Review by Timothy Mack
Photographs by Stanley Johnson
Sometime between landing at JFK in ’64, the Wings Over America tour in ’76 and that ’91 “MTV Unplugged” session, Paul McCartney must have discovered what Ponce de Leon sought in vain: the fountain of youth.
Here is a man one month removed from his 72nd birthday, and two months removed from a viral illness that sent him to a Tokyo hospital and wiped out a host of Asian and US concert dates. When he bounded on stage before a sell-out crowd Saturday night at Albany’s Times Union Center, he was the picture of health: vital, confident and ready for a party. The first notes of the opener “Eight Days a Week” are timeless, and apparently so is Sir Paul.
The atmosphere was electric, and not just because McCartney was kicking off the US leg of his Out There tour. Arena general manager Bob Belber told The Times Union it was “the biggest show in our history,” and if you were one of the lucky 14,000 on hand, you probably agree.
The 40-song set list was a brilliant amalgamation, touching on all corners of McCartney’s
career. Over the course of an astonishing three hours of music, he mixed Beatle hits (“All My Loving,” “Let It Be”) and Beatle deep cuts (“Lovely Rita,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face”) with Wings gems (“Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” “Listen to What the Man Said”) and five songs off his critically acclaimed 2013 release, New. Showing he’s not afraid to mix up the set at any time, he decided to play “On My Way to Work” live for the first time ever, but hadn’t told the band or the roadies. That sent sideman Rusty Anderson scrambling for an electric six-string he wouldn’t find until the song was well under way. No worries for Paul’s current backing band, who’ve been with him longer than Wings or the Beatles. It doesn’t matter how many times they all play “We Can Work It Out” or “Lady Madonna.” Anderson, Brian Ray (guitar, bass), Paul “Wix” Wickens (keyboards) and Abe Laboriel, Jr. (drums) are just as enthusiastic as their leader. Even the guys working the sound board were singing along to “Back in the USSR,“ so you can imagine how the crowd felt.
The largest single demographic in the building was people old enough to have witnessed the Beatles’ 1964 debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (with top concert tickets retailing for $258 and selling for considerably more on StubHub, you’d need deep pockets to spend an evening with Paul). But there were also young parents holding toddlers, pointing out the man at the center of the stage, knowing the kids wouldn’t remember the night but glad they could show the children a first-among-equals rock titan in person.
Paul’s return to the stage was national news, and so was his match-making. After seeing their signs, he pulled a Rochester couple on stage during the second encore and allowed 64-year old John Dann to sing (what else?) “When I’m Sixty-Four” to his girlfriend Claudia Rogers, the crowd singing along with Paul and the boys playing in support. John then proposed to Claudia, she said yes, and the crowd went wild, leading McCartney to quip, “They’ve already booked us for the wedding.” Then he broke into “Helter Skelter.” Perfect.
When he finally played “The End” to signal the end, it seemed just right and yet too soon. The crowd was ready for three more hours. And unbelievably, so was Paul.