On Tuesday night, Paul McCartney opened his show as he has on most nights on his One on One tour: with “A Hard Day’s Night,” one of the Beatles’ biggest and most recognizable songs. Improbably, this tour marks the first time that McCartney has dusted off the 1964 hit to play it solo. But for some reason, this milestone feels like little more than trivia, because even if one hasn’t heard a specific song live, it feels like we’ve all been listening to the Beatles forever.
During the first of two Verizon Center performances, McCartney unleashed more than a half century’s worth of songs, anecdotes and memories like only a veteran of more than 2,000 concerts can: with showmanship, precision and perhaps some weariness. At 74 years old, McCartney is essentially the definition of “spry,” a lithe figure in dark jeans, a white button-down and a blue jacket who hit most of his notes while singing and playing a combination of guitar, ukulele, piano and — of course — his iconic Höfner violin bass.
And while his fans might have been satisfied with less, McCartney showed off his stamina by playing 38 songs during the nearly three-hour-long concert. Promising “new, old and in-between,” he darted around his catalogue, reaching back as far as “In Spite of All the Danger” — a song recorded by Beatles predecessors the Quarrymen in 1958 — and as recent as last year’s Kanye West and Rihanna collaboration “FourFiveSeconds.”
As expected, the set was dominated by Beatlemania, but McCartney also made time for both must-play favorites and cult classics from his Wings and solo years, as well as lesser-loved material from his 2013 album “New.” And while some in the audience used the latter for a trip to the concourse, McCartney didn’t seem to mind. “We can tell which songs you like,” he told the crowd, joking that the arena “lights up like a galaxy of stars” on popular songs but looks like a “black hole” during others.
That kind of self-effacing humor was perhaps the best part of McCartney’s performance. Between songs, he recalled the origins of beloved songs, reminisced about Jimi Hendrix, paid tribute to fallen comrades and bantered with the crowd. That repartee provided moments of spontaneity at a concert that — while impressive — felt too much like a living museum diorama where the rock-and-roll songbook was played in front of a montage of flashback footage and digital video effects.
Not that the mostly middle-aged crowd minded: a Paul McCartney concert is the most perfect expression of baby-boomer nostalgia. Which isn’t to say that there weren’t young people in the crowd: McCartney brought one 20-something signholder onstage and autographed a “Hey Jude” tattoo on her ribcage, joking that “you never know what you’re going to get up here.” That sentiment isn’t exactly true, but who needs surprises when you have a half century of memories to rely on?
Kelly is a freelance writer.