Paul McCartney 'In Performance at the White House': An all-star presidential rock show

Obama-Paul-MccarteneyImage Credit: Samantha Appleton/White House/PBS“I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but never this,” Paul McCartney said on PBS tonight. “This” was traveling to the White House, which he did last month to accept the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. A properly all-star concert was convened to befit the occasion, and while bits and pieces of the event have leaked out on YouTube since then, tonight the whole thing (or most of it) aired as part of PBS’ “In Performance at the White House” series.

The show opened with some stirring words from President Obama. “It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly half a century since four lads from Liverpool landed on our shores and changed everything overnight,” he reflected. Then it was time for a cavalcade of stars old and young to pay homage to the voluminous back catalog that earned McCartney this honor.

High points were in abundance. Stevie Wonder’s super-tight “We Can Work It Out”  featured a mean harmonica solo, while Elvis Costello’s faithfully jaunty “Penny Lane” boasted an even nicer piccolo trumpet solo. Emmylou Harris shone on an acoustic “For No One.” Dave Grohl wore the night’s biggest grin as he tore through “Band on the Run.” Jack White’s tender “Mother Nature’s Son”/”That Would Be Something” medley captured something of McCartney’s starry-eyed charm.

Intermixed with these were some…not quite as highs. I’m not sure anyone other than Sasha and Malia Obama needed to hear the Jonas Brothers’ competent if cutesy “Drive My Car.” (In fairness, McCartney and Wonder were visibly grooving during this performance.) Jerry Seinfeld’s random stand-up routine fell flat as he riffed from Beatles lyrics to stale “marriage, am I right?” shtick. Faith Hill’s “Long and Winding Road” was a bit schmaltzy for my taste.

McCartney himself was wonderful throughout, humble and jocular. Anyone who’s seen him in concert recently can tell you that he’s still all youthful energy at 68, even if his voice sounds a touch rough at the edges here and there. He had a grand old time with songs including “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “Michelle” (for the first lady in the audience), “Ebony & Ivory” with Wonder, “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Let It Be,” as simply moving as ever. “I don’t think there could be anything more special than for us to be performing here,” McCartney remarked, right before the all-inclusive “Hey Jude” singalong. “And we’re thinking of making it a regular thing. Lunchtimes, we could come around.” If only!

Did you watch any of Paul McCartney’s Gershwin Prize broadcast? What were your favorite parts?

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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Comments (119 total) Add your comment
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  • sam

    This was one of the best music shows I have seen in a long time. I don’t even like many of the stars on it, but it proves that you just can’t go wrong with a McCartney/Lennon song, as everybody sounded great. I loved Paul more than forty years ago and I still love him today. What a treat to be able to see this show.

  • Daniel

    It’s on my dvr. Unfortunately, my fake husband hates watching concerts on tv, so I have to wait to watch it. GRR go to bed already, fake husband! I can’t wait anymore!!!

    • Daniel

      Ok fake husband is at work. So I finally got to watch it, and I will make him watch when he gets home.

      My favorite part: Dave Grohl. Every performance (even [omg I can’t believe i’m saying this] the Jonas Brothers) was good. Faith Hill I enjoyed, Stevie was awesome, Jack White was super awesome, Costello was awesome, Corinne + Herbie was simply exquisite … wow … but Grohl was like “I like Paul Mc, and I’m going to do my scream/sing hard rock thing”, and it was uber-epic. Oh, and Paul macking on the First Lady … that was funny as hell. “I may be the first punched out by a President.”

  • Helen Dechaine

    Loved the music but Seinfeld’s routine was cringe inducing. My god – making bad marriage jokes in a ceremony honoring a man who lost a beloved wife to cancer and then went through a terrible divorce. Unbelievable.

    • Michael

      Yeah, Seinfeld’s routine was really inappropriate. What was he thinking? Wonderful show overall, tho.

      • Elizabeth

        Yes! Well stated, Helen and Michael – I, too, was taken aback by Seinfeld’s “cringe-inducing” routine…so I wonder whether somehow PM had heard it before and requested it? Who knows. But the rest of the show was good enough to make me forget that lapse.

    • Melanie

      Yeah, since when did Seinfeld ever do anything tasteful? His opener was quite telling of what was to come… “duh..”

    • calistoga

      Putting politics aside, it was the best 90 minutes we’ve spent in a long time. The quartet, who backed everybody up, sounded more like an orchestra AND singing group with excellent results. Do they usually perform with Paul????

      I am usually very sensitive to other’s emotions, and I did not think that Seinfeld’s routine was distasteful, nor did I sense if Paul was offended. Paul has been a singer/writer/performer for 50 years and therefore not immune to humor at his expense. IMHO, the way Seinfeld connected all of Paul’s song titles was clever, but far from his better routines. Paul has moved on. We should too.

      • Linda

        Yes, that is Paul’s band. They are awesome. They have played with him for the past 10 years. Abe on drums, Wix on keyboards, Brian and Rusty on guitar.

      • Daniel

        Yes indeed Paul’s band for over a decade. They are tight. I’m now in a quandry. I have Bruce Springsteen in Barcelona, the Killers, Tina Turner all on my dvr, concerts I truly love. I feared this would be cheesy like the Kennedy Center honors (you know, no participation by honoree, cheesy versions of songs, and each song is like 2 mins or less). I was surprised by the epic quality of each performance, and that Paul’s own band were there to maintain a continuity while allowing guest artists to “make it their own.” A great tribute to Paul, but even more kudos to his hand-picked band.

