Concert Review: Paul McCartney at the Hollywood Bowl

Paul McCartney Performing 2012 - H 2012
MJ Kim

Paul McCartney Performing 2012 - H 2012

The generous, fantastic show is a prime example of how music -- certain music -- can bridge cultural and generational chasms.

Sir Paul delivers nearly three hours of Beatles, Wings, solo work, smiles and memories at the historic venue he first played during the Johnson administration.

If anyone could be excused for having a rock star's distant, aloof persona, it would be Paul McCartney.

But that's simply not him; he exudes a genuine likability and unforced charm that flattens any barriers between him and a live audience. And Tuesday's A long,

Whether it was a Wings track, recent solo material or any of the 20-plus Beatles songs, it was easy to hear the past half-century of popular music in the melodies and harmonies. And McCartney shared several stories that offered a peek behind the scenes of that history and helped make this show special.

The opening song was predictable: The Wings rave-up "Venus and Mars/Rock Show" touts "rock 'n' roll at the Hollywood Bowl," and McCartney waxed nostalgic about the venue the Beatles famously played early in their career and where he hadn't appeared since 1993.

"I came up here in the car, and it was like, 'Oooh, deja vu," he said. "It's so amazing, I just want to take a moment to drink it all in." And he did. Later, he added: "This is bringing back the memories. There used to be a pond there; was that really 70 years ago?"

The night's first Fab Four track -- a faithful rendition of "All My Loving," complete with black-and-white Beatlemania footage -- showed that McCartney's voice wasn't in peak form, its "whoo-hoos" abridged at best. But given the communal vibe in the packed Bowl and the generous, nearly three-hour set from a 67-year-old on a brisk night, that was entirely forgivable. Readers who feel compelled to focus on the negative should look elsewhere; click around the snarkosphere because this show was too good to belittle.

Initially sporting a black jacket with no collar that split the difference between the early Beatles look and the gaudy "Sgt. Pepper" outfits, McCartney switched instruments often -- bass, piano, electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, even a Gibson ukulele given to him by George Harrison. He proceeded to play the first half of "Something" on it, subbing a sweet falsetto for the famous post-chorus guitar lick, before the band crashed in. Funny that the song would be a highlight of a Paul McCartney concert.

He reminisced about Harrison and John Lennon with stories that were amusing or moving but never maudlin, referring to them only by first name, (There was no mention at all of a certain Liverpudlian drummer.) He recalled how he and Harrison used to play old rock 'n' roll on their guitars, then "show off" with a little classical. But he said they botched some Bach, and the result was the opening of "Blackbird," which he played alone on acoustic guitar.

McCartney then introduced "Here Today" by saying he "wrote it for John; a conversation we never had -- the kind of thing you always said you'd say tomorrow." He played the electric guitar hook/riff on the Lennon-inspired "Let Me Roll It," then was in a metal mood, embellishing the 1973 Wings nugget with a fiery "Foxey Lady" coda. Moving to the piano, he told a funny tale about Jimi Hendrix: "We released Sgt. Pepper on a Friday," he said, "and by Sunday, Jimi had learned it and was opening with it." The all-ages crowd gave a group laugh.

Those personal little glimpses into pop lore, interspersed between songs that span and connect generations past, present and future, brought performer and audience ever closer.

When he played "A Day in the Life," for example, a glance around the smiling crowd made one wonder exactly which moment of their life each was reliving. Was it 1967? '74, maybe? '88? 2003? The feeling of community was palpable, especially when the song morphed into "Give Peace a Chance," offered as grand, unaccompanied sing-along and without commentary.

McCartney made good use of the video backdrop, ranging from vintage photos to Rock Band avatars. Perhaps most fun was footage of the album-cover photo shoot during "Band on the Run," featuring close-up and candid glimpses of James Coburn, Christopher Lee, et al. The subsequent "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," which McCartney said he "never played on American soil before this tour," got many off their chairs, and "Back in the U.S.S.R." furthered the trend.

McCartney's voice mostly had solidified by the time he delivered a de-Spectorized "Let It Be," and the following "Live and Let Die" featured some ('74) Bond-worthy loud pyrotechnics. Afterward, McCartney rubbed his ears in faux pain before settling down with a seven-minute "Hey Jude" that had most of the 18,000 or so beaming and singing.

Yes, there were vocal shortcomings. "Eleanor Rigby" and "Day Tripper" were a little sluggish, maybe a half-beat behind, and the synthed horns on songs like "Got to Get You Into My Life" were disappointing. But a show like this is critic-proof, plain and simple. Anyone who would quibble about it is doing so for quibbling's sake. The world won't again see such a unifying musical force as the Beatles, and Sir Paul will be welcomed for as long as he chooses to share his songs with an audience.

Let's hope he continues to do just that.

Set list:
"Venus and Mars/Rock Show"
"All My Loving"
"Letting Go"
"Got to Get You Into My Life"
"Let Me Roll It"
"The Long and Winding Road"
"Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five"
"(I Want To) Come Home"
"My Love"
"I'm Looking Through You"
"Two of Us"
"Here Today"
"Dance Tonight"
"Mrs. Vandebilt"
"Eleanor Rigby"
"Sing the Changes"
"Band on the Run"
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"
"Back in the U.S.S.R."
"I've Got a Feeling"
"Paperback Writer"
"A Day in the Life/Give Peace a Chance"
'Let It Be"
"Live and Let Die"
"Hey Jude"

"Day Tripper"
"Lady Madonna"
"Get Back"

"Helter Skelter"
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)/The End"