Paul McCartney rocks Yankee Stadium with epic concert, duets with Billy Joel: On the scene

Paul-McCartney

Image Credit: Neilson Barnard/Wireimage.com

“When I’m Sixty-Four” was conspicuously absent from Paul McCartney’s set list during his two concerts at Yankee Stadium over the weekend. No wonder. At 69, rock & roll’s most easygoing revolutionary is jamming harder than ever. EW was on the scene at the Saturday show, a nearly 40-song set which also featured some Empire State musical muscle in the form of a certain Bronx-born piano man.

McCartney’s nearly two-hour and 45-minute extravaganza spanned his output from the past 50 years. Chronological hodgepodge was clearly his goal from the outset, opening with late Beatles psychedelic tripper “Magical Mystery Tour,” followed by Wings shout-anthem “Jet,” and then early Beatles Dorian-scaled “All My Loving.”

Throughout it all he never left the stage for even a short break. His one costume change was to take off his Nehru jacket, leaving a white shirt with black suspenders. But his Larry King couture—and a few more noticeable wrinkles on his face—notwithstanding, he seemed to get more youthful and energetic, insouciant locks ever more boyishly tousled, as the sticky summer night in the Bronx unfolded. “Who is this Derek Jeter guy?” he kidded at one point. “Somebody said he’s got more hits than me.” Oh, did I mention McCartney knows how to work a crowd?

Actually, he did more than work the crowd. He  seemed to get genuinely personal, sharing little anecdotes between songs. Like a story about how Jimi Hendrix debuted “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” at one of his own concerts, after learning it in just two days, though Hendrix demanded that Eric Clapton, who was in the audience, come on stage to tune his guitar. (McCartney also added a few bars of “Foxy Lady” to his “Let Me Roll It.”) Or how he wrote “Blackbird” as a tribute to the American civil rights movement. Or the fun-fact that “Mrs. Vandebilt,” with its Slavic-friendly oompah, was by far his most popular song when he played Ukraine.

McCartney also paid tribute to two of his dearly departed bandmates. He strummed “Something” on a ukulele George Harrison had given him and eulogized John Lennon with the conversational, séance-like “Here Today.” Despite covering a pretty staggering amount of musical and emotional territory, his voice only cracked once, and he never even took a sip of water during the show.

One minor quibble. For a concert otherwise so vibrant, a continuous montage projected in back of the stage featuring images interpreting or narrativizing McCartney’s songs felt not only literal-minded, but an attempt to cast the set in a Vaseline-fuzzy light of nostalgia. “Band on the Run” was accompanied by outtake footage of Wings’ photo shoot for the 1974 album’s cover art. “Paperback Writer” received contrapuntal visuals in the form of pulp novels like Surfer Nurse. “Drive My Car” and “Jet” were coupled with—what else?—autos and aircraft. Sure a few were brilliant, like the point-of-view shots from people riding roller coasters during “Helter Skelter” and the Halloween-colored, El Lissitzky-style propaganda posters for “Back in the USSR,” but mostly it was an unnecessary affectation.

Especially when you consider McCartney’s knack for true, arena-size showmanship.  Piano-ballad “Hey Jude!” all but invented the stadium-concert sing-along as we know it with those tongue-happy na-na-na nas. Oddly enough, some of his most theatrical moments came with Macca sitting in front of the ivories. In previous years, I’d suspect “Let It Be” would be more prominently placed near the end of the show. But last night he reserved it for the middle so that its feel-goodery would be cleansed with a splash of bitters from “Live and Let Die,” an apocalyptic yell that plays even better in these desperate times than it did in 1973.

Though McCartney’s songwriting craft has certainly diminished over the decades, it appears that his musicianship is better than ever. When piano man Billy Joel came out—to rhapsodic cheers from the New-York-state-of-mind crowd—his ivory-tickling on “I Saw Her Standing There” was no more impressive than that we had seen from the Ex-Beatle himself.

McCartney’s greatest triumph, though, may be in his simultaneous projection of himself as both arena god and ordinary guy. Like an Oprah Winfrey or Tom Hanks, he’s transcended all your usual celebrity taxonomy—he’s just like you, even as he flexes his star power. His most spectacular act of showmanship these days may be his ability to sell himself. But, damn, if it doesn’t sound great.

The Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix

Read more from EW.com:
George Harrison doc by Martin Scorsese to air on HBO this fall
For the Collectors: What’s New in Reissues
Linda McCartney’s ‘Life’ with Paul
Paul McCartney engaged to Nancy Shevell

Comments (99 total) Add your comment
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  • Janice

    Paul said nothing about this bronx born John Lennon daughter? It is amazing. I guess the Jacksons are going to do it during the Michael Jackson trial.

    • snl

      what the hell are you babbling about, if you don’t like paul the go watch the jackson fiasco, there is no comparison but if that is your cup of tea then drink it and leave the BEATLES alone loser

  • Alice

    McCartney’s songwriting has not diminished. He has written some beautiful songs in the last 15 years on albums like Chaos and Creation and on Electric Arguments. Are his recent songs top-40 hits? No.
    But name one 70 year old who has top-40 hits. The thing is, he never plays his new songs at these stadium concerts, opting for his best known songs. That’s what the crowd wants.

    • googie

      absolutely!

      • matt ferguson

        but he sells out stadium shows because of his past hits.

      • BB

        who doesn’t ? plus 2 nights at Yankee Stadium was 150000 people – what your point ?

    • PN

      Forget that when I’m 64 label–it’s great that Paul McCartney can still pull out sold out audiences,even at Yankee Stadium!

    • PN

      I like Paul McCartney’s more recent music and I don’t think his songwriting has diminished as the writer said. He just writes from today’s perpective. I think the writer is so attached to Paul’s Beatles and earlier solo hits that he doesn’t care about the input Paul has put out in the last decade.

  • dee123

    The question still is what will he & Ringo be doing for the opening ceremony next year?

    • Dawn

      What on earth are you talking about?

    • Fran

      By far, the best concert I have ever seen.

    • Beatle Fan

      I’m from the UK, now living in the USA, went to the concert last night ” FAN – BLOODY – TASTIC !!” What an amaxing performer, best money I have spent in a long time & would do it again in a hairs breath ! He certainly knows how to put on show.

  • Little Bunny Foo-Foo

    The Olympics in London. On earth Dawn, but believe it or not that’s MORE then just the USA.

  • JPX

    Everyone should see McCartney perform at least once in their life. Aside for the fact that he’s a living legend the man puts on a quality performance. The downside to a McCartney show is that you will pay through the teeth for a decent ticket. I caught him at Fenway 2 years ago and paid $400 for a good seat – worth every penny, but steep. It saddens me to think of the world of music once McCartney passes away. There isn’t a single musician who even comes close to McCartney’s body of work and today’s popular artists are simply garbage.

  • Joe

    Saw McCartney Friday night at Yankee Stadium. Only $75 (albeit in the rafters) and a bargain to be in “the house” at that price. I have seen hundreds of bands over the years. I place this show in my top 3 all-time.

    • El

      Couldn’t agree more!! By far the best concert I’ve ever been to. Being on the floor was pricey, but amazing!

    • Claudia B

      It was a privlege to be in the house last night! Bestest concert in many many years!

  • Garry

    McCartney is so awesome that he doesn’t need to bring Billy Joel out during his concert. Joel can’t hold a candle to McCartney’s musical achievements, yet he seems to think of himself as his equal. Never.

    • Christian

      I dont think Billy Joel thinks any such thing. I was at the show last night and Billy made about 20 “i’m not worthy” gestures before and after he played the song. Billy is of course special but Mccartney is , well, a Beatle.

    • Shaun

      Let’s see… From 1973-1993 Billy scoed dozens of hit singles and sold over 100 million albums, won several Grammys, and later was inducted to both the Rock & Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame. Even now, after not making a new album in almost two decades, he still fills large arenas and his songs remain staples of classic rock radio and a number of other formats. I’d say, compared to almost ANYONE, Billy Joel’s musical acheivments are pretty damned amazing. So Billy didn’t have the benefit of being a Beatle… Few have.

      Also, a little recent history here. Billy invited Paul to play at Shea Stadium a few years ago, when Billy played the final concerts ever there. Pretty cool, given that the Beatles played the FIRST concerts ever there. Since, then Paul’s invited Billy to play with him at both Citi Field and, now, Yankee Stadium. He’s returning the favor, AND it adds local flavor to the shows.

