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Midmorning on Valentine’s Day, Paul McCartney fans got a gift they could hardly have expected. That night, the arena-accustomed star would play a semi-private show in a hall holding barely more than a thousand people, and if they had forty bucks in cash, they could join him. The fine print was odd, given the holiday’s couple-centric focus: Attendees could buy just one ticket each, and had to get to Irving Plaza in person to buy them — if you and your sweetie weren’t both within striking distance of the Union Square area, it was Craigslist time. (There, tickets were being offered in the $500-$750 range.)
Plenty of couples did manage to get into the venue, of course, where the upstairs was reserved for guest-listers and the floor was densely packed. At 11 p.m., allowing plenty of time for dinner-daters to enjoy their dessert and coffee, the former Beatle and his four-man band took the stage.
The show turned out to be very much like those McCartney plays on tour, with a couple of new solo tunes worked into a set list heavy on Beatles and Wings favorites. Nodding to his abiding love for early rockabilly, the singer announced two covers he usually reserves for sound checks: Carl Perkins‘s “Matchbox” was an early highlight; later, he made cutesy tweaks to the lyrics of Buddy Holly‘s “It’s So Easy!” (“doggone easy” became “doggone squeezy”) while playing the music straight.
Performances of the earliest songs were unadorned, with brisk versions of “Eight Days a Week,” “All My Loving” and “I’ve Just Seen a Face” reminding one of the two-and-a-half-minute jukebox conventions the Beatles would famously reject as their career progressed. Later favorites were rangier, largely thanks to contributions from the audience. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” started a stretch of singalong-required numbers culminating in “Hey Jude”; for that one, McCartney took a break from the climax, making only a token stab at his “Jude-Jude-a-Jude-a….” wail before conducting the audience’s “na-na-nahs” and pitting “just the guys” against “just the girls.”
The bandleader traded instruments freely, drawing cheers whenever he sat at the piano bench — for “Let it Be,” say, or a lively rendition of Wings’ “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five.” When he picked up his bass mid-show, he noted that it was “nearly the original” instrument he used at the start of his career. “The original got nicked,” he said, before imagining a secret room, somewhere in Germany perhaps, where the thief might still bask in the presence of a precious artifact he’d never be able to sell without getting caught.
While the concert benefited from a good balance of oldies, ballads and belted rockers like “Jet” and “Back in the USSR,” it offered few surprises; those hoping that a one-off Manhattan party might include a guest or two were disappointed. (With both McCartney and Kanye West booked to play the Saturday Night Live anniversary show the following night, mightn’t the latter have dropped in to duet on “Only One”?) McCartney could have at least used Valentine’s Day as an excuse to dust off the long-retired Wings hit “Silly Love Songs,” but no.
In that ditty’s place was a recent composition, the lovely minor-key ballad “My Valentine,” during which rose-petal-like confetti rained down on the crowd. Like the recent recording with West, his peculiar Nirvana team-up and assorted other offbeat musical efforts, the song was a reminder that, though he likes to play his old hits exactly as fans remember them, McCartney is not content to be viewed as a nostalgia act. Unlike some of those extracurricular ventures, “My Valentine” suggests there’s still a touch of genius under all that shaggy hair.
Eight Days a Week
All My Loving
One After 909
Let Me Roll It
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
Maybe I’m Amazed
I’ve Just Seen a Face
It’s So Easy!
We Can Work It Out
And I Love Her
Drive My Car
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let It Be
Carry That Weight
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