Album review

Paul McCartney - Good Evening New York City

Paul McCartney - Good Evening New York City

Before we discuss this album – actually a combined CD/DVD set, available in triple or quadruple disc format, with the optional added extra of Paul McCartney’s live show on the Marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater – here is my own Macca memory.

Many years ago, I was sent to a Paul McCartney press conference, to ask him the secret of writing a love song. I was working on a story for Valentine’s Day, and my editor had decided – with some reason – that the ex-Beatle was well-placed to offer an insight into the art of lyrical romance.

Asking the question wasn’t easy. There were over 200 Euro-journalists present, and all of them tasked with getting McCartney to announce that he would soon be appearing in Dubrovnik or Basle or wherever. Finally catching McCartney’s attention, I detected what seemed like a flicker of annoyance as I hailed him as perhaps the greatest living composer of love songs.

He batted the compliment aside, saying it was founded on a misconception: he had written many nasty songs, too. Remember “Helter Skelter”? Which is a long way of saying that it can’t be easy being the last of the talented Beatles. While the world still struggles to comprehend the significance of the Fab Four, imagine what it’s like being Paul.

He was all but hailed as a Saint by Bill Clinton in the 2005 concert film, The Space Within Us, which also implied that liking Paul has become, to some, a matter of faith. The question for McCartney is: how do you deal with that? What do you do, when your best efforts can never quite measure up to your past?

Good Evening New York City offers a kind of answer. If not quite a deity’s greatest hits, it appears to be the work of a man who is growing into his role as a living legend. Recorded over three nights at the opening of the Citi Field stadium in Queens, New York (on the site of Shea Stadium, where the Beatles triumphed in 1965) it is a good-natured celebration of McCartney’s life and times.

There are nods to his post-Wings solo stuff – “Highway” and “Sing The Changes” from work he recorded as The Fireman, a couple of efforts from Memory Almost Full, and two from Flaming Pie – but the bulk of the good stuff is on the second disc, where he motors through “Back In The USSR”, “Something” (delicately strummed on George Harrison’s ukulele), “Hey Jude”, “Day Tripper” and more. It is pure nostalgia, and some of these songs are familiar to the point of tedium, but even a Beatles sceptic would find it hard to suppress a shudder of recognition on hearing these tunes sung by the man who wrote them.

The songs haven’t stood still. Listen closely to “Back In The USSR” , which apes The Beach Boys copying Chuck Berry, and imagine what that lyric might mean in Russia today. Take “Yesterday”; inspired by a young man’s heartache, it now comes weighed down by the pain and experience of a life well-lived. There are times, too, when McCartney seems to be using the sequencing to tell a story, not least in the first half of the concert, where he segues from “My Love” through a beautifully rendered “Blackbird” to “Here Today”. The mournful mood is quite pungent, and while the last song was written for John Lennon, the tears in this trio of songs seem to be for Linda. (John gets a nod when “Day Tripper” melds into “Give Peace A Chance”.)

So, no great revelations. Mostly, these grown men manage to play the youthful music of 40 years ago as if it is ageless and indestructible. Even in the lulls (say, the crowd singalong on “Hey Jude”) there remains something irrational and powerful in the way McCartney moves us. And he does, considerably.

ALASTAIR McKAY

Pic credit: PA Photos

Rating: 3 / 10

(Mercury)


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