Like numbering stars or grains of sand, it seemed impossible to quantify the modern Beatlemania that unfolded in New Jersey on Thursday. How many pairs of Fab Four socks had danced into MetLife Stadium? Could you possibly count all the yellow subs, strawberries, apples, and walruses multiplied on the tens of thousands of tees, hats, and handbags? How many Beatles hits had already been played by the tailgaters and buskers setting the mood across the parking lot? How many young kids were witnessing their first Paul McCartney show? How many seasoned fans were starting to lose count? One number on everyone’s mind at the outdoor arena was the percent chance of rain, but it only drizzled once – with unfathomable timing during the epic fiery spectacle that is “Live and Let Die.” Another number mentioned by many: 80 years old. McCartney just rounded that milestone – his birthday is today – and Jersey acknowledged it early with countless clever signs. NJ natives Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi even jumped onstage by surprise and joined in on several numbers. Macca rocked for an impressive three hours (2:55) and utterly crushed forty songs, the final seven being his vitalizing encore. The suspenseful ascending strings of “A Day in the Life” and that iconic E-major chord are still in effect as perfect walk-on music, and the legend appeared with a wide smile. “Good evening, New Jersey! Okay,” he said in a calming tone, trying to quell the unceasing applause that must be so familiar.
“We’re really happy to be back on the road here, even though this is the last night of our American tour. We’re really happy to be out here playing for you folks. So tonight, we’ve got some old songs, we’ve got some new songs for you, and some in-between songs. And something’s giving me the feeling we’re going to have a really good time here tonight.” That was quickly exposed as an understatement when he and his deft band kickstarted the bash with “Can’t Buy Me Love.” McCartney is extremely well supported by guitarist/singer Rusty Anderson, lead/rhythm/bass guitarist Brian Ray, keyboardist Wix Wickens, and powerful drummer Abe Laboriel Jr, plus a talented trio on sax, trumpet, and trombone. Between the twenty-two Beatles tracks that graced the setlist were solo Paul jams (well timed with the upcoming release of his new box set on August 5th) and plenty of Wings, like “Junior’s Farm” and “Letting Go,” which came next. “We’re going to have a good time here,” Macca repeated, “I can tell. Okay, I’ll tell you what. This is so cool. I’m going to take a minute for myself just to drink it all in.” Thunderous applause embraced him as he gazed around the full stadium, enjoying the moment for a full twenty-six seconds. Then he said, approvingly, “Cool. Oh yeah,” before a brass-laden “Got to Get You Into My Life” (“definitely not a new one,” he’d noted) that made MetLife freak out. Reacting shyly to the high-pitched squeals and whistles when he ditched his jacket, the icon deadpanned, “And that is the only wardrobe change of our whole evening.”
Even Beatles discography purists must appreciate that the other tracks peppered into his act are total bangers, like 2018’s addictive “Come On to Me” and Wings rager “Let Me Roll It,” which segued into a groovy “Foxy Lady” outro. “We always put that little bit on the end as a tribute to the late great, Jimi Hendrix. And I tell the story that I was very lucky to be able to hang out with Jimi in the sixties when he came to London. Because even though he’s an American guy, he actually broke out of London. So we got to hang out and have some good times together. And I think one of the greatest tributes he ever paid us was…on a Friday night, we’d released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And two days later, on that Sunday, he’d learned it and he opened his show with it. That was quite something. And he did a great version of it, you know, and in the solo in the middle, he was using his whammy bar.” Paul imitated its high and low vrooming. “And he was really giving it some, you know? Going crazy with it. But those of us in the audience who kind of knew about those vibrator arms, at that time, knew that this would send him wildly out of tune. And this is like his first song! So we’re all sitting there thinking, ‘Well, what’s he going to do? He’s way out of tune.’ So he starts looking in the audience and he says, ‘Is Eric out there?’ And he’s looking for Eric Clapton. And Eric was out there. I mean, all the great guitar players in London had come to see this new guy, so Eric was out there, but he doesn’t want him to know. He’s cringing, you know, but Jimi spots him. ‘Hey man. Can you come up here and tune this thing for me?’ And Eric said, ‘No. Tune it yourself.’”
