Legendary musician puts on best show of the year
Where: Rexall Place
EDMONTON - May I be a human — and not a supposedly unbiased or clinical reviewer — for a moment? OhmygoshohmygoshPaulMcCartneyisonstage! Hesrightinfrontofme! andthousandsoffans! OneoftheBeatlesisfinallyinEdmonton! Wegettowitnessrocknrollhistoryintheflesh! IhopeheplaysHeyJudeorYesterday!
C’mon, who wasn’t thinking the same silly thoughts during Wednesday’s sold-out show, the first of two at Rexall Place? As the 70-year-old elder statesmen casually strolled onstage, 14,500 fans erupted in cheers — an explosion 50 years in the making.
Better late than never … and McCartney more than made up for avoiding us all these years, gracefully attacking us with all his charm and greatest hits, making us feel like giddy 15-year-olds watching the Fab Four on The Ed Sullivan Show in the ’60s. Or giggly five-year-olds, watching the Beatles battle the Blue Meanies in Yellow Submarine for the first time in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s or ’00s.
“Waiting to take you away,” he beckoned during Wednesday’s opening number, Magical Mystery Tour, as a rainbow of colours danced on the three screens at the back of the stage. “Let’s go! Let’s go!” he coaxed on the second song, Junior’s Farm, introducing us to an Eskimo who was hoping for a “fall of snow” in the process.
Not much of McCartney’s set — more than 30 songs — was a mystery, especially for those who scour the web for such information. Then again, his choices were rather limited (or obvious) for an artist with 50 years of albums — 50 years! What a staggering number. What a staggering set of songs by the Beatles, including All My Loving, Got To Get You Into My Life, Paperback Writer, The Long and Winding Road, Blackbird, Eleanor Rigby, a ukulele version of Something in honour of George Harrison, ohmygoshitsPaulMcCartney!
Of course, he couldn’t forget tunes from his other band, Wings — such as Jet, Let Me Roll It, Band on the Run — not to mention squeezing in the odd “obscure” number. Obscurities such as Sing the Changes, by The Fireman, his project with another British bassist, Youth, from post-punks Killing Joke. The tune, however, felt more like McCartney’s attempt to write for U2 — big, expansive, atmospheric, with jangly guitars and echoey backup vocals.
His entire show was epic and he didn’t even need a fancy 360-degree stage or claw. Just a few screens, four backup musicians, and his modesty. “This is cool, I’m going to take a moment just to drink it all in,” he said after his third song, All My Loving, leaning back to savour all the love. (Yes, Taylor Swift takes her cues from the best.) As grateful as McCartney came across, he wasn’t just trying to win the crowd over with sincerity, wit and looks. He worked hard for each standing ovation, playing supple grooves on his Hofner bass, showing off his guitar chops on the scribbly funk of Let Me Roll It/Foxy Lady, crooning like a younger man as he played the piano on The Long and Winding Road. Wow.
For much of the set, McCartney’s voice felt nuanced and strong, only wavering on one or two numbers, particularly the high notes on The Night Before. At times, as is the case with most arena shows, his pipes were buried by the force of his bandmates, though he seemed to sound more powerful the higher up in the arena you sat.
McCartney’s power also extended to the pacing of his show. He’s a master at moving from gravity to humour and back again, knowing when to tell a story about a dearly departed friend and when to make funny faces and point at fans as if he knows each one of them personally. “You see all these signs in the audience and they’re really great,” he said. “One half of my brain says ‘Don’t look at the signs, just sing.’ The other half says ‘Read them’.”
After reading a few for laughs, McCartney played a pair of spine-tingling numbers on his acoustic guitar — Blackbird, featuring an arena of backup singers, and Here Today, dedicated to the late great Beatle John Lennon.
But instead of letting fans wallow in sadness, McCartney then picked up the mood by playing one of his 21st century numbers, Dance Tonight, as his drummer waved his hands for most of the song. “That’s our choreography for the night,” joked McCartney.
And that was all in the first 90 minutes. By deadline, he was just finishing a string of mesmerizing numbers, including Let It Be; Live and Let Die, complete with pyro; and Hey Jude, prompting one of the night’s many mass singalongs and standing ovations.
Double, triple, quadruple wow.
McCartney’s visit caps off a year stacked with classic-rock concerts, running the gamut from Roger Waters to Neil Diamond to Red Hot Chili Peppers to Journey/Loverboy/Night Ranger. Do I even need to tell you Sir Paul’s three-hour show topped them all?
And lucky for Edmonton, we get to experience the majesty all over again on Thursday night. Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh.
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