When I think about how to describe it, I think about the girls in the black-and-white photos; the 60s-era teens, clutching homemade Beatles signs with reverential expressions, letting out irrepressible screams and tears. More than 5 decades later, that reception has hardly changed for Paul McCartney, whose One on One tour brought him before an awestruck crowd at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center last night. If anything, it’s even more intense now, buried under layers of Sir Paul’s prestige, and all the staggering epiphanies that come with being in his presence. It’s the feeling of seeing your closest, longest friend, then remembering you’ve never met him until that moment, then calculating how many steps fill the distance between you, then realizing you’re literally steps away from a Beatle – sharing the same air, singing together in the same space. If there’s a word in the English language for that, we’ll probably need another 5 decades to find it. But there is one sound that captures it perfectly – and it marked the start of his whole show: the overwhelming ascending strings at the end of “A Day in the Life,” which resolved into the iconic E-major chord right when Macca took the stage at 8:40pm.
Well-supported by his powerful, multi-talented tour band – including Rusty Anderson (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Brian Ray (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, backing vocals), Paul Wickens (keyboards, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocals and more), and Abe Laboriel Jr (drums, percussion, backing vocals) – McCartney was the epitome of a showman on stage, just as you would expect. After a spirited intro of “A Hard Day’s Night,” Wings’ “Junior’s Farm,” and “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the legend himself got caught up in Brooklyn’s rapturous applause. “I’ll tell you what,” said Paul. “This is so cool. I’m going to take a minute to just drink it in for myself, okay?” The audience responded with a loving roar, and the remaining few who weren’t yet standing rose to their feet in admiration. Once he’d drunk it all in, they continued to bounce between Wings and Beatles tunes, including “Jet,” “All My Loving,” “Let Me Roll It,” and the heart-racing “I’ve Got a Feeling,” featuring a juicy, lengthy, pure-rock outro. It wasn’t long before the meaning of his “One on One tour” became clear; McCartney approached the whole show as if it were a personal conversation with each of us, filling the moments between hits with somewhat mind-blowing anecdotes – like when Jimi Hendrix opened his show with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” just 3 days after its U.K. release, then called Eric Clapton up from the crowd to help tune his guitar, after he’d inevitably wrecked his strings shredding.
It was one of many special moments Brooklyn shared with the man last night, and fans thoroughly enjoyed his banter as he stopped to read the signs they’d crafted for him. After warmly welcoming a couple who had made the trek through two hurricanes, and a gentleman who had come from the hospital the day before, he had some fun with a different sign, which simply said “Sign my butt.” “Well come on, let’s have a look at it!” Paul quipped, stirring instant giggles throughout the arena. As the band rocked on, McCartney frequently changed instruments and moved about the stage, continuing to interject short stories and dedications between songs. The “one that I wrote for my wife, Nancy” was the tender “My Valentine,” followed by “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” then “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which he told us he wrote for Linda. Paul then took us way back to the pre-Beatles days, whipping out The Quarrymen’s “In Spite of All the Danger” – which cost them each about 5 pounds to record when they pooled their money at the time, according to his retelling. Describing how some of the best songs start with just one simple chord (and demonstrating it on guitar), he continued with a vocally-rich “You Won’t See Me” that had the full venue “ooh la-la”ing along. Dedicating the next song, “Love Me Do,” to original Beatles producer George Martin, Paul recalled being “terrified” when he was unexpectedly asked to sing Lennon’s part in the studio. “Everytime I hear the record, I can hear it in my voice,” he laughed, imitating his own tremble. “Well, it’s not going to be like that tonight.”
He was right, of course. There was no trace of hesitation in any song they tackled together, including “And I Love Her,” a flawless “Blackbird” (performed acoustically on an elevated platform), and an emotional “Here Today,” which he dedicated to the late John Lennon, explaining, “This song is based upon a conversation we didn’t get to have.” Digging us out of a quicksand trap of emotions, the band picked up the pace with “Queenie Eye,” “New,” a squeal-worthy, piano-smashing “Lady Madonna,” and “FourFiveSeconds,” his 2015 collaboration with Rihanna and Kanye West. Even with such great momentum, the first notes of “Eleanor Rigby” were enough to make your pulse accelerate, and its a capella outro was like a beautiful dream. Recalling how the Beatles had once run into their mates Keith and Mick in a taxicab, and learned they didn’t yet have a single for their band, Paul explained how they’d lent them “I Wanna Be Your Man,” which became the Rolling Stones’ first #1 UK hit – then performed it in style. It wasn’t long before we were immersed in a perfect, note-for-note run of “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” which was trippier than ever with sweeping lights and psychedelic visuals.
With the grace and sensitivity that makes him such an unrivaled performer, McCartney started off “Something” solo on ukulele, dedicating the song to George Harrison, while the Brooklyn crowd took a nostalgic journey through the vintage Beatles footage behind him. “Normally we don’t do this one, but since we’re in the New York area…” Paul noted before launching into “A Day in the Life,” which included a timely interlude of “Give Peace a Chance.” Just when it really felt like things couldn’t get any better, they surged into “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “Band on the Run,” “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” and an emotional “Let It Be,” featuring Paul on piano. It all came to an insane climax during “Live and Let Die,” with a pyrotechnic display that had rows of flames, indoor fireworks, and smoky explosions erupting at all the big impacts. You could still feel the heat on your skin when McCartney closed with “Hey Jude,” leading a singalong between the girls and the boys until we all lost our minds on the “na na na na”s.
There was no doubt we’d be demanding an encore, and when all the cheers were rewarded, the band emerged waving four flags: the American flag, the UK flag, the New York flag, and the rainbow LGBTQ flag – a symbolic display that received one of the biggest cheers of the night. The songs they’d saved for the encore were “Yesterday,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise),” a sizzling “Helter Skelter,” and “Birthday,” followed by the real “Happy Birthday” song, which he dedicated to Jimmy Fallon – who was sitting toward the front and visibly close to tears. The evening ended in life-changing fashion with the classic and meaningful Abbey Road ending: “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight,” straight into “The End,” which was indescribably beautiful. Usually, it’s impossible to use superlatives like “greatest” or “best” in reference to music, but after seeing him live, any other descriptors seem trite. McCartney really is the greatest – and seeing him perform is truly one of the best things ever.
Photos: Shayne Hanley
Article: Olivia Isenhart