Amid all the giggling over that star-studded story, McCartney dove into a satisfying “Getting Better,” and the packed arena hollered its harmonies. Wings’ similarly uplifting “Let ‘Em In” was just the right touch after that. Romance was in the air for the evocative “My Valentine” – written for his wife, Nancy, who was in the audience – and a passionate “Maybe I’m Amazed” that made folks sway and link arms. “Anyway, you might have noticed, but uh, sometimes at these shows, a lot of people bring along signs and they hold them up and you know, it’s really nice. We love it. But the trouble is, you’re trying to remember your words, and your chords, and the whole thing, and your mind says, ‘Don’t read the signs.’ But the other half of your mind says, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter! Read ‘em!’ So uh, we’ve got some here… Please, please…” McCartney trailed off with a sweet expression when he realized most of the signs wished him a happy 80th and came with a crooning arena. “Thank you! Yeah you’re right. I’ve got a birthday coming up! I’d like to ignore it, but–” he joked. “Thank you for that. We’ve got some beautiful signs here…So there’s a gentleman at the front who’s holding up a sign. This guy has been to our show 130 times. And we love him man; we love him! Tiny bit obsessive,” he joked, “but we love it.” Rewarding all of us Fab Four obsessives, we then got a bouncy and bright “I’ve Just Seen a Face.” Like he was reading a novel, McCartney rhapsodized, “Okay, now, we’re going to take you back through the mists of time. We’re taking you back to a little port in the north of England; a little port called Liverpool, where these four lads got together, formed a band, and did okay.”
“But back then, we were just a little gigging band, and it wasn’t that easy to get gigs. So what we decided is that we were going to make a demo record, and we found a little studio in Liverpool.” A fan’s abrupt roar made McCartney interject, “Yeah! Let’s hear it for Liverpool,” like a rowdy sports commentator. “Anyway, the deal was that it was going to be five pounds, and there were five of us in the group at the time. It was me, John, George, Colin [Hanton] on drums, and Duff [John Lowe] on piano. So we were going to pay a pound each and make the demo. So we did and we made it. And the arrangement was, we would each keep it for a week and then give it to the next guy. So I kept it for a week and gave it to John. He kept it for a week and he gave it to George for a week. George gave it to Colin, who kept it for a week. And then Colin gave it to Duff…who kept it for twenty years…and then he sold it back to us! At quite a considerable profit. Anyway, the song that we did that day is the one we’re going to do now,” said Paul, introducing a pleasingly-twangy run of “In Spite of All the Danger” by The Quarrymen. Coordinating mass participation on the “whoa-oh-oh-oh”s, he told Jersey, “Good singing,” then continued spoiling us with stories.
Sir Paul has a way of making each audience feel special, as proven by how his anecdotes and interactions shifted for NJ (compared to a FL tour stop I caught a few weeks ago). A sassy George vs. George tidbit stood out. “So we played that record around to people and eventually, we got a recording contract down in London at Abbey Road Studios with a great producer, George Martin. Let’s hear it for George! And George was a great guy; a fantastic guy. He produced all of The Beatles’ records, so he was a really cool guy and had a great sense of humor. And I think that’s why we got on with him very well, because, you know, we were Liverpool lads and a bit intimidated by the whole thing. He had a good sense of humor. We’d finished one of the tracks and – you know, he was a posh guy – he said, ‘Chaps, is there anything you don’t like?’ And George [Harrison] looks at him and he says, ‘Well I don’t like that tie, for a start.’ But we got away with it. The song we played for George [Martin] that day was called ‘Love Me Do.’ It was going okay, and what happened was John took the lead vocal. And he sang ‘love me do,” and then he played his harmonica. But George Martin wanted the ‘love me do’ with the harmonica to come in on the one. John couldn’t do both at the same time, so George turns to me and says, ‘Paul, would you mind singing the “love me do” line?’ Now, you’ve got to remember, I’m nervous anyway being in this big studio, and so now I’m terrified. And I say, ‘Yeah, okay, okay,’” he recalled in a timid whimper, “you know? No way out. And I did sing it. But when I listen to the record these days, if I hear it on the radio or something, I can still hear the terror in my voice. But not tonight!”
