The multigenerational appeal of the Beatles has been a calling card ever since they first touched down in the States more than 50 years ago. And it was no less evident Sunday night at Dodger Stadium, where Paul McCartney delivered another of his patented marathon extravaganzas.
During one concession break, this reporter couldn’t help but notice a boy no older than 7 rocking out to “We Can Work It Out” — not just dancing in the aisle, but singing the words. This was a single released in 1965, a year before McCartney and his bandmates first visited Dodger Stadium. So this would be the equivalent of those who grew up on the Fab Four being intimately familiar with the music of Irving Berlin, or Gustav Mahler, at a time when Elvis and Sinatra were already the fuddy-duddy relics of their parents’ era.
To stage a show at an outdoor sports arena of this scale (Dodger stadium holds 56,000, not counting the seats set up on the field for this occasion), you better possess a deep bench of tunes or be able to stage a larger-than-life spectacle. McCartney was able to do both with phenomenal aplomb. He gave the packed venue what it wanted: a smattering of hits from a career that could seal several musicians’ legacies, delivering almost 40 songs in a tightly paced set that lasted close to three hours.
At age 72, McCartney is more active than ever. And yet the constant touring, not to mention his respectable output of new music, doesn’t seem to have taken a toll. He looked svelte and spry, decked out in skinny jeans and a nifty navy blazer. No comfy black tennis shoes for this septuagenarian, but an up-to-date facsimile of the very same Beatle boots — suede, if I’m not mistaken — that were paired with those trademark collarless suits all those years ago. When the jacket was removed to reveal a crisp white shirt of haute couture detail, McCartney announced “this will be the only wardrobe change of the evening.” He was literally rolling up his sleeves for the long haul ahead.
But as McCartney displayed at the Grammy awards in February, he’s not content to simply trot out the old hits. In fact, after opening with “Eight Days a Week,” a song more associated with Lennon than McCartney given John’s lead vocal on the original recording, McCartney broke into “Save Us” from his latest album, “New,” a brisk rocker that might not stand up to his best work, but neither did it bring the energy level down. The title track from that LP, a kind of nostalgic look back at youthful naiveté and potential, as well as “Queenie Eye,” a rollicking piano-driven number that points to McCartney’s continued vitality, were performed midway through the set to the desired effect, proving that the evening was more than an exercise in nostalgia.
But it was the tried-and-true hits that provided the show’s backbone, including the ballads that are ingrained in the McCartney brand: “Yesterday,” sung during the second encore, “Maybe I’m Amazed,” from his first solo album, “The Long and Winding Road,” which came to be known as a melancholic swan song that signified the Beatles’ demise, and, of course, those classic sing-alongs “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude.”
“Back in the ’60s” almost took on the quality of a refrain when McCartney bantered between numbers, at one point explaining that “Blackbird” was a response to the Civil Rights strife that was roiling on our shores in the late ’60s, banishing speculation that it was a paean to his mother. Of course it could’ve been a bit of both, since the Beatles were famous for turning the slightest bit of inspiration into infectious music.
And it was only a matter of time that McCartney’s work with Wings, which seems to grow more important with time, would hold equal weight with his Lennon/McCartney output in these live settings. Two of those songs, the stutter-step “Let Me Roll It,” with its mean guitar lick, and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” from the now classic “Band on the Run,” stood as two of the evening’s highlights. That latter tune especially displayed McCartney’s considerable chops on piano, and served as a fitting companion piece to “Lady Madonna.”
McCartney’s collaborators on stage are as tight a unit as they come, including Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson, who have played with McCartney for more than a decade, on guitars; Paul Wickens, a veritable one-man orchestra on keyboards; and Abe Laboriel Jr., a powerhouse on drums.
The sound mix probably could have used some fine-tuning, but what could one expect in such a makeshift outdoor setting? And yet the vast majority stuck around until “The End,” literally, capping off that majestic medley of tunes from “Abbey Road.” Little did they know it would take another half hour to find their car in the sprawling stadium lot. “The Long and Winding Road,” indeed.