“My grandkids gave me this tattoo” says Paul McCartney as he removes his jacket and rolls his sleeves up to reveal a freshly inked felt-tip splodge to his arm. “That’s the biggest wardrobe change of the night” he laughs.
It’s a remarkable feat that this 69 year old real-time granddad and grandfather of the musical genre we call Rock N Roll not only plays a three hour long concert at the Manchester MEN Arena tonight but also does so with such energy, showmanship and killer riff clout that shows his contemporaries who’s the Master and gives any puppets a lesson in what it means to ‘Rawk’.
Some bands may be album bands; some bands are maybe made for the stage. The beauty of ex-Beatle, ex-Wings and now just Paul McCartney is he’s never short in any department and he is most certainly not short of songs.
He kicks off the show with Magical Mystery Tour to whip the audience into a frenzy about the exciting ride that they’re about to go on before nipping across to Wings’ Junior’s Farm and knocking out a clump of star-studded tracks with ‘All My Loving’, ‘Jet’ and ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ before going into a relatively new song ‘Sing The Changes’ by The Fireman (from his alter-ego’s highly acclaimed 2008 album ‘Electric Arguments’). It’s a track that you could re-imagine Brandon Flowers singing in his best Bono impersonation with The Edge making an appearance on BVs, which is testament to McCartney’s unrivalled ability during his last 50 years in show business to stay at the top of his own ball game, as opposed to someone like, say, one-time Elvis wannabe Cliff Richard (we won’t mention Macca’s ‘Ever Present Past’ ‘shoddy dance routine’ music video for present purposes).
For anyone who’s watched a solo McCartney concert in the past, there are familiarities with some of the song choices (there are of course obvious songs he must play - see ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Yesterday’) and some of the well-documented-in- Beatle-history anecdotes McCartney shares with the audience (George’s love of ukuleles and Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Sgt Peppers’ two days after its release). However, the treats for the aficionados are undoubtedly present and come in the form of some rarities like ‘The Night Before’ (a fabulous upbeat pop number from ‘Help!’), ‘Come And Get It’ (only released on the ‘Anthologies’ and made famous by the Apple band Badfinger) and ‘The Word’ from ‘Rubber Soul’, none of which have been performed in Manchester before. When he announces ‘Come And Get It’, for instance, you can hear the hardcore faithful feel special because not everyone in the arena can sing this one!
Highlights are hard to hone in on, but the natural spotlight during a continuously epic set could fall on the fingerpicking beauty of Blackbird, a song written for those Southern US states during the Civil Rights Movement (which McCartney contextualises without seeking glory or hitting Preacherville – see Bono and Bob Geldof) and the piano-led setlist that includes an anthemic full band assault on ‘Let It Be’, ‘Live And Let Die’ (standby – Guy Fawkes-style fireworks alert) and the hymn of a billion or more people written about one boy (Julian Lennon), ‘Hey Jude’, with highly passionate Na na na-naing from men, women and ‘everyone all together’.
Memorable moments of pure entertainment and stark emotion are exhibited at other points in the set. For example, McCartney’s now staple tribute to John Lennon on the acoustic conversational lyric of ‘Here Today’ is painfully laid bare in front of a crowd of thousands of blurry faces whereas his rendition of Something on ukulele evokes charm and is jauntily celebratory as affectionate images of Harrison with his hippy cool and sixties sculptured beauty play on the screens behind.
McCartney’s current backing band, who’ve now been touring with him for 10 years, also prove why there are here with the most famous musician in the world playing this first-class back-catalogue, with the flexibility to flow with multiple instrument changes as McCartney goes from Hofner bass to piano to uke via rhythm and lead. They’re also clearly enjoying their chance to connect with McCartney fans with a particularly hilarious ‘arms only’ dance routine performed by drummer Abe on Dance Tonight and a pair of Can Can legs being adopted by Rusty Anderson for the up-in-the-air Ukrainian-style polka on Mrs Vanderbilt from Band On The Run.
Since he is Paul McCartney and does not seem to tire nor get old, the band return for two encores on the night, the first which includes the seasonal Wonderful Christmastime complete with Youth choir and a competition where the fans with the best signs are invited on stage to meet and greet the great man. Two Argentinian girls in blue football shirts hit the stage with their poster, which says “from Argentina to Manchester/Liverpool” with a blown up picture of Paul in the centre. A Korean lady called ‘Soo Yeon’ also gives Sir Paul a wedding gift for him and Nancy, with what look like custom-made and named dolls for the both of them inside. He is clearly touched by this lady’s gesture of warmth and even remarks to ‘Soo Yeon and so beautiful’ that ‘this is becoming like a reality show’. Lastly, Bill, a Beatle-tattooed madman arrives with a hat made out of baubles. He’s from Flixton, Manchester and is even cheeky enough to say something to Macca to which he responds, ‘That was a long time ago…’ which makes one wonder if he just conjured up a memory of Lennon’s acerbic attack on Macca ‘How Do You Sleep’. He still gets the stamp of approval with a signature on his arm. 10 quid he’s down the shop tomorrow getting that branded.
Three hours after we start at which point Paul, our lad from Liverpool-way, tells us “we have to be getting home”, and he winds down with the Abbey Road closing tracks of ‘Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight’, which then culminates with a rip-roaring performance of ‘The End’, complete with drum solo and the three guitarists entering a rock n roll duel. Before this, they played ‘Helter Skelter’, a rock song that is bold enough and cool enough to have been teamed with Jason Z’s ‘99 Problems’.
That’s the magic of Paul McCartney and a Paul McCartney three-hour live show. He may have always been the pretty boy Beatle and he may have always seemed like the soft option when it comes to the ‘Who Do You Prefer – Lennon or McCartney?’ debate, but good manners and the respected family man image do not paper over the fact that underneath the National Treasure is a rock n roll beast and TM original musical genius.
Note to the McCartney clan for Christmas Day: tattoo that to your Grandpa. And this time, mark it in permanent.