BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Presenting a treasure trove of classic Beatles and Wings material, Paul McCartney’s long and winding road arrived at SAP Pavilion in San Jose Wednesday night for another sold out performance on his “Freshen Up” tour.
Having turned 77 just weeks ago, McCartney continues to amaze with near three hour concerts at every stop. 36 shows into a tour that has already visited the Orient, Europe and South America, there aren’t many artists other than Springsteen who so consistently give their fans so much for their money.
While he might not have moves like Jagger, McCartney’s shows consistently last an hour longer than the Stones, and unlike The Beatles onetime rivals, he continues to produce quality new material, unlike the Stones, whose last original album was released in 2005. McCartney, meanwhile, has released three studio albums in that same period. His most recent two, 2013’s New and 2018’s Egypt Station, released last September, are both valuable efforts nearly exclusively written by himself where he clearly demonstrates that making hits still comes quite naturally to him.
Macca also isn’t afraid to get creative, as evidenced by his eagerness to adopt Beatles classics such as “Something,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite !” or “A Day in the Life,” originally sung by bandmates George Harrison or John Lennon to his own vocal arrangements.
On Wednesday night, out of a marathon 38 song setlist, 22 songs came from The Beatles catalog along with an additional seven classic cuts from his days with Wings. Opening with the unmistakable intro and uplifting energy of “A Hard Day’s Night,” McCartney wasted no time establishing that the audience was in store for a significant recreation of Beatlemania before sandwiching “All My Loving” between “Junior’s Farm” and “Letting Go” from his near equally prolific decade with Wings.
A three piece horn section featuring trumpet, saxophone and slide trombone made their first appearance of the evening in the middle of the audience on the loge level during “Letting Go” before reappearing periodically over the course of the evening. It nicely augmented McCartney’s current four man backing band that’s been together nearly twenty years itself featuring guitarists Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson, keyboards/multi-instrumentalist Paul Wickens, and the always phenomenal and animated Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums.
The 1973 Band on the Run cut “Let Me Roll It” saw McCartney segue seamlessly into a blazing cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” before telling the crowd about how Hendrix was so blown away by Sgt. Pepper that he had already learned the title cut and opened his set with it as a tribute to the Fab Four just a day after it’s release in May 1967. More nostalgia would quickly follow with 1970’s “I’ve Got a Feeling” from the Let It Be album and “Let ‘Em In” from 1976’s Wings at the Speed of Sound.
“My Valentine,” a McCartney original written as a love song to his wife Nancy from 2012’s cheekily titled Kisses on the Bottom was one of the evening’s slower, but still touching moments as actors ranging from Johnny Depp to Natalie Portman presented the tune in sign language in black and white on the large video monitor behind the stage. But any perceived lull didn’t last for long as the band quickly followed with the rollicking “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” from the 1973 Wings classic Band on the Run and “Maybe I’m Amazed,” his first solo hit, immediately followed by “I’ve Just Seen a Face” from the 1965 soundtrack to Help, the Beatles second film.
The concert then took an even further journey into the wayback machine as “In Spite of All the Danger” from the pre-Beatles project The Quarrymen was given a spin after McCartney detailed how the song evolved after he wrote it with the aid of a Harrison guitar solo in 1958. Bandmates Lennon, Harrison, pianist John Lowe and drummer Colin Hanton each took possession of the original for a week apiece, until it disappeared for nearly 25 years before Lowe attempted to auction it to the highest bidder. Not happy, McCartney interceded and purchased it himself, releasing it for the first time in 1995 on The Beatles Anthology 1 and later debuting it live on his 2005 world tour.
Returning the concert to more familiar ground, “From Me to You,” The Beatles third single, and first to go Number 1, a mere 56 years old after being released in 1963, and “Love Me Do,” their debut single from six months earlier, proceeded “Blackbird” from The White Album, with the ukulele infused “Dance Tonight” sandwiched in between before Macca’s melancholy 1982 tribute “Here Today” mentioned some of the things he wished he would have said to the fallen Lennon before his death.
Once again not wasting any time to pick up the pace, The Beatles staples “Lady Madonna” and “Eleanor Rigby” would quickly follow prior to “Fuh You,” a melodically provocative cut from the new Egypt Station. But two hours in, somehow, the best was still yet to come. The colorful brilliance and tales of Henry the Horse in what was originally Lennon’s “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite !” was appropriately given it’s psychedelic justice on the video monitors before McCartney paid Harrison tribute with a moving version of “Something” while strumming a ukulele once given to him by The Beatles lead guitarist.
Amazingly it continued to get even better as the effervescent “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” preceeded “Band on the Run” and “Back in the U.S.S.R., complete with it’s soaring intro and personal tales of McCartney’s first trip to perform in Red Square in 1987. And if there’s room for desert island discs in anyone’s Rock ’N’ Roll heaven, they’d be hard pressed to even slightly improve on the set closing triumvirate of “Let It Be,” or “Hey Jude,” each of which showcased Macca’s prowess on the keyboards, or the insanely bombastic pyrotechnics of Wings iconic theme song from the 1973 James Bond movie “Live and Let Die.”
After McCartney and the band returned to the stage for their encore bearing the Union Jack, American, California and Rainbow flags, Sir Paul asked that the house lights be turned up so he could get a better look at the myriad of personalized signs being held up by his fans. One in specific stated “I am the walrus who sold my Mini Cooper to see you.” It was witty enough to get her and a friend invited on stage after he opened his six-song finale with “Birthday.”
Dressed in a walrus costume she bought especially for the show, the girl confessed on stage that she did indeed sell her car to attend the concert. She also got Macca to sign the her foot with a sharpie with the intention of having it turned into a tattoo. About to leave the stage, she returned to whisper something in his ear. “Do you know what she whispered to me ?” he asked the crowd. “She just asked if they could stay and dance for a song !”
Happy to oblige, he granted their request. And they made the most of their time in the spotlight by dancing their asses off to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Helter Skelter.” It was an enjoyable moment even for those in the crowd, unrelated to the pair on stage, to be able to soak in the pure spontaneous joy of a couple lucky fans who will undoubtedly be sharing tales of their time with a true legend and one of the most iconic men on earth for decades to come.
Returning to the piano a final time, McCartney put a bow on the proceedings with a medley of “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End.” Fitting, as they were the last songs The Beatles would ever press to vinyl on Abbey Road, released just short of exactly 50 years ago on September 26, 1969, shortly before the band called it quits.
The tour continues with a show at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles Saturday night.