Photography by Joshua Mellin
Resilient, Sir Paul McCartney… consider the two synonymous. After being hospitalized for a nasty viral infection, which led to the postponement of seven landmark dates, Macca’s Out There Tour is finally doing just that. Already the jaunt’s had its share of surprises, including one impromptu, on-stage engagement, and while there weren’t too many last night at Chicago’s United Center, the former Beatle’s two-and-a-half hour, 40-song performance more than sufficed. If anything, it was further proof he remains as awesome as ever.
But we knew that. Don’t forget it was only three years ago that McCartney sold out two nights at Wrigley Field, where his On the Run Tour unwrapped an awe-inspiring medley of hits and deep cuts from his Beatles, Wings, and solo catalogues. He’s gone and applied the same logic this summer — in fact, the Abbey Road medley even retains its closing duties — but there’s one major difference: He’s supporting a new album, and that new album is last year’s fantastic New.
Pardon the hyperbole, but New is actually more than fantastic, it’s exceptional. Upon its release, I gave the album a B+ and called it “enjoyable, and accessible, and quintessential to McCartney’s catalogue.” Nearly a year later, I’d probably boost that grade up some and, depending on the night, might argue it’s his best work since 1980’s McCartney II… or, on a safer bet, 1997’s Flaming Pie … or tonight, 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. Bottom line: No McCartney fan should have been disappointed.
Judging from the album’s four appearances last night — specifically, “Save Us”, “New”, “Queenie Eye”, and “Everybody Out There” — disappointment eludes his fanbase. I’d say a healthy 65% of the United Center actually sang along to the harmonies for “Everybody Out There”, which also saw McCartney tweak the end on his own with a little acoustic strumming. Shortly after “Queenie Eye”, he admitted how he gauges the crowd’s reaction to new material, explaining: “When I do the old songs, all the phones come out.”
That wasn’t the only new material, though. Earlier on, he dedicated “My Valentine” to his wife Nancy, who was also in attendance. The single off 2012’s Kisses on the Bottom was accompanied with a video backdrop featuring stars Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman. (I could just hear Macca channeling his inner John Hammond: “Spare no expense.”) It was a fitting visual in a series of digital art pieces that ranged from a sprawling, moonlit prairie to nostalgic stock footage and even the Dan Flavin-inspired neon logo for New that hovered center stage intermittently.
But what about The Beatles? Well, he opted for only two songs and left the rest of the setlist open for Wings. Just kidding. No, he dusted off the same classics we’ve heard in recent years, with familiar highlights including a timid rendition of “And I Love Her”, a bombastic “All Together Now”, and the forever iconic “Yesterday”. What’s great about his setlist is that so many of his songs feel like proper homages rather than mandatory inclusions. For instance, his sentimental, ukelele-driven take on George Harrison’s “Something” is a way for fans to both appreciate and experience the late legend.
And yes, McCartney’s back with some of the same ol’ stories (e.g. his Hendrix/Clapton tuning tale, why he can’t read the signs, and how Harrison and he jammed out on ukes together). But there’s an intrinsic charm to them, like the way your cool uncle can squeeze into any conversation during any holiday dinner and just kill it with the same joke again and again. Yeah Mike, it’s exactly that… only one’s a guy the family looks down upon, while the other’s a knighted singer-songwriter who’s responsible for the greatest pop songs in the history of mankind. You get the point, hopefully.
“Okay, let’s get high on life,” McCartney insisted before launching into Wings’ “Hi, Hi, Hi”. I definitely chuckled at that line, but also realized it’s the perfect comment from the thrill-seeking Beatle. Here’s a guy who not only a month ago was experiencing god knows what to his body, but enough that his doctors insisted he chill out. Now, I can’t even bring myself to the gym with a minor headache or a slight back pain, but the 72-year-old McCartney can pound away at the keys two hours in while beams of flames are shooting every which way?
That’s the surprise in itself.
— Since when did Ty Burrell start playing guitar for McCartney?
— I’ve never really enjoyed “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” but seeing nearly every living soul in the arena sing each syllable almost instinctually makes me wonder if any future singer-songwriters will ever have that much pull, and with such a wide demographic, too.
— Clever crowd sign, also endorsed by McCartney: “Sign Me Before My Wrinkles Take Over”
— My fiancee pointed out that McCartney should entertain the idea of incorporating string sections or a little bit of brass in future tours. It’s a novel idea; could you imagine how “Eleanor Rigby” might sound, or anything off Sgt. Peppers? Sh’yeah.
— Obligatory rant on the lack of Flaming Pie and other “modern” material: Okay, I know you tend to shed your previous album’s material with each subsequent tour, Paul, but it wouldn’t kill you to revisit some slightly newer classics every once and awhile. “Young Boy”? “The World Tonight”? Or even stuff off 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt? I saw plenty of tour shirts that prove you still got fans from those eras.
— Creepiest sign, thankfully ignored by McCartney: “Cuff Me”
— I know it’s old by now, but I still get a kick out of watching the B-roll from the Band on the Run photo shoot that plays on-screen during, you guessed it, “Band on the Run”. James Coburn and Christopher Lee’s facial expressions are fucking priceless.
Eight Days a Week (The Beatles song)
All My Loving (The Beatles song)
Listen to What the Man Said (Wings song)
Let Me Roll It/Foxy Lady (Wings song)
Paperback Writer (The Beatles song)
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five (Wings song)
The Long and Winding Road (The Beatles song)
Maybe I’m Amazed
I’ve Just Seen a Face (The Beatles song)
We Can Work It Out (The Beatles song)
And I Love Her (The Beatles song)
Blackbird (The Beatles song)
Lady Madonna (The Beatles song)
All Together Now (The Beatles song)
Lovely Rita (The Beatles song)
Everybody Out There
Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles song)
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! (The Beatles song)
Something (The Beatles song)
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (The Beatles song)
Band on the Run (Wings song)
Back in the U.S.S.R. (The Beatles song)
Let It Be (The Beatles song)
Live and Let Die (Wings song)
Hey Jude (The Beatles song)
Day Tripper (The Beatles song)
Hi, Hi, Hi (Wings song)
Get Back (The Beatles song)
Yesterday (The Beatles song)
Helter Skelter (The Beatles song)
Golden Slumbers (The Beatles song)
Carry That Weight (The Beatles song)
The End (The Beatles song)
Editor’s Note: This article was amended to correct the visuals surrounding “My Valentine”.