Listen to What the Man Said
Paul McCartney’s first-night Erwin Center sell-out astounds
By Raoul Hernandez, 10:47AM, Thu. May. 23
Name another human being with more songs in the modern vernacular than Paul McCartney. Dylan, Lennon, Marley, Springsteen? How many of their tunes does your 5-year-old know the words to? The still “cute” Beatle played 38 songs in two hours and 45 minutes Thursday night at the Erwin Center. McCartney, not rock & roll, may be the universal language.
Given that the Beatles’ Abbey Road finale “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” and “The End” was performed as its trademark medley to close out McCartney’s almost three-hour marathon last night at the sold-out Frank Erwin Center, technically McCartney and his backing quartet only performed 36 songs.
Yet when the 70-year-old Liverpool native circled his heart with the final words of “The End” – “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make” – deep and abiding emotion of the most primal kind trumped any and all statistics to the Magical Mystery Tour McCartney had taken 12,500 fellow human beings on.
In his first performance ever in Austin – the second scheduled for this evening at the same venue – McCartney appeared genuinely curious and touched about this one-time small town with the outsize music reputation. Just as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards paused to survey Zilker Park when the Rolling Stones debuted here in 2006, McCartney stopped briefly after the night’s third tune, “All My Loving.”
“Hey, listen,” he said. “This is so cool I’m just gonna take a moment to drink it in for myself.”
And he did. At that point, however, the first of the evening’s turning points had already occurred. Where opener “Eight Days a Week” had come off a bit clunky after a 45-minute wait for the knighted, Hoffner-bass-hefting UK singer-songwriter-pianist, follow-up “Junior’s Farm” not only came as a genuine surprise (for me personally, anyway), it rocked every bit as spry as the original.
Rejoinder to his post-Beatles solo breakthrough, 1973’s picture perfect (RIP Storm Thorgerson) Band on the Run LP, the Top 5 single the next year remains a Paul McCartney & Wings rock crackle bursting with riff and elan. From that point on, the bandleader never looked back.
Band on the Run’s “Let Me Roll It” next found McCartney strapping on a guitar and huddling in a centerstage, six-string scrum with his other two axe fiends, the first of four songs highlighting the James Bond-like LP – sleek, muscled, dangerous. When the band broke into Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady” to end the song, rock & roll’s collective wayback machine dialed back to 1967.
“We released Sgt. Pepper on a Friday,” McCartney recalled. “And two days later, on Sunday, Jimi opened with it.”
“Paperback Writer” came next, with images of dimestore fiction scrolling slowly on the video screen behind the bare stage set-up (nurse-sploitation images, about as edgy as the night got), and by the time McCartney hunched over his amp to coax some feedback from the guitar he’d cut the song on originally, all pistons were firing. His only nod to anything past 1982’s John Lennon tribute, Tug of War’s “Here Today,” was a song from last year’s Kisses on the Bottom he dedicated to his wife at the piano, “My Valentine.”
“This next one’s for Wings fans,” he announced of Band on the Run closer “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five.”
The jukebox effect was in effect, all right, perhaps only a couple tunes spread over the remaining two hours not instantly recognizable to the throng, the first two levels of the UT drum staying on its feet for the majority of the concert. Surprises abounded, from the joyous Yellow Submarine sing-a-long “All Together Now” to a pair of songs never before played live, Sgt. Pepper twofer “Lovely Rita” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
Still, the biggest shock came one “Long and Winding Road” after the Band on the Run top-off: McCartney forgetting the opening to “Maybe I’m Amazed” at the black grand piano stage right.
“Ooo, shoot – what’s the chords?” he gulped, no one caught more off-guard than himself.
That only made the song’s second attempt more cathartic, McCartney’s range – from falsetto ooos to throat-peeling cries – totally intact. He was clearly embarrassed afterward, but as he pointed out, where any performer fears boos, he received cheers for his divine err.
“I’ll tell you what,” he nodded. “It proves that we’re live, though. I should know it by tomorrow. Come again, I should have learned it by then.”
How we all wish we could, especially in light of his picking up an acoustic guitar for “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “We Can Work It Out,” first solo single (debuted during the Let It Be sessions), “Another Day,” bossa nova baby “And I Love Her,” and Civil Rights anthem “Blackbird,” which found McCartney solo and elevated 20 feet in the air on a riser out front of the mainstage.
Hallmark moment “Your Mother Should Know” flashed images of Joan Crawford, Jackie Kennedy, the late Linda McCartney, and many more with their offspring, encored with “Lady Madonna.” Band on the Run’s “Mrs Vandebilt” might not pinpoint recognition by title alone, but its chorus, “Ho hey ho /Ho hey ho ,” had the arena in an up-roar as the singer bounced and guitarist Rusty Anderson did a high-kickin’ jig.
“I tell people we did a gig in the Ukraine,” the singer explained. “In Kiev, a free gig. They loved that one.”
No one disliked his George Harrison tribute, Abbey Road ethereal “Something,” which began with McCartney on the late “quiet” Beatle’s beloved ukulele and ended in an electric crescendo. “Live and Let Die” erupted with enough explosions, fire, and fireworks to recall Great White and have even the ringmaster himself digging fingers in his ears afterward, his hair literally blown back. Finally, a couple of three-song encores recalled Leonard Cohen’s recent return to the live arena.
You may only ever see Paul McCartney live once, but it’ll define a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and all you’ll want for in its aftermath is to run home and pull out your Beatles/Wings/Paul McCartney albums to relive that which already resides in your DNA.
“Eight Days a Week”
“All My Loving”
“Listen to What the Man Says”
“Let Me Roll It”
“Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five”
“The Long and Winding Road”
“Maybe I’m Amazed”
“I’ve Just Seen a Face”
“We Can Work It Out”
“And I Love Her”
“Your Mother Should Know”
“All Together Now”
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
“Band on the Run”
“Back in the U.S.S.R.”
“Let It Be”
“Live and Let Die”
“Hi, Hi, Hi”
“Golden Slumbers”/“Carry That Weight”/“The End”
For images from Paul McCartney’s Austin concert, see the Chronicle's Photo Galleries page.