From musicality to sheer spectacle to momentous, life-affirming jubilation, Paul McCartney's Nashville debut at Bridgestone Arena Monday night was an all-out master class in rock 'n' roll showmanship.
After Sir Paul casually strolled onstage and counted his champion backing-band into an opening "Venus and Mars/Rock Show" to a more-popular-than-Jesus-like reception from the sold-out crowd, it took at least that whole song for us to wrap our heads around the shock of seeing a Beatle before our eyes. And when the Ram first busted out in his full voice and channeled Little Richard, we realized right off the bat that, at 68, he's still got it. He's still fucking got it.
One of the greatest tragedies of The Beatles story is that the world never got to see them blossom into a concert dynasty. With a paramount live show, McCartney does all he can to make up for that. Featuring no less than 23 cuts culled from The Beatles' catalogue, the show is basically a one-sided Fab Four best-of celebration, wrapped in a varied revue of mostly top-shelf Wings and solo cuts.
Over the course of three hours and 36 songs, we reveled in what we can only imagine life inside Sir Paul's head must be like, gliding from nonsensical playfulness ("Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da") to reflective lucidity ("Yesterday"), explosive grandeur ("Live and Let Die") to outright Beatle-mania ("Got to Get You Into My Life"). Sure, there was the stodgy, long-and-winding stretch of filler here and there, but everywhere else it was a full-on life-changer.
McCartney grabbed and autographed a Hofner-shaped Rock Band controller from an audience member, autographed a Hofner tattoo on a woman half his age, and brought a kid onstage to dance like the Caddyshack gopher and help out with the BGVs on "Get Back” — proof McCartney's music transcends generations. And for the die-hards who've tired of hearing the staples, Macca threw in a generous helping of deeper cuts — "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five," "I'm Looking Through You," "Letting Go" and, for the dusty fingers crowd, a show-stopping "Ram On.”
Perhaps the night's strongest highlight was a stirring tribute to George Harrison, with a revelatory adaptation of Frank Sinatra's all-time favorite Lennon/McCartney composition, "Something," that tenderly started on ukulele, only to launch us into the emotional stratosphere with a cathartic blast of volume and splendor.
The show's low point came during the second of two tributes to Lennon, when McCartney all but neutered an otherwise excellent version of "A Day in the Life" by going all medley on its ass with a jarring take on "Give Peace a Chance," marring one of Lennon’s best songs by shoehorning in one of his worst. Seriously, Macca could have played "How Do You Sleep?" and it would have been less awkward. But while the good Sir briefly let us slip out of the palm of his hand with that misstep, he swiftly got us back to where we once belonged, gripping our heartstrings with a powerful "Let It Be."
Between inspiring the involuntary fist-pumps that punctuate "Jet," sounding more like Paul Simon than Paul Simon on an earthy arrangement of "Two of Us," shushing the crowd to pin-drop intimacy for a spellbinding "Black Bird" and blowing up "Eleanor Rigby" into a stadium-sized sing-along, McCartney boyishly charmed the crowd with that familiar aw-shucks-y Liverpool wit, making the arena feel like a press room at Kennedy Airport. And that was just in the first two-thirds of the show.
The hit-laden home stretch included classics like "Paperback Writer," "Helter Skelter," "Get Back," "Lady Madonna" and "Day Tripper." If we were to pick the single best moment for Sam to Quantum Leap into our bodies, it would totally have been a split-second before the refrain of "Live and Let Die" cued an onslaught of battlefield pyrotechnics that singed our eyebrows.
But above all that, on a purely musical level, you just can't beat hearing chestnuts — both familiar-to-all and deep-to-some — cherry-picked from the greatest songbook ever written. The band was flawless. The arrangements were elegant. The pacing was perfect. The production was dazzling, but never distracting. And most importantly, Sir Paul's charisma and infectious good nature humanized him, making us feel like we'd made a new friend, while also getting the privilege of an evening in the titanic presence of a true rock god. A master.
Either this is just what watching a concert sober is always like, and we're just not used to it, or Paul McCartney blew our minds. Judging by the communal euphoria buzzing through the air as we left the arena, it was the latter. What a fucking experience.