After a crisp and juicy cut of it, Macca gave us more mop-top-era memories. “So we made a couple more records with George [Martin] and we eventually had a couple of hits. Then we finally came over to America and that was a different ballgame. Everything changed. I mean, in England, the girls had gone wild, but over here, they were crazy. Okay girls, let’s have a Beatles scream,” he encouraged, setting off some absurdly loud squealing. “That’s it, yeah.” An energizing “Dance Tonight” followed, during which drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. stood up to demonstrate some go-to moves, Macarena included. Among the best visual moments, a rising platform lifted a solo Paul high into the air and doubled as a screen with celestial scenes. From that perch, his scintillating solo performance of “Blackbird” poured out into the breezy weather, getting the audience intently focused for the crucial context that came next. “I originally wrote that song a long time ago when we were seeing stuff on the news in England coming from America. The southern states, like Alabama and Arkansas, were seen in news footage about civil rights and the segregation. And we didn’t believe it. We didn’t know that kind of thing happened, ‘cause we had black mates in Liverpool and it just didn’t mean anything. So to see the kind of stuff going on in Little Rock was quite shocking to us, and I wanted to try and write a song that, if it ever got back to any of those people going through those struggles, it might just help a little bit and give them some hope. And the thing is, what I’m really pleased with, having written that song: it’s gone around the world. I meet a lot of people who say, ‘I tried to learn “Blackbird” as a kid.’ How many people here tried to learn Blackbird? And you all got it wrong,” he said affectionately. “Alright.”
Still floating above the onscreen constellations and the tens of thousands present, McCartney made a soul-stirring statement about John Lennon. “I was talking about Liverpool before and in the early days of the group, we really liked each other and stuff, but the one thing you couldn’t say in those days – it just wasn’t done – was: you couldn’t look at each other and go, ‘I love you man.’ You couldn’t do that. You can do that now, but then, you know, we were busy trying to be sort of tough and hard guys.” He humorously portrayed this by interposing a “yeah, yeah, cool, yeah” with an unaffected shrug. “So we never really said it. And I wrote this next song after John died. Let’s hear it for John!” Extended cheering reverberated with profound reverence. “So I wrote this song for him and it’s in the form of a letter, with some sentiments I never got to express.” Prompting tears all around, “Here Today” showcased his mellifluous, unforced vibrato and emotive acoustic guitar. He descended back to stage level, bookending the poignant song with inspiration. “Yeah, there you go. You know, if you’ve got something you want to say to someone, and you’re thinking, ‘Well, I’ll put it off ‘til another time,’ don’t. Get it said. Why not?” Switching to his glowing neon-patterned piano, Macca whipped through quick flourishes on the keys during “New” and a kickass “Lady Madonna.” “Here’s the thing,” he’d teased prior to those two tracks. “We know which songs you like. Yeah, we can tell, ‘cause when we do an old Beatles song, the whole place lights up with your phones, and it’s like a galaxy of stars. And if we do a new song, it’s a black hole. Well, we don’t care. We don’t care! We’re going to do them anyway.” The Jersey crowd seemed to take it as a challenge and lit the place up. “Okay, you fooled me with the lights,” he conceded playfully. “No black hole!”
