Paul McCartney, live in London

The O2 Arena, May 24, 2015: quality songwriting assured

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Britain’s Got Talent! Here’s Paul, a 72 year-old grandfather of eight from Liverpool, playing us one of his latest compositions…. The song in question is “Hope For The Future”, released as a single at the tail end of 2014. As McCartney compositions go, it might not be among his most memorable (it’s strictly mid-tempo arena material) but it is interesting for what is says about McCartney’s current choice of collaborators. It is his first song written specifically for a computer game franchise; and it is only one of an intriguing number of career swerves McCartney has been making lately. There have been recent hook-ups with Kayne West and Rihanna; on the horizon, we are told there is a film soundtrack in the works with Lady Gaga. Admittedly, McCartney has never been shy of the occasional creative dalliance throughout his illustrious career – Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash, Lulu, Michael Jackson among them. He is still, quite literally, here, there and everywhere; although perhaps these associations with younger artists are indicative of McCartney’s desire to convey a continued forward momentum. Last year, Richard Lester told me about his experiences directing McCartney for A Hard Day’s Night: “I think the problem with Paul is he is so enthusiastic towards cinema, art, the zeitgeist, what’s going on, that it got in the way. Sometimes he tried harder than he should have.” Lester was evidently talking about McCartney in the early 60s here; but arguably such an observation is still pertinent to the McCartney of 2015.

Tonight, the second of his two-date stint at London’s O2 Arena, foregrounds the various conflicting aspects of McCartney. On one hand, there is ‘thumbs aloft Macca’ – a man who is clearly incapable of walking from one part of the stage to another without mugging at the audience. On the other, there is Paul McCartney, the serious composer of impeccable provenance. Before the show starts, we’re treated to a selection of Beatles’ covers – The Persuasions’ “Octopus’ Garden”, Esther Phillips’ “And I Love Him” – while images of McCartney and his peers pictures through the years flow past on screen. There is Jagger along with Townshend and Hendrix. Here’s the McCartney family’s beloved Old English Sheepdog, Martha, and there’s the kids racing around on trikes. McCartney himself ages and regains his youth before our eyes. He appears sporting a moustache in the “Strawberry Fields Forever” film; then again, in the company of a mullet and Denny Laine; with Bob Geldof at Wembley Stadium for Live Aid; back to The Beatles… McCartney himself arrives on stage, pointing at the audience then back to himself, as if to say, “You guys! Are you here cheering for little old me..?” Then we’re in “Eight Days A Week”, “Save Us” and “Got To Get You Into My Life”: a solid, opening run that he deliberately unseats with “Temporary Secretary”. Taken from 1980’s McCartney II, it is a genuinely striking curveball, characterized by a fidgety krautrock keyboard pattern where the band shout the title over and over. In amidst the night’s otherwise cheery nostalgia, it feels bold and surprisingly radical.

Business resumes as normal with “Let Me Roll It” which segues into “Foxy Lady”, and the first of tonight’s back-in-the-day yarns. This involves Jimi Hendrix (cue audience applause), Sgt Pepper (more applause) and Eric Clapton (further applause). Indeed, for anyone playing ‘Beatles Bingo’, Sgt Pepper receives four mentions in total during the show – each one accompanied by bursts of applause, naturally – though he only plays two songs from it: “Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite” and “Lovely Rita”. The winner is ‘the White Album’, which has four songs nestling in the setlist: “Back In The USSR”, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, “Backbird” and “Helter Skelter”. The anedcotes/dedications to fallen friends continue – to Linda (“Maybe I’m Amazed”, John (“Here Today”) and George (“Something”). Before “Back In The USSR”, he tells a funny story about meeting a delegation of Russian high-ups who admitted they’d learned English from Beatles’ records: the incumbent Minister of Defence greeted McCartney with “Hello, Goodbye”.


The set winds its way onward – there are 41 songs played in a set running close to three hours – with McCartney accompanied by his dutifully well-drilled band. Occasionally, there are mishaps: “Paperback Writer” is unnecessarily recast as a stadium rocker, which ends with McCartney coaxing feedback from the speakers. …Why? The intimacy of “Eleanor Rigby” is compromised by the distraction of having the drummer and guitarist walking from the rear of the stage to the microphones to provide harmonies then stepping back again. Then again, the fireworks and flames for “Live And Let Die” provide a thrilling spectacle. There is a genuinely amusement moment when he introduces “New” or “the song from Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs II” as his grandchildren know it. In the scheme of things, The Beatles’ ballads carry the strongest weight: dropped in half way through the set, “And I Love Her” and “Blackbird” provide vulnerability and tenderness, even in a hall this size.

Follow me on Twitter @MichaelBonner

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Paul McCartney’s set list:

Eight Days A Week
Save Us
Got To Get You Into My Life
Listen To What The Man Said
Temporary Secretary
Let Me Roll It
Paperback Writer
My Valentine
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five
The Long And Winding Road
Maybe I’m Amazed
I’m Looking Through You
We Can Work It Out
Another Day
Hope For The Future
And I Love Her
Here Today
Queenie Eye
Lady Madonna
All Together Now
Lovely Rita
Eleanor Rigby
Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!
Ram On
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Band On The Run
Back In The USSR
Let It Be
Live And Let Die
Hey Jude

Encore # 1
Another Girl
Hi, Hi, Hi
Can’t Buy Me Love

Encore # 2
Helter Skelter
Golden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End

Photo: Jim Dyson/WireImage/Getty Images


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