Given that Sir Paul McCartney regularly sells out arenas that seat 50,000 people, it was anyone’s guess what his production — usually filled out by giant graphics screens, pyrotechnics and plenty of moving parts — would look like in San Antonio’s 1,750-capacity H-E-B Performance Hall at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, where he played a gig to benefit the newly renovated venue Wednesday night.
Amazingly, it was nearly the same setup but on a smaller scale. For those familiar with his recent Out There tour, which has been moving full-steam ahead since just before McCartney released sixteenth studio album New in late 2013, the only things really missing were side-stage jumbotrons, the rising platform during his tear-jerking solo acoustic run of “Blackbird” and about a dozen tunes, which cut his set down from the typical 40 to 28 and shortened it by nearly an hour. They even managed to light off enormous plumes of pyro during Wings mainstay “Live and Let Die” without torching the ceiling (though not without making more than a handful fans nearly leap out of their seats in fright).
While audience members, who paid anywhere from $200 to $3500 for tickets, were loath to stand up and participate in any way for the bulk of the night, the massive impact of those elements — combined with the 72-year-old Beatle’s still unyielding on-stage charisma — finally took effect around song 20, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” which injected enough adrenaline via massive handclaps and sing-alongs to keep the people on their feet for the remainder of the night. Macca, however, was feeling the momentousness of a show in such an intimate space much earlier on.
“In a theater like this, I feel like I should be doing Shakespeare or something,” he said after a magnificently executed take of the Beatles “And I Love Her.”
He then did just that, spouting a few lines of Hamlet’s “O that this too solid flesh would melt” soliloquy before wild cheers drowned him out. Earlier, during “My Valentine,” he likewise underscored the exquisite charm of the small space by dedicating the song to his wife Nancy Shevell, present this evening, by pointing to her and making a heart with his hands, a gesture she could surely see with the naked eye.
Still, the tiny auditorium had its disadvantages. Errantly rude chatter spilling over from the balcony interrupted the otherwise splendid beauty of “The Long and Winding Road” and similarly marred “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” and close-quarter acoustics made it more obvious when McCartney struggled with a few higher notes on “Let Me Roll It,” “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Blackbird.” Yet, during the latter tune and a ukulele version of “Something” dedicated to George Harrison — despite the odorous irreverence of a few bozos who decided to light up indoors — utter, humbled silence once again drove home the magic and rarity of watching this living legend perform at a locale smaller than some of the Beatles first U.S. gigs.
Yes, it had the same ending as any McCartney concert — the final hat-trick of Abbey Road, “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End.” Yet, to this day, that roughly 5-minute ’69 medley — with its final, cathartic line, “And in the end / the love you take /is equal to the love you make” — is still one of the most galvanizing pieces of poetry in rock ‘n’ roll history. That, of course, was sung in fervent unison, and when just under 2,000 voices resound more deafeningly than the typical 50,0000 you know you’re witnessing a show for the ages.
Eight Days a Week
All My Loving
Let Me Roll It
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
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
Carry That Weight