When we met the Beatles, he was the cute one. Now when we are probably saying goodbye (or hello, from the young ’uns), he is the joyful one, the generous one, the ageless one.
In a marathon performance on Saturday at Target Field, Paul McCartney, 72, celebrated one of the richest legacies in the history of popular music. He may not have been as jittery as Jagger or as sweaty as Springsteen. But do they deliver 39 songs over nearly three hours? No, the Stones give you the satisfaction of 19 songs and the Boss might work in 27 or so selections.
Unlike Springsteen or Bob Dylan, Sir Paul doesn’t really reimagine his songs. He simply recreated them to service his masses and their collective nostalgia. So what if his voice sounded strained from time to time on Saturday? He could work it out with an unstoppable spirit, a crackerjack band and a repertoire that was pretty unimpeachable (thankfully, no “Silly Love Songs” or “Ebony and Ivory”).
Paul’s personality has always been able to save him, whether a quick quip, a mugging pose with that face or a raising of his guitar, thumb or arms at the end of many a song. He wouldn’t have exactly won awards for best patter at a concert. “This is great. This is cool,” he said before “And I Love Her.” “What good vibrations.”
But, with his bangs blowin’ in the wind and those skinny jeans that could have been plucked from his Carnaby Street-filled closet, McCartney reminded fans both young and old why his skill set has set him apart: His gift for melody, harmony and hooks, his flair for writing simple but sincere little love songs and his joy of performing.
While Springsteen may have a sense of purpose and Dylan just carries on like a cranky old minstrel, perpetually boyish Sir Paul plays for the sheer love of performing. It was even apparent on “Here Today,” his 1982 tribute to John Lennon. His throat sounded hoarse when he introduced it Saturday, explaining it was the conversation he never got to have with his ex-mate. But then, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, his solo vocal performance was so heartfelt, so pure, so true — even the falsetto ending.
Without missing a beat, McCartney sashayed to the upright piano for the hopelessly buoyant “New,” the title track of his 2013 album. Without any sense of hard-sell for the new disc, he offered a four-song sampler of “New.”
The taste of Wings, McCartney’s second band, came early, with “Listen to What the Man Said,” 1974’s “Nineteen Hundred and Eight-Five” and “Let Me Roll It,” which was followed by an instrumental version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” and a story about Hendrix playing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in concert two days after it was released — with John, Paul and Eric Clapton in the audience. It didn’t matter McCartney had told that story in concert here before.
That Hendrix journey was about it for instrumental fireworks from Sir Paul, who is not big on guitar flash for either himself (he also played bass and piano) or his two sidemen. There was plenty of fireworks, literally, for Wings’ “Live and Let Die,” whose flame throwers, lasers and explosions were a cut below your average Kiss concert. As for other visual aids, there were shots of pulp book covers on giant video screens during “Paperback Writer” and, oddly, a photo of Anne Frank during “Lady Madonna.” And of, course, there were plenty of video closeups of Sir Paul, who belies his age whether because of diet, makeup or show-biz tricks.
In McCartney’s sixth Twin Cities performance in six decades, it was still the Beatles numbers that generated the biggest cheers from the crowd. There were some rarities, including “Lovely Rita” and the Lennon-identified “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” which were never in the live repertoire. Even the opening “Eight Days a Week” hadn’t been on a McCartney concert set list since the 1964.
Buoyed by the muscular drumming and crucial vocals of Abe Laboriel Jr., McCartney rocked out on the crisp and punchy “Hi Hi Hi,” the jagged “Helter Skelter” and the rip-roaring “Back in the U.S.S.R.” (introduced by the singer’s impersonation of two Russian government officials when they met the Beatles). When Paul “Wix” Wickens’ synthesized strings arrived in the middle of a heretofore solo acoustic “Yesterday,” they diluted the power of Paul’s biggest song. But all was good with the closing medley of “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry the Weight” and “In the End,” and who will ever forget the giant sing-alongs on “Get Back” and “Hey Jude,” when 39,000 fans waved their hands bellowing the “na, na, na’s” in what ranks as one of rock’s most cherished goose-bump moments in concert right up there with waving your arms to Prince’s “Purple Rain” and pumping your fist to Springsteen’s “Born To Run.”
And, in the end, McCartney declared, “We’ll see you next summer.” Get back, indeed.