The wide range of ages in attendance thoroughly enjoyed 2018’s catchiest double entendre, “Fuh You,” and subsequently flipped for “Jet.” Thumb-and-forefinger W’s from Wings’ biggest fans flickered around the stadium. An extra-trippy “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” blew minds and came with kaleidoscopic sixties-style animation. Switching to a beautifully timeworn ukulele, McCartney announced, “I think a lot of you know, but George Harrison was a really good ukulele player. Let’s hear it for George! He was really good. He loved it. He had a big collection of ukuleles. Actually, he gave me this one; a Gibson. And I was at his house one day and we were just jamming around on the ukuleles, just playing various stuff. And I said to him, ‘I’ve learned one of your songs on the ukulele.’ So we played it then. We’d like to play it for you now.” He then eased into a blissful uke-only “Something,” The full band entered climatically at the end of the bridge, causing sudden flurries of stunned screaming. A total feel-good Fab Four fest ensued as “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” started a “lalalalalalalala” party. “Alright now, we’re going to do a song we’ve never done live before – never, ever – ‘til this tour,” revealed McCartney, tearing into “You Never Give Me Your Money.” As it should, it oozed straight into a stellar take of “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.” NJ danced and sang hard to “Get Back” and “Band on the Run,” and the biggest surprise occurred at the height of all that excitement. Bruce Springsteen popped out to play his own “Glory Days” with Paul, who was visibly having fun busting out the chorus. As Springsteen fans boomed the usual “Bruuuuuuuce” cheers, McCartney laughed about how he’d once mistaken that sound for booing.
We were also treated to the tour debut of The Beatles’ “I Wanna Be Your Man” with Springsteen still contributing gleefully. For the record, Ringo Starr just performed an equally swell “I Wanna Be Your Man” the week before in NYC. One can’t help but wonder if the two Beatles might just close the gap of 8 days and the distance of 6.75 miles to do that on the same stage sometime. In a tidal wave of warmth, Macca’s honeyed voice and gentle piano soothed throughout “Let It Be.” Boisterous fans even softened their shouting so as not to muffle his tranquil vocals. Right then, you could sense some kind of microcosmic shift in the mood. The pyrotechnic thrills of “Live and Let Die” have become a major live staple. People can tell when it’s time and thrust their phones into the air with extreme focus before Paul’s fingers hit the keys. There are arguably few songs in existence that warrant the explosive flames and fireworks unleashed for this occasion. The dynamic ‘73 James Bond theme tops them all. The heat on our skin was quickly contrasted by cold raindrops, which splashed down dramatically during that song alone. The matching extended family with separate “NA”s on each of their shirts were surely living their best lives when it was finally time to “na na na” en masse for the moving “Hey Jude.” That closed it out until a groovy long encore that the sea of screamers evidently expected without question. No one budged the first time McCartney exited, and everyone’s ardent cacophony sounded confident.
When the beloved Beatle returned, he previewed a special feature of his encore-starter, “I’ve Got a Feeling.” McCartney explained how Peter Jackson – the filmmaker behind ‘21 docuseries The Beatles: Get Back – isolated John Lennon’s voice so that the two can perform a virtual duet. It was both intriguing and moving to hear Paul carry on a round with John, who appeared via footage from their final ‘69 rooftop performance. If you’ve seen McCartney live, you know he often dedicates a certain festive song to those celebrating, so it was adorable when the tables turned. Jon Bon Jovi appeared by surprise with giant white balloons. He led a traditional happy birthday singalong for the man of the hour before a supercharged Beatles “Birthday.” The hard-hitting “Helter Skelter” that followed was a savagely cool highlight, further intensified by tunnel-like graphics that surged behind the stage. The fact that he finishes it all out with the closing sequence from Abbey Road is an immeasurable gift to all those who witness it. The collective thrill was palpable as the comforting “Golden Slumbers” cascaded into the compassionate “Carry That Weight.” The happiness bubbled over when The Boss reappeared with a big grin to rock with Macca on “The End.” Barring “Her Majesty” (which would be an unprecedented live twist; hint/nudge to you know who), there’s no way to top that invigorating finale. Red, white and blue confetti burst out of cannons and Paul McCartney disappeared rather magically behind smoke machines and sparklers. And since his advice to us all was to “get it said” instead of hiding it: love you, Paul.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley