presenting a very convincing case for keeping Linda’s veggie cookbooks in print.
Under the supermoon, Angelenos got their supermacca. Not to put too celestial a point on it, but, watching McCartney pay homage to Lennon and Harrison, it was easy to remember how those premature deaths made some devotees question the very heavens. But seeing McCartney still able, at an improbable 72, to give 50,000 fans the Beatle-esque concert of their dreams, a fan could easily leap to the conclusion that somebody up there likes us.
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
I've Just Seen a Face
We Can Work It Out
And I Love Her
All Together Now
Everybody Out There
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