The last time Sir Paul McCartney toured Australia, Intel were days away from releasing the world’s first Pentium Processor and you could snap up an average house in Sydney for just $188,000. It was a world with Kurt Cobain and without USBs, and although we may never know what we did to warrant a 24-year break between tours, for many this was a lifelong dream realised: one of the last surviving Beatles bringing his colossal three-hour show to Oz.
Walking on stage amid rapturous applause and a standing ovation from the sold out crowd, it hardly seemed real that we were laying eyes on a musical legend of this calibre – a household name for more than half a century and the kind whose presence could make even Dave Grohl blush.
Without skipping a beat, Macca and his long-running live band – guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr. and keyboardist Paul Wickens – launched into “A Hard Day’s Night” with its unmistakable opening chord. After all these years, the man still looks like there’s nowhere else he’d rather be than up on that stage. Delivering 40-song sets at back-to-back arena shows when you’re 75 is no mean feat, but McCartney does it with an ease that reminds you he’s always done it, and will continue to do it for as long as his body permits.
It’s an oddly surreal experience being sat shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people from all stages of life, all united by the shared experience of one man’s music. You’re all equally as touched by the show’s heartfelt moments – the delicate “Blackbird” sung from atop a stage riser, the sombre encore opener “Yesterday” – as you are exhilarated by the urgency of songs like “Helter Skelter”, “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and the explosive “Live and Let Die”.
For a musician whose bubbly love songs have the innate ability to lift you up, it’s in McCartney’s song dedications that you realise how many times he’s been faced with heartache. “Maybe I’m Amazed” was a poignant tribute to his late wife Linda, even if he did have to call for a mulligan after slipping a wrong chord into the mix. “I could consider it a rewrite, but I think I’m gonna start again. I mean, it proves we’re live, right?” he joked with the crowd.
Strapping on his custom painted Gibson Les Paul for the Wings hit “Let Me Roll It”, McCartney gave a nod to “the late, great Jimi Hendrix” with a bluesy take on the riff from “Foxey Lady”. “Love Me Do”, the song that started it all, was offered as a heartfelt thank you to producer George Martin, one of the band’s early champions and without whom “there would be no Beatles records”.
You’d have to have a heart of stone to not be moved by “Here Today”, a track McCartney told us he’d penned upon hearing of John Lennon’s death, and one that took the form of a conversation they never actually got to have. In turn, he played the beautiful “Something” for his former bandmate George Harrison, complete with a stripped back ukulele intro.
“Career-spanning setlist” tends to get taken to a whole new level at a Paul McCartney show. One moment he’s sharing one of the first songs he ever put his name to (“In Spite of All the Danger”), and the next you’re pondering the circumstances that led him to record “FourFiveSeconds” with Kanye West and Rihanna.
And in amongst all the hits, the ones you've known all your life that play out live like a masterclass in songwriting, it’s beyond thrilling to simply hear the man tell his stories. Tales of Hendrix in a London club calling on a reluctant Eric Clapton to help him tune his guitar; of writing a song for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards – The Rolling Stones’ second ever single; of spending £5 to record The Quarrymen’s first demo; of singing “Strangers in the Night” to a pod of dolphins he and his family encountered while swimming off the coast of WA.
It’s a testament to McCartney’s musical legacy that entire generations of fans can say they waited a lifetime to see him, and it’s one of the rare instances in which such a performance was actually worth the wait.
A Hard Day's Night
Can't Buy Me Love
All My Loving
Let Me Roll It
I've Got a Feeling
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
Maybe I'm Amazed
I've Just Seen a Face
In Spite of All the Danger
You Won't See Me
Love Me Do
And I Love Her
I Wanna Be Your Man
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
A Day in the Life
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
Mull of Kintyre
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
Carry That Weight