Say what you will about Paul McCartney (and there are plenty of legitimate complaints) but there is no one alive on this planet who has written more perfect pop songs.
This is not exactly new information, of course, but I was reminded in particularly stark fashion of just how ridiculous his catalog is last week, when I stumbled into a chance to see him live. It was while I was back home in Seattle – a trip I didn’t even plan my trip until a week or so before I went. But it happened to coincide with when I was there, and my mom was wonderful enough to get me a ticket as an early birthday present.
I have to admit I was a little trepidatious going in. I had heard that Paul had lost a bit of his voice and wasn’t quite able to perform at his classic standard. And the man did just turn 71. But I needn’t have worried. Sure, he can’t quite hit the extended screams and he’s lost a tiny bit of the high register. But his voice remains strong in spite of that, and boy oh boy does he bring the energy.
He played an extended set of about 35 songs, including all the ones you would expect. But 35 songs is a lot, so he got a chance to dip into some of the less obvious cracks. And every single song he pulled out was a gem. “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” was a glorious explosion, “Lovely Rita” was a fun romp, “Another Day” was a wonderful surprise (it’s always been one of my favorite of his series of post-Beatles songs about the mundanities of modern life). Even some of the least significant Beatles songs got a brief day in the sun. “All Together Now” doesn’t sound any deeper these days, but it sure is a nice bit of fun. Same goes with the sometimes-maligned “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”
My three highlights: 1) “And I Love Her” which was intimate despite literally echoing around a stadium 2) “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” which sounded as fresh as the day it was recorded 3) “Hey Jude.” I mean, it’s a bit of a cliché at this point. But whatever. That song simply exceeds all judgment or critical distance. It simply smiles kindly on irony and skepticism. For all that it sounds silly, there’s something genuinely moving about being surrounded by 40,000 people who all adore this song as much as you.
It’s a slightly odd experience: to bathe in the nostalgia of an era that was over before I was even conscious. And I wouldn’t want my entire musical existence to get stuck in that mindspace. But for one night…there really couldn’t be anything better than to actually see the man who wrote all these songs that have been so fundamental to my life.
Anyways, here’s my hypothesis. You could remove from circulation the 37 songs that Paul played at the show and still construct a setlist from his remaining material that would be far and away better than any setlist any other living artist could generate. We’ll even stipulate that he can only borrow a couple songs from John and George so as to keep it from just being The Beatles vs. the world. But unplayed that night were: The first half of the Abbey Road medley, Penny Lane, For No One, I’m Looking Through You, Here There and Everywhere, Got to Get You Into My Life, The Fool on the Hill, Things We Said Today, She’s Leaving Home, Two Of Us, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, I Will, Can’t Buy Me Love, and so forth. And that doesn’t get into his solo career which, for all its up and downs, contains a LOT of great songs too.