By: Alex Wood
Expectations from a Paul McCartney concert should be high.
With endless money, a fanbase spanning every living generation and a catalog that includes hundreds of timeless classics, how could the Beatles’ bassist address the eternal demand for his live performances with a show that meets, if not exceeds, the hype?
At Milwaukee’s Summerfest, McCartney performed a three-hour, 38 song set that proved, yet again, that the man still lives up to his legend, even at 74 years old.
The sold-out headlining show began with McCartney’s DJ, Chris Holmes, spinning a mix that combined Beatles and McCartney songs with other bands’ covers, eventually leading to a surge of noise that introduced the Beatle and his band.
A massive applause and standing ovation met the band’s appearance on the amphitheatre’s stage, the opening chord of “Hard Days Night” blending with the cheering nostalgically, recalling the earliest years of Beatlemania. This also marked the first solo McCartney tour to feature the song, ever.
The opener was playing flawlessly with energy, and quickly became “Save Us,” a track from 2013’s New which featured McCartney’s current live lineup. The song had a beefy weight, an electric rocker that seemed to be placed early on by McCartney as a nod to his extremely competent four-piece backing band.
The artist did a great job of blending familiar classics with lesser-known tracks, like performing 1980’s electronic “Temporary Secretary,” debuted this tour, immediately before Band On The Run’s “Let Me Roll It,” a standard for practically every McCartney tour in history.
The stage setup was nearly as much a spectacle as the performances themselves, a giant video screen behind the stage changing every few songs to different designs and illustrations, often appearing to be three-dimensional or rounded in a heady tactic rarely used by rock bands.
McCartney switched instruments regularly, performing “Here, There and Everywhere” as a gorgeous piano ballad, and remaining behind the keys for the always poignant “Maybe I’m Amazed.”
With a combination of perfect songwriting and musical composition, songs like these hold a power that few other artists could even attempt to match or emulate.
“We Can Work It Out,” a mammoth crowd-pleaser, was performed on acoustic guitar by McCartney and included accordion from keyboardist Paul Wickens.
Promising to take the audience “back in time,” McCartney then performed “In Spite Of All The Danger,” the first song recorded between him and Lennon under the Quarrymen moniker. Featuring an early-60s rock ‘n roll style and perfect three-part harmonies from the backing band, the track marked a softer, older acoustic section of the set which also featured “You Won’t See Me” and “Love Me Do.”
As the opening chords of “And I Love Her” began, an audible “awwwwww” could be heard across the audience, a combination of attachment, love and surprise brought on by the familiar song.
The stage setup became even more outrageous with “Blackbird,” the center of the stage rising high in the air, taking McCartney with it while revealing another video screen on its front, all the stage’s screens featuring swirling images of flowers and tree branches. The stage returned to ground level during “Here Today.”
“Queenie Eye” and “New” brought the focus back to the band, their prog-rock leanings a refreshing change after the quieter section of the set, and a sign of things to come for the set’s elongated finale.
Throughout the show, McCartney shared stories with the audience between songs, including tales of recording with Lennon and Harrison, Jimi Hendrix concerts, his wife, and dealing with press. At one point, he brought a father and his daughter on stage for a hug because of a sign reading “Hug My Daughter Because She Loves You.”
“FourFiveSeconds,” a song recorded with Kanye West and Rihanna, felt out of place surrounded by the timeless compositions “Lady Madonna” and “Eleanor Rigby,” yet the audience clapped along, nobody seeming to mind the new material.
“Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite,” the only song performed from Sgt. Peppers, captured the Beatles psychedelic era perfectly, the band nailing the track’s trippy vibes, the waltz section particularly explosive.
The remainder of the set was pure crowd-pleasers, though this isn’t a negative thing in McCartney’s sets.
“Something” began on ukulele before closing on a gigantic rock sound, while “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” quickly became a 25,000-person sing-along. “Band On The Run” flaunted the prog-rock sound the band does best, the backing musicians also taking “Back In The USSR” to enormous heights.
“Live And Let Die” was the biggest spectacle of the massive set, countless fireworks exploding from the stage during the instrumental climax following the initial verse and chorus, smoke and fire covering the view of the musicians on stage and fireworks exploding high above the amphitheatre. The band performed the song with the theatric passion of the original recording.
“Hey Jude” ended the set on a softer note, McCartney encouraging the audience to sing along.
The encore began on a gentle note with “Yesterday.” “Hi Hi Hi” followed, and though an interesting, unexpected choice from Wings, the song sounded fun but nothing special compared to the grandiose set before it.
“Birthday” was performed with fury, though the epic “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End” medley remained a highlight of the entire evening, a perfect closer that captures the Beatles’ music at its most epic, offering a little bit of everything that made them so magical.
While McCartney and his band sounded fantastic in every regard, the concert’s true highlight was bringing the massive crowd together as one, sharing a deep connection through songs that are truly unparalleled in power and beauty.
Expectations were surely met and surpassed. At 74, McCartney’s still got it.
1. A Hard Days Night
2. Save Us
3. Can't Buy Me Love
4. Letting Go
5. Temporary Secretary
6. Let Me Roll It
7. I've Got A Feeling
8. My Valentine
9. Nineteen Hundred and Eight-Five
10. Here, There and Everywhere
11. Maybe I'm Amazed
12. We Can Work It Out
13. In Spite Of All The Danger
14. You Won't See Me
15. Love Me Do
16. And I Love her
18. Here Today
19. Queenie Eye
21. The Fool On The Hill
22. Lady Madonna
24. Eleanor Rigby
25. Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite!
27. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
28. Band On The Run
29. Back In The U.S.S.R.
30. Let It Be
31. Live And Let Die
32. Hey Jude
34. Hi, Hi, Hi
36. Golden Slumbers
37. Carry That Weight
38. The End