There he was, 71 years old and forever young, presiding over another evening of civic ecstasy on another American ball field.
Paul McCartney’s Friday night performance at Nationals Park made time go blurry with its euphoric charms, spanning two hours and 42 minutes and 38 songs.
“This is just so cool,” he declared early on, right after bopping through the eternal bittersweetness of “All My Loving.” “I want to take a minute for myself just to drink it all in.” Go right ahead, Sir. The love you take being equal to the love you make, and all that.
It’s no surprise or overstatement to say that there’s no other musical experience like this. McCartney’s songs first wrapped their arms around civilization five decades ago and they’ve never really let go. The giddy thousands who funneled into this baseball stadium — twilight drizzle still evaporating off their seats — frequently sang along with all of their wind power, perhaps trying to amplify the music so the rest of their city could hear it, too. Generosity courses through these tunes.
That July air felt sticky-thick with humidity, melody, joy, all of the above — an energy potent enough to make you wonder if the Beatles had discovered a way to describe the breadth of human emotion through rock-and-roll, or if they taught us how to feel our emotions in the first place.
And the guy made it all look so easy-breezy, with sly grins, and knowing nods, and four backing musicians who summoned big sounds with calm assurance: Paul Wickens on keyboards, Rusty Anderson on guitar, Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums and Brian Ray on bass and guitar.
It was McCartney on everything else, chopping away at “Paperback Writer” on the axe he used to record it, stamping out chords at his grand piano during “Maybe I’m Amazed,” loosely strumming an acoustic guitar on “Here Today” and a ukulele on “Something.” Bantering between those selections, there were remembrances of Linda, John and George. He was a man who had lost so much, giving his all.
So his thousands of backup singers practiced reciprocity, from the most expensive folding chairs in center field to the highest elevations behind home plate.
If they stumbled on any of the lyrics, there were still plenty of di-di-dis, and hey-hos, and ob-la-dis, and na-na-na-nas — that beautiful babble-language that everybody knows because every syllable means “love.”