      Both Paul and Billy are legends Garry… In fact, I’d say Billy Joel is quite possibly the greatest McCartney disciple of them all. There are few artists have the gift for melodies that those two have. So stop being a jerk, and respect these two greats while we still can.

      • Dave

        Wouldn’t it be nice if Paul were gracious enough to play along on a Billy Joel song? I think THAT would have added a New York flavor.

    • F. Lombardo

      That was an uneducated accusation. Billy Joel and Paul McCartney are good friends. Billy only played at Paul’s specific request.

  • TorontoTom

    I saw him here in Toronto years ago and he was incredible. Anymore, the music business is all about tween autotune babies and TV talent show contestants. Anyone think Bieber or Ke$ha or Scotty McCreery will be selling out Yankee Stadium in 2061?!?!

  • E Boy

    If someone told me I have 3 hours to live – and asked, “What do you want to do?” – I would want to go see McCartney play at Yankee Stadium again! It was truly an amazing show on Saturday night – all that uniquely wonderful Beatle music that made us feel so good for soooo many hours in our life – all condensed into a song after song performance by a man who added so much to our lives with his musicianship, his songwriting and the most beautiful AND rockin’ voice ever. He has had a major platform and our attention for decades – and compared to many other performers, athletes & celebrities – he has consistently used it well: to put out a kind simple message of love & peace!

    • mccliza

      You know, E, I had that same thought briefly last night in Yankee Stadium: that I could die happy now that I’ve experienced this! Fortunately, I’m still here!

  • Sue Ann

    I remember seeing him in 1967 with the Beatles, in 1974 with Wings, and I only wish I would have been there for this. It sounds joyous!! Keep rocking Macca…it’s keeping you young!

    • JPX

      I’m jealous!!! What was it like seeing The Beatles?

    • Ben

      The Beatles’ last concert was in August of 1966, so how did you see them in 1967?

      • Ben

        And actually, Wings did not tour until 1976 – do you think you might be making this up?

  • Ramon

    McCartney’s songwriting talents have not diminished. He has written songs over the past 20 years, that had they been Beatle songs would be considered classics up there with Hey Jude and Let it Be. One that comes to mind is “Come On People” from the Off the Ground record.

  • Michest

    I saw Sir Paul two years ago when he played NY. It was outrageously terrific. The happiness he exuded while performing made me think he would do this every night for free just for the joy of it. That said, it sees like he shared the exact same stories two years ago, right down to the ukelele. I can’t fault him for it, though, as there are many who wouldn’t have heard this unless they saw the show.

  • Mexijo

    Sue Ann, I realize that it has been a long time since the Beatles broke up, but they had stopped touring by 1967.

    I was at the Friday night show (1st time seeing Macca) and it was amazing to see a musician who will live on forever. Paul McCartney is an Icon.

    • Rita

      There is also no way that she would have seen Wings in 1974 as they did not tour that year.

  • THOMAS VIOLA

    BOTH SHOWS WERE AMAZING. SPECIAL EFFECTS AND SOUND WERE FANTASTIC. THE BAND WAS TIGHT.
    IT WAS A 48 HOUR SING AND DANCE ALONG WITH PAUL. RELIVING ALL THE HAPPY DAYS OF PLAYING YOUR BEATLES AND WINGS SONGS.
    HE IS STILL GOING AND IN MY OPINION AS STRONG AS EVER.
    AMAZING.
    A PLEASANT TIME IT WAS FOR SURE!!!

  • sec

    I was at Saturday night’s show. Worth every penny and more. ($150+ for field level/1st base side)Paul’s stamina is a sight to behold. His Something tribute to George with ukulele was ecstatically received. Photos of Paul and George or George alone accompanied the song. Curiously, just pictures of the Earth from outer space flashed during “Here Today,” his beautiful tribute to John. And Maybe I’m Amazed, which in the past, he dedicated to Linda, only showed photos–that she took–of Paul with his daughter Mary tucked into his coat. I”m sure you’ve seen those. Maybe because it’s going on 10 years since George has been gone that he purposely showed his image. Or…maybe not. Anyway, I loved him playing “The Night Before” and telling the story about Mrs. Vanderbilt being a crowd favorite in the Ukraine because of its kind of Slavic sound. One of his guitarists even started doing the Kazatzka leg kicking dance. Just great. I can now cross off seing a Beatle LIVE and LOVING IT from my bucket list!

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