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PAUL MCCARTNEY LIVE: REVIEW


PAUL MCCARTNEY

Qudos Bank Arena, December 11

There is no way to come to this show, to experience this show, to think critically about this show, wholly objectively. As much can be told by the gushing reviews by seasoned reviewers, enraptured commentary online by experienced musicians and the general sense of touched-by-god about responses everywhere.

It’s a goddamn Beatle, right there! (Ok, for those of us in the nosebleeds, it’s a goddamn Beatle down there, a couple of suburbs away, in that blue light, I think, but still, you know, in the same orbit!)

To get this many songs, to get this many songs you’ve known your whole life, to get this many songs you’ve known your whole life played by the (flawed, but undoubtedly so) genius who created them is no small thing.

And you would be a fool to skip it, not just because it’s probably the last time we will ever see him but because this is a show that reminds you why you love music and how you fell for it in the first place.

It’s also a show that reminds you that with Paul McCartney – in the Beatles, solo, with Wings, with others - it is always a mixed, or balanced, effect. A prompt that there is always a quid for the quo.

So yes, his voice is pretty shot, about half of its range and a decent part of its smoothness gone. It makes for real struggles – for us, who will him on, as much as for him – in songs such as You Won’t See Me or Let It Be and coarsens other moments.

But he can still play that little bass guitar with the fluidity and creativity of old times, and move better than we can in our creaky unfit bones. And unlike us he didn’t flinch at the explosive climaxes in Live And Let Die, though I wonder if he will point out to the crew that the first two explosions were half a beat late, the fourth half a beat early and only the third spot on?

Anyway, unlike acts such as Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, he doesn’t try to obscure his contemporary vocal weaknesses with massed backing/support singers covering for him: taking on Blackbird solo and holding its gentleness close, letting rip with fierce yells in Helter Skelter.

This is who he is so why pretend? And he knows we’re going to want it however it comes, especially the $2000 seats right beneath his nose who had a few thousand reasons to declare they were going to have The. Best. Time. Ever.

The show doesn’t stint at 40 songs, covering pre-Beatles (a pleasant song once recorded by the Quarrymen, In Spite Of All The Danger) to 2013’s album New (the sweet title track and the more rocking Queenie Eye) and there’s no extended “costume change” breaks or long solos by the band to let him rest.

The trade off is that one of those 40 songs is the cursed Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, beloved (by seemingly every reasonable human) as a singalong; damned (by grumpy me) as a song that need never darken a venue’s doorstep again.

Which gets us into the tricky area of what’s selected and what’s not, a minefield of course for any long career artist, unsatisfyingly solved by the equally back catalogue-rich Burt Bacharach with a slew of medleys. Thankfully that’s a move eschewed by McCartney.

There’s no Silly Love Songs, Listen To What The Man Says or Jet – the latter on course to appear on the second night if previous shows are an indication – which are among the most joyous songs of his, or anyone’s, 1970s.

But we do get I’ve Just Seen A Face, Birthday and Let Me Roll It – the latter segueing into, firstly Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady, and then a cute story about Hendrix, one of several yarns told with a mix of practised moves and still endearing boyishness.

There’s a perfectly adequate song written for his current wife, Nancy, the gentle Valentine, but we also get the wonderful one written for his first wife, Linda, in the still winning Maybe I’m Amazed, and tributes to John Lennon (Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite) and George Harrison (Something) which aren’t afraid to be a touch irreverent.

The flipside to that is an unnecessary Give Peace A Chance that clomps along tediously just as it always did in Lennon’s hands, and could easily, happily, have been replaced by Temporary Secretary or Hey Bulldog.

Yet if we absolutely have to hear Mull Of Kintyre – a song pulled out for the Australian tour given our excessive love for it in 1978 – then at least it went over the top with bagpipes and drums from a local Scottish band: tedium balanced by silliness.

But did I mention A Hard Day’s Night and All My Loving? Like turning up the stereo in your room on the best day of your teens! Band On The Run? Four gems in one package. Eleanor Rigby? Still elegant. All of them putting you back decades to when you first heard them and knew pop was not just special, it was for you.

And there’s the thing with Paul McCartney in concert: it’s going to thrill you much of the time, kick in your memories all of the time, frustrate you some of the time, be over the top and then ordinary at different times.

He’s never been perfect; he’s just a man. A man with some songs. But man oh man, what songs.

Paul McCartney plays Qudos on December 12 and Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, on December 16

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