You’d think after performing in some of the world’s largest arenas and stadiums, nothing could faze Paul McCartney. But when he looked over the hundreds of fans packing the aisles of the Los Angeles branch of indie retailer Amoeba Records for his “secret” show, he pronounced the experience “surreal.”
Perf was possibly the worst kept secret in Los Angeles. According to some reports, nearly 200 people began camping outside the store Monday night; the only way the show could have generated more excitement would have been to promise a free iPhone along with the wrist-bands that guaranteed admission.
Those who got in were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime performance: a relaxed and gregarious McCartney in a setting intimate enough for him to interact with fans (including one fan with a couple of lines of “Happy Birthday,” although he also had to admonish another fan with a wagged finger and a curt “shut up … that’s so rude” when she screamed song requests over one of his many stories). He performed 11 Beatles songs, including a few that haven’t been played before such a small aud since his days at the Cavern club.
The real surprise was how wonderful McCartney and his band sounded. McCartney easily moved from bass to guitar to piano while drummer Abe Laboriel provided a solid, muscular rhythm. Guitarist Rusty Anderson just might have the hardest job in show business: He has to sound like John Lennon on the harmonies and play like George Harrison when he solos.
Although many of the songs performed were classics, the band didn’t shy away from messing with the material: adding three false endings to “I’ll Follow the Sun”; adding a tough, rocking coda (including some impressive lead guitar from Sir Paul) onto “I’ve Got a Feeling”; adding a high harmony to “The Long and Winding Road,” which was performed in an arrangement that split the difference between Phil Spector’s overproduced original and the unadorned version heard on 2003’s “Let It Be … Naked.”
McCartney’s voice impressed throughout the 90-minute set. The Little Richard squeal at the end of sunny “That Was Me” — one of the many songs on the new album that feels more like Paul’s Indian Summer than the autumn of his years — erased any doubts about the condition of his voice. And how much this music still touches him was apparent when he started to tear up during “Here Today,” which he dedicated to “those who are missed,” including Lennon, George Harrison and his late wife, Linda.
The unusual venue is part of the marketing strategy for his new album, “Memory Almost Full.” Released through coffee giant Starbucks’ Hear Music imprint, it proves the 65-year-old McCartney understands the retail market is changing; he is also actively courting the online world.
A few of the more obscure selections (“C Moon,” the b-side of 1973’s non-LP single “Hi Hi Hi” and “Calico Sky” from 1997’s “Flaming Pie”) seemed calculated to send people to iTunes, where his catalog was recently made available for download. But this kind of guerilla performance is nothing new for McCartney; for his first tour with Wings, he famously would drive up to college campuses and ask if the band could set up and play a few songs.
After he left the stage, saluting the aud by holding his Hofner bass above his head, the last notes of “I Saw Her Standing There” still in the air, the crowd filed out, passing racks filled with thousands of CDs. Try to imagine how many of those albums would not even exist without the influence of the man who was just on the stage. Now, that’s surreal.