Stockholm, Tele 2 Arena 9 July 2015
This bloke Paul McCartney has got talent! An understatement of course, but such is Macca’s familiarity that it is perhaps easy to forget just how good he is. And the penultimate show of his latest two-year long tour showed off everything in his arsenal over a mostly brilliant two and half hour set.
I was actually a little hesitant about whether to go see Paul McCartney. In recent TV appearances his voice seemed too weak for his material. And I was concerned about the show being too much of an oldies goldies trip down memory lane. And at times it was.
But when debating whether to go see Macca, there was also the feeling that this man is the Mozart of the popular song era. Even if past his prime, he is one of the greats – I mean really up there with Elvis, Dylan and that other guy, what’s his name – Lennon. And as a friend pointed out to me – “He is a Beatle for fucks sake!” And any music fan really needs to see a Beatle live – at least once!
This was also a show of epic proportions worthy of the magnitude of the man. The vast airport hangar like Tele 2 Arena meant that even those seated near the front required binoculars to see much. But McCartney has clearly honed his arena performances since the days when the Beatles could not be seen nor heard during their concerts.
Although at times, the light show and video screen content was pointless and a distraction from the music, at times it was innovative and exciting, particularly when lasers danced round the roof on Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite. And surprisingly, the sound was excellent, with the harmony vocals and piano flourishes so often lost to the gaping spaces of stadiums clearly audible.
McCartney can play too, darting around the stage from the front microphone stand to a grand piano mounted at the back and then back to the front with acoustic, bass or electric guitar. And then he played once or twice a psychedelic painted upright piano that appeared out of nowhere at the front of stage.
McCartney’s voice was also very much on song. Sounding tired just occasionally (he is 73), he sounded at times as good as ever, with his mighty rock voice screaming the “yeahs” very well, supported competently by the superb backing singing from his tight four piece band.
And what a band – supreme musicianship that mimicked to a T the famous guitar solos and string or brass arrangements (through synths) from all those classic songs, yet somehow never sounding like a copy or pastiche. Of course many of the great songs of yesteryear have had their first live performances by this band, which has been with McCartney in the same format since 2002 – a period longer in duration than the lifespan of the Beatles or Wings.
And then there are the songs. And while clearly comfortable in front of tens of thousands of people, speaking Swedish from notes plastered around the stage quite amusingly and proficiently and telling the odd interesting and funny anecdote, McCartney, for the most part, let the songs do the talking.
If anything, the 40 song set list was a little Beatle heavy – with 27 Beatles tracks performed from the very beginning of the Fab Four’s career through to the closing glory of the Abbey Road album – literally. This left little room for Wings material (just four songs) or some of Macca’s fine solo songs (just nine played – half of which were weaker new songs).
The opening Eight days a Week, incredibly like many of the songs in the set played live for the first time on this tour, was the first of many earlier Beatles songs whose classic rock n roll bare bones structure sounded a little weak in the enormous stadium.
Coming after the bizarre pre show entertainment of awful records of Beatles’ covers being broadcast, followed by half an hour of decent McCartney records being aired (but who airs their own songs before their own gig?) while the video walls presented a montage of McCartney photos – for almost an hour – the fears of a journey through sentimental nostalgia began to grow.
The second song, Save Me, from latest album, 2013’s New, was bang up to date but left me very underwhelmed.
Things now however started to pick up with the gigantic Got to Get You Into My Life from arguably the best Beatles album, Revolver. This motown-like song’s brass section was also incredibly recreated en large and high up in the mix by the versatile keyboard player.
The next song, One After 909, was worthy of note only in that Paul introduced it as one of the first songs he and John wrote together. More interestingly sounding was the crazy synthesizer fuelled Temporary Secretary from 1980s McCartney II album, which was only performed live for the first time two months ago. McCartney’s hard rock brilliance was up next, with the crunchy duel guitar riff of the Wings’ Let Me Roll It – brilliant stop starting pummelling guitar rock that sounded almost brand new. There was no video screen entertainment during this number either. It didn’t need it. Does rock get any better?
Paperback Writer sounded more dated, but was delivered with outstanding harmonies.
McCartney then leaped to his grand piano for a newer song, My Valentine, written for his current wife (later he played Maybe I’m Amazed, which he said was “written for Linda”). My Valentine was unfortunately a bit dull and backed up with an out-of-place music video featuring Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman.
Next came the great rock n roll piano riff of much underrated Band on the Run closer 1985 “This one is for the Wings’ fans” shouted Paul. The tenth song of the evening was the Beatles’ Long and Winding Road.
And so the evening went for the next 20 songs, with lowlights coming in the form of the awful 2014 Hope for the Future written for video game destiny and the Beatles kids’ song All Together Now.
Highlights during this middle period came from numerous Beatles’ favourites such as We Can Work It Out, And I Love Her, Lady Madonna, Lovely Rita and Eleanor Rigby.
McCartney sang Blackbird solo on a stage riser, along with Here Today, his song about John. George Harrison’s Something was brilliantly done with a ukulele opening “George was a great ukulele player” exploding into the full golden hued guitar licks.
This began a tremendous run down to the end of the main set with a fun Ob La Di, Band on the Run (with great guitar work), Back in the USSR, Let It Be and then a thunderous Live and Let Die with tremendously timed blasts of fire and a histrionic fire works display that looked dangerous for the musicians and was a mix of sublime and ridiculous. Things calmed down only mildly for the pitch perfect, crowd sing along na, na, na …. of Hey Jude.
The first encore consisted of an anti climatic trio of Beatles’ standards (ha – is there such a thing as a Beatle standard), Another Girl, Birthday and Can’t Buy Me Love.
But still no Yesterday. Well it came of course at the opening of the final encore. And what I expected to be the end.
But no, the best was incredibly still to come. And did so at first with one of the greatest rock songs of all time – Helter Skelter, with its wild punk like guitar that sounded as exciting as anything ever! YEAH YEAH YEAH.
And then came the ten-minute closing medley from the Abbey Road album, Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight and the End. Wow!
Yes, at times this was a nostalgic oldies goldies show, with a constant barrage of photos of Paul and the Beatles on the video walls adding to this sentimentality. But at other times the songs sounded as fresh as the day they were recorded. And for the most part this was rock n roll at its best by one its greatest practitioners – with many of his skills still intact. So, if you have never seen a Beatle go, and see this one. Even if you have, go again, I think I will!