Show Review: Paul McCartney @ Fenway Park 7.17.16

by Terence Cawley (Biology), published July 20th 2016

photos by Kaylan Tran (Marketing)

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Paul McCartney’s songwriting acumen and cultural importance have been treated as incontestable facts for so long that to call him anything less than one of history’s greatest popular musicians would be considered an insult. It should come as no surprise, then, that McCartney’s recent concert at Fenway Park was very, very good.

McCartney opened with “A Hard Day’s Night,” as if to reassure the crowd that they had not accidentally purchased tickets to see some other guy named Paul McCartney who hadn’t played bass in The Beatles. In an admirably daring move, Sir Paul followed that with “Save Us” from his latest solo album, 2013’s New, and the transition went more smoothly than one might have expected. McCartney’s band of anonymous pros played in the punchy, guitar solo-heavy style engineered by ‘70s rockers to sound great in stadiums, reigning it in a little for the Beatles songs but cutting loose on the Wings material. The outlier of the show’s first half was “Temporary Secretary,” a fusion of Kraftwerk and Cheap Trick so delightfully bizarre that it’s hard to believe any human, much less McCartney, wrote it. The group then huddled close at the front of the stage for a semi-acoustic set of early Beatles songs, along with “In Spite of All the Danger,” the first song McCartney recorded with his and John Lennon’s pre-Beatles band The Quarrymen. As McCartney began playing “Blackbird” solo, a platform slowly elevated him skyward, then slowly brought him back down as he sang his moving tribute to Lennon, “Here Today.” A relatively modest stage effect, but surprisingly effective.

After banging out two perfectly acceptable New songs on a multicolored piano, McCartney delivered an energetic run of bulletproof hits like “Lady Madonna” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” Lest anyone accuse McCartney of pandering to boomer nostalgia, he also snuck in plenty of more daring material, like his Rihanna/Kanye West collaboration “FourFiveSeconds” and the woozily psychedelic “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” Throughout the night, McCartney played master of ceremonies like the born entertainer he is, chatting jovially and sharing anecdotes about song origins. He also honored the special people he had lost, dedicating “Maybe I’m Amazed” to Linda McCartney, “Love Me Do” to George Martin and “Something” to George Harrison. The main set concluded with the one-two punch of “Live and Let Die” and “Hey Jude,” with the former accompanied by flame jets and the latter stretched into a massive communal singalong.

Macca could have left it at that and no one would have complained, but of course he had to somehow top himself. A beautifully subdued rendition of “Yesterday” was followed by the arrival of Bob Weir, who had played Fenway with Dead & Company the night before. Poor Weir hardly had time to add some barely audible guitar licks to “Hi, Hi, Hi” before being upstaged by, of all people, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. As McCartney howled his way through “Helter Skelter,” Gronkowski played air guitar and Weir, looking commendably unfazed by where his life had somehow taken him, continued playing barely audible guitar licks. It was a sight to behold. Once Weir and Gronkowski left, McCartney cheekily dedicated a ripping “Birthday” to anyone with a birthday this year, then put a bow on the evening with the sublime Abbey Road trio of “Golden Slumbers,” Carry That Weight” and, naturally, “The End.” As McCartney and his band left the stage, a cannon fired confetti while fireworks decorated the night sky, a display of unadulterated joy perfectly befitting the man who has dedicated his life and talent to giving the world that feeling.

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