“What do you say about Paul fucking McCartney?” a friend of mine asked when I told him about my latest gig. I say that at 73 years old, the former Beatle still played longer and with more stamina than any band I’d ever seen, without missing a beat and with hardly more than a 10-minute break (not counting his banter).
Sir Paul McCartney made his grand return to Vancouver last Tuesday, the first of back-to-back shows at Rogers Arena. Press material boasted about the One on One tour’s “state of the art audio and visual technology,” and as I detail later, the show was literally explosive.
Over three solid hours, McCartney culled a staggering 36 hits from his entire catalogue spanning his solo career, time in Wings, and, of course, as a member of the Fab Four.
Psychedelic visuals ran across LED screens behind, above, and on the sides of the stage. The light show was particularly dazzling on “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite“: cloud and crystal patterns formed on the screens as vibrant lights hung like vertical shards or beamed out from the stage in laser form. The lights synchronized with the whirling crane camera that enlarges McCartney and his band on the big-screens, creating a bobbing, spinning sensation, like riding a carousel.
Along with these visuals, nostalgic footage of the Beatles trouncing through London and football fields and lounging on the grass and in the studio ran during classics like “Can’t Buy Me Love”.
Photos of those whom McCartney paid tribute to appeared during their respective moments. He wrapped up the bluesy “Let Me Roll It“ with a portion of “Foxy Lady“, which led to him recalling the first time the Beatles met and opened for Jimi Hendrix, whom McCartney called “a really humble guy. Great fella.“ McCartney took up the ukulele on “Something“ in honour of the man who penned the song, George Harrison. (“I don‘t know how many of you know this, but George Harrison was a seriously good ukulele player.“) He dedicated “Maybe I‘m Amazed“ to his late wife Linda. “Love Me Do“ came with an anecdote about how nervous he was when the Beatles recorded the song with their long-time producer George Martin, their first session with the Fifth Beatle. And of course, there was the most essential tribute: McCartney introduced the solo acoustic “Here Today“ as a song he wrote “for my dear friend John when he passed away.“
Press material also promised many surprises, and McCartney delivered plenty of them. For the evening’s first surprise, he brought out “hometown girl“ Diana Krall to play piano on “My Valentine“, a song they wrote together, while he led vocals. (Unfortunately, neither Kanye West nor Rihanna joined him for “FourFiveSeconds“.)
The rest of the surprises were technical in nature. During McCartney’s solo performance of “Blackbird“, the stage beneath him rose up, elevating him ~20 feet into the air. The lights appropriately dimmed as flocks of animated birds flew behind him. (It was from this height where he played “Here Today”.) He descended back to stage-level halfway through the next song, “Queenie Eye”.
“Live and Let Die” is dramatic enough on its own, but nothing prepared the crowd for the enormous balls of flames and fireworks that exploded as the song climaxed.
The crowd ate this up. Paul plugged his ears with his fingers and clutched his heart, waving for the roaring audience to stop while they buzzed from the pyrotechnical display they just witnessed and clapped for more.
Less of a surprise for those who’d seen McCartney at B.C. Place four years ago was the Delta Police Pipe Band, dressed in full regalia, that McCartney enlisted to bring “Mull of Kintyre” to life.
Although the crowd popped as you might imagine for the gamut of classics which included “A Hard Day‘s Night“, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Band on the Run”, “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, “Let It Be”, and “Hey Jude“ (always the ultimate sing-along), McCartney’s most tender moments were his best: anything that involved an acoustic guitar, or a tribute, especially if he was unaccompanied, with the visuals toned down to modest levels. Any time accordion or tambourine appeared, like on “We Can Work It Out“, was a bonus.
After 33 songs, it almost felt like a crime, or at least gluttonous, to have demanded more. But the entire arena did just that, and McCartney gave everyone what they wanted.
This was where the Delta Pipe Band made their appearance, which McCartney followed with “Yesterday“ and “Hi, Hi, Hi“. But despite the crowd’s earlier clamouring, by this point, even some fans on the floor began trickling out of the arena. The show had already been a rollercoaster: many fans took a rest in their seats during the more heartfelt numbers but came alive again when the band returned to their electrified group configuration, like during “New” and the bouncy “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da“.
McCartney “only” had two more after “Hi, Hi, Hi”, capping the evening with “Birthday“ and “Golden Slumbers“. After a waving of the Canadian and B.C. flags and the Union Jack, McCartney and his band bowed out for good (until the next night).
Promo for the show hyped it as “never anything short of life-changing.” For at least one lucky family, it was: the Tennants, mostly dressed in Sgt. Pepper outfits, got to join McCartney onstage and have the legend sign whichever body parts of theirs they wished. As for the performance having been a “once in a lifetime experience,” I admit: I hadn’t been to many arena shows, but Paul McCartney was like nothing I’d ever seen.
View the full set list below.
- “A Hard Day‘s Night“
- “Save Us”
- “Can’t Buy Me Love“
- “Letting Go”
- “Temporary Secretary“
- “Let Me Roll It“/”Foxy Lady”
- “I‘ve Got a Feeling“
- “My Valentine”
- “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five”
- “Here, There and Everywhere”
- “Maybe I’m Amazed“
- “We Can Work It Out”
- “In Spite of All the Danger”
- “You Won‘t See Me”
- “Love Me Do”
- “And I Love Her”
- “Here Today“
- “Queenie Eye”
- “The Fool on the Hill”
- “Eleanor Rigby”
- “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite“
- “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da“
- “Band on the Run”
- “Back in the U.S.S.R.”
- “Let It Be”
- “Live and Let Die“
- “Hey Jude“
- “Hi, Hi, Hi“
- “Mull of Kintyre”
- “Golden Slumbers“