It seems incredible to think now just how much ridicule went the way of Paul McCartney in patches of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Beaten with the sticks of ‘he broke up the Beatles’, ‘Mull Of Kintyre’, ‘Frog Chorus’ and mostly ‘not being John Lennon’, he become a clownish ‘Fab Macca Wacky Thumbs Aloft’ relic of the 60s. That all started to shift around the time of the Beatles Anthology releases, the same time that his musical output went through a renaissance, and since then he’s reclaimed his place at the top of the tree, helped by putting on some of the best live shows around.
He’s had his current touring line-up for almost 10 years now and looks like he and they could carry on for another 10 at least, even though that would take him up to his 80th year. Certainly there’s no sign on-stage that he’s 69 years old, and the talented and extremely likeable musicians around him all look like they’re doing the best jobs any of them will ever have, which of course, they are. Since they came together, McCartney has toured the world and no-one who goes to see his shows could come away muttering about Frog Choruses. This is, simply, the best songwriter of his generation, playing the best songs of his generation and doing them really, really well.
I went to two shows on the stunning Back In The World tour, and they were both great, but the setlist for this current On The Run tour is arguably even better, with a great mix of Beatles songs, Wings songs and solo material and a very pleasing difference between the two setlists. Of course, it’s easy to rotate the songs you play live when you’ve got a back catalogue like his, but it was great that around half of the show were songs I hadn’t seen him play last time, and when they’re songs like Got To Get You Into My Life, Paperback Writer, Day Tripper and I’m Looking Through You, that can only be a good thing.
But of course there’s more to Paul McCartney than Beatles songs and the tracks from the album the tour is named after were all fantastic, especially the less-frequently played Mrs Vandebilt and Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five, while more recent solo material like the fun Dance Tonight (complete with ‘choreography’ from adorable drummer Abe) and the brilliant Sing The Changes stood up better than you’d expect ‘new stuff’ to do in the context of a show so heavy on nostalgia. The latter track from the most recent Fireman album particularly sounds like it’s always been a part of Macca shows.
Part of the reason he lost some of his credibility earlier in his career was McCartney’s willingness to go just a little bit too heavy on the cheese, and that’s still there because it’s a part of who he is, and his on-stage schtick is certainly well-rehearsed, but you can get away with bringing fans onto the stage to give you presents when you’re Paul McCartney and it’s Christmas. The same can be said for playing Wonderful Christmastime and having it ‘snow’ on the front rows while a children’s choir sing along behind you, and that was quite special to hear as it’s obviously not a song that he plays live often.
Audience interaction always helps to give a gig that special feeling, and having The All-Time Best Singalong Song Ever in your repertoire makes it easy to achieve that, and Hey Jude was suitably impressive even after all of these years and all of those clichéd sing-songs at major public events. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da also had a spot for the audience to join in, though you could hear their backing vocals on all of the quieter tracks too, and these were some of the most wonderful moments, like his tributes to John and George on Here Today and Something (which nowadays switches from the ukelele to an amazing full-band version halfway through) and songs like And I Love Her and Blackbird.
It’s that mix of raucous singalongs, quiet moments and frenetic rock ‘n’ roll that makes these gigs so good, and the explosive Live And Let Die never lets you down, while I was thrilled to hear him rocking out on a version of Helter Skelter that was as heavy as anything you’d hear from younger rock bands at the MEN Arena. But of course, nothing goes on forever, and after almost 40 songs, he had to call it a day. Hopefully the Paul McCartney road show will keep on going for a while longer yet and we will get to see him back in Manchester before too long, but whatever happens, he’s left us all with so many great songs and so many amazing memories. And yes, I include The Frog Chorus in that…