The four musicians who have backed Paul McCartney for nearly a decade have become an important power source for the former Beatle, giving his music energy and zest that keep his spirit as youthful as his appearance. On a tour that has been announced only a few shows at a time — many more are expected — McCartney is rolling out a marathon perf: 38 songs over the course of two hours and 45 minutes. There are no breaks for him to rest his voice, no theatrics beyond some videos filled with arty or nostalgic imagery, and none of bouncy pop that earned his critical complaints in the 1980s and ’90s. It’s as raw as we have ever seen McCartney.
Toughness of the band is complemented by the material, elevating a good number of second-tier songs to top-shelf status. “Let Me Roll It,” from the best-represented album of the night, Wings’ 1973 release “Band on the Run,” is thunderous and still grounded — the central guitar riff delivering tension, the soothing vocal chorus providing release. It works on Beatles’ material, too, as “I’m Looking Through You” and “I’ve Got a Feeling,” songs that will never make any fan’s top 10, sounded like essential moments from the canon. “Sing the Changes,” one of two songs from McCartney’s experimental project with producer Youth, the Fireman, was also among the tunes to benefit from the hard-charging approach.
The moment when the efficacy of the musicians met the elegance of the material, though, arrived on a softer moment with McCartney at the piano. “Let it Be,” delivered at a peaceful pace with no attempts to manufacture an added emotional response, was the strongest performance of the night.
The Bowl performances mark only the second time McCartney has returned to Cahuenga Pass since the landmark 1965 Beatles show at the Bowl. He paused twice to reflect on those heady times, mentioning well-known details such as the band’s inability to hear and that they felt like grown men then instead of the youths they actually were.
There was not a lot of depth in McCartney’s remembrances, but elements cropped up that have been missing from so many of his shows over the last 40 years — a bit of soul baring, agenda-free reminiscing. He told a few stories about Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison — “Blackbird” is based on a Bach piece they played together as teens — and at the age of 67, Paul seemed more human than usual, though if he has opinions beyond vegetarianism, he still is not sharing them.
New tour finds McCartney introducing a few oldies to the set: Wings’ circuitous “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” and the Beatles’ trifle “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” plus “(I Want to) Come Home,” the tune he wrote for the Robert De Niro-starrer “Everybody’s Fine.” Weighted heavily toward the Beatles — 21 songs — McCartney was at his best when he was able to inject his idiosyncratic scream into his vocals. “Band on the Run,” “Helter Skelter” and “Day Tripper” benefited the most from McCartney’s ability to sizzle as he slides into an upper register.
Conversely, when re-creating a record requires only slight modulation, McCartney’s vocals flatline and remove the pep from “All My Loving,” “Hey Jude” and “Lady Madonna.”
McCartney has made the curious decision to open and close the show with medleys: “Venus & Mars/Rock Show” into “Jet” to start and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” into “The End” to close.
They work extremely well, especially the three-guitar battle on “The End” in the night’s lone extensive deviation from the record. The third medley is horribly misguided: “A Day in the Life” abruptly ends about two-thirds of the way through as “Give Peace a Chance” is started. McCartney and ensemble never return to finish the legendary Beatles track and there’s no sense of why those tunes would be mashed together.