Words by Joshua Batten
You’d think after almost 25 years away from Australia, the most famous/influential living musician would walk onstage at AAMI Park to some sort of fanfare. But nope – following a DJ set consisting of remixed versions of Beatles and Wings songs, Paul McCartney and his band walked onstage with no grand entrance or background music, setting the tone for the evening ahead. No crazy tricks or circus stunts (apart from some pyrotechnics and guests – more on that later), just a former Beatle, his band of professional musicians, and a nostalgic romp through the 60’s and 70’s, with a few modern songs thrown in to keep his own sanity.
Right from the get-go, it was clear that McCartney’s show thrives on nostalgia. While Ringo Starr never once mentioned the B-word at his Melbourne show 4 years ago, Paul’s show contained numerous anecdotes about his time with The Beatles, as well as tributes to his fallen comrades, John Lennon, George Harrisson, George Martin and even Jimi Hendrix. But of course the stories play second fiddle to the songs. Opening with “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Junior’s Farm”, Macca spent the next three hours going through the Beatles and Wings catalogues, occasionally throwing in modern tunes such as his 2012 ballad “My Valentine”, two tracks from his 2013 album “New”, and of course his massive hit for Rhianna & Kanye West, “FourFiveSeconds”.
McCartney is indeed a capable and skilled multi-instrumentalist, switching between bass, piano, acoustic and electric guitar throughout the show, but as a vocalist, that’s where the 75 year old begins to show his age. Choosing to keep every song in its original key will certainly please the fans, but as a result McCartney noticeably struggles with higher notes. I personally wouldn’t have minded if he’d given some of the higher lines in his songs to the other members of his band, but of course people came to the show to hear Paul sing, so I can’t fault him for trying to please the masses.
His band are truly the unsung heroes of the show. Keyboard player Paul “Wix” Wickens seems to have Abbey Road studios on speed dial, as he was able to combine more modern synthesizer sounds with patches that perfectly mimicked the old Records. Throughout the show he also played percussion, rhythm guitar, accordion and even the classic harmonica line on “Love Me Do” (One of the few surprising songs of the night, played as a tribute to George Martin). Lead guitarist Rusty Anderson seems to have an endless supply of guitars at his disposal, but whether it was a Dandelectro or a Gibson ES-355, he managed to keep the same classic rock & roll tone while also adding his own personal touch to the classic Harrison and Lane solos. Second guitarist Brian Ray alternated between rhythm and bass guitar throughout the night, showing that he too was another versatile musician more than capable of playing these classic songs, no matter what the instrument.
However, a band is only as strong as its rhythm section, and with Abe Laboriel Jr on drums, McCartney has found his 21st century Ringo with a bonus. Laboriel is a powerhouse drummer and backing vocalist who doesn’t compromise fluidity of motion in his playing and if I was any closer to the stage, I probably could have just watched him for most of the show.
More specific highlights of the show included
– A semi-acoustic band set including early Beatles songs “Love Me Do”, “And I Love Her” and “You Won’t See Me”, as well as the very first song Paul recorded with the Quarrymen, “In Spite Of All The Danger”
– A solo acoustic set on a rising B-stage, consisting of “Blackbird” and “Here Today”, a tribute to John Lennon
– The Concert For George arrangement of “Something”, including a Ukulele intro.
– “Live And Let Die” with pyrotechnics and a full fireworks display.
– “Mull Of Kyntire” brought back exclusively for the Australian run, featuring the Scotch College Melbourne Pipe Band.
The three hour show did contain a few notable omissions – “Get Back”, “Day Tripper”, “Drive My Car” and “Jet” come to mind – but ultimately with a 40-song set we were still spoiled for choice, and of course everyone sang along to the classic Beatles songs known to all generations – “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”, “Yesterday”, “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude”.
Sound quality is always an issue with stadium concerts, and this wasn’t much of an exception. Overall the band mix was quite solid, but the vocals sounded quite soft and muffled from where I was sitting on the left side of the arena. Maybe it would have been different if I’d been sitting on the floor, but those seats ain’t cheap.
Seeing Paul McCartney is very much a once-in-a-lifetime milestone. As one of the founders of Rock & Roll as we know it today, his show is never going to compete with the energy and production for acts of today, but for tonight, Rock royalty hit Australian shores, and a fun time was had by all.