    • Daniel

      I actually mildly enjoyed Seinfeld’s schtick. I was told I wouldn’t by the blogosphere, but he did ask questions I’ve been wondering all my life, like what does “she was just 17 and you know what I mean” and “I used to be cruel to my woman I beat her and kept apart from the things that she loved”. And from the reaction Paul got it all.

    • kathy

      I thought the same thing ! Good show though ;)

  • Linda Hammack

    Oh, come on. Lighten up. There were no “lows” on this show for 60’s/70’s folks who appreciate McCartney and the Obamas for bringing this show to the White House.

    • Barry

      Yes it’s 1 big party for the Nobamas on America’s dime.

      • wagonmaker

        That’s the only thing you have to say. Jerk.

  • Marcy

    I couldn’t wait to tune in. Any time performances for a president are scheduled, I know in advance that the show is going to be a smash. For me the highlight of the evening was David Grohl singing Band on the Run. Although I’ve heard that song many times before, I always thought it was Man on the Run! Hah! But David, you were over the top. Consider me one of your latest fans! Wow! Knocked me out!!!

    • calistoga

      Couldn’t remember his name until I read this thread. Thanks. This was my first introduction to David Grohl. His performance of Band On The Run was amazing and a great surprise. Will have to check out his recordings.

      The show rates 5-stars IMO. Thank you PBS for this valuable 90 minutes of history making music and entertainers.

      • Marcy

        Your welcome. You couldn’t remember his name? I didn’t know his name! I had to look it up on the Internet. Anyone who can give that kind of performance should have his name as familiar as Peter Frampton wouldn’t you think? Wikipedia had good info on Grohl I thought.

      • Jim

        David Grohl was the drummer for Navana.

      • Jim

        Nirvana..spell check

  • daviddavid

    I though it was terrific and Macca seemd truly moved; loved Dave Grohl and his blue guitar doing “Band On The Run.”; and, “Ebony And Ivory” was good, but terribly dated. Loved when Macca’s kids yelled out and he acknowledged them them … good for him. btw: He looked and sounded great… and, what a freaking great band. Loved Elvis and Jack White was exceptionally good. Great, great show!

    • Robin K

      Yes! Also loved when his kids whistled and he laughed and acknowledged them. They should have had front row seats, too. Who was sitting next to his girlfriend, Nancy?

  • Terri L

    The show raised the bar for TV.
    I have seen the concert 3 times this summer and this was the icing on the cake.
    The bugle player from the Marine Band was terrific, all under the watchful eyes of President George Washington. It’s great to be an American.
    (I though the crowd was a bit stiff and the Obama girls were bored)

  • Dan Stimpson

    I had to watch it again, amazing does not cover the performance not only by Paul but by all the guest artist and what about the trumpet on ‘Penny Lane’? just amazing!

  • selene

    How totally refreshing to enjoy the music at the White House again!!! Really had enough of “proud to be an American…” — but tonight I am, again. Thanks, Sir Paul and Mr. Prez. Who was the female with Paul?

    • Terri L

      the female is Nancy his girlfriend.

  • Linda Wright

    This was an awesome show. I watched it twice in a row. Would be hard to top this performance by all.

    • Marcy

      My PBS station ran a special on Ringo after Paul’s program. As much as I think Ringo is adorable, I could only watch 2 tunes and then switched channels. They ran the Paul program again after Ringo’s and I listened to it again without watching. Such a diversity of voices! Also, it’s hard to believe that all that diverse music/instruments/lyrics came from one person’s mind. Which brings me to the question, does anyone know if Paul selects the instruments to use when he creates his songs?

    • Janice

      That was his daughter, Mary.

  • John G.

    This was a GREAT performance, in a GREAT place. IMAGINE, a Beatle in the white House. VERY good show. Was Great to see. I LOVED the get togther on Hey Jude. Nice!!

  • John G.

    I’m lucky enough to have it on my DVR. Technology RULES!
    Thanks PBS-net!

  • Phyllis L

    Amazing performance by Paul and his band as well as the other musicians. I’ve adored Paul for over 47 years!

  • Mark M.

    What was the song that Lang Lang played on piano? It was beautiful but I didn’t recognize it. Anyone know?

    • jane

      It’s a piece called Celebration from Paul’s symphony Standing Stone. You can find performances on YouTube. The words are beautiful too.

    • Arlene

      Jane, thank you for clarifying that. I had been wracking my brains trying to figure that out as well. I’ve never been unable to identify a song, no matter what the style. But if one has never heard the song, it’s a bit more challenging! :) I guess I still got the knack! I was getting worried there, for a while! :) You must know McCartney’s work VERY well!

  • netter

    Overall, a great night of music on television. I wish all televised music events could be so wonderfully crafted (looking at you award shows…). I enjoyed all of the performances – especially Paul. I like others here have watched it twice tonight. It’s a keeper on the DVR!

    • Jim

      I’m 58. I cried when I saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show. I still cry when Paul walks out on stage.You can’t hold it back. I saw him 1990 at Cleveland Stadium with my 14yrold son. I cried, but didnt let my son see it.

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