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Review: Paul McCartney still stirs crowds after 6 decades of performing

May 28, 2019

A few weeks shy of his 77th birthday, Paul McCartney has nothing left to prove to anyone. He’s been in the public eye for more than five decades and is obviously accustomed to adulation.

Monday night at a packed-to-the-rafters PNC Arena, he was even cheered for taking off his coat at one point.

“That was the big wardrobe change of the whole evening,” he said.

But it is to McCartney’s credit that he still works hard to earn that adulation. He puts a surpassing amount of effort into songs he’s sung 1,000 times, and none of Monday night’s show felt the least bit rote.

McCartney’s first Raleigh performance since 2002 clocked in at just under three hours, with 38 songs spanning his career before, during and after the Beatles (even including the first tune he ever recorded, “In Spite of All the Danger” by the pre-Beatles group The Quarrymen). And yet some of his best-known songs weren’t even in the set list – “Yesterday,” “Hello, Goodbye” and “Penny Lane” among them.

For most acts, an enduring landmark like “Let It Be” would be the obvious closing number. But McCartney has written at least a dozen other songs just as iconic as that one, so he dropped “Let It Be” in eight songs from the end – it wasn’t even the pre-encore closer.

Along with the most platinum-plated catalog of the rock era, Monday’s show featured an extremely skilled band (especially Abe Laboriel Jr., a monster drummer and occasional quite funny backup dancer) and lots of low-key virtuosity from McCartney himself. In addition to the distinctive Hofner bass he’s been playing since Beatles days, McCartney also played electric as well as acoustic guitar, piano, mandolin and a ukulele that the late George Harrison gave him on a lovely cover of the Harrison-penned Beatles standard “Something.”

Inevitably, McCartney’s voice is not what it once was, and there were times when his singing wavered. But there was poignance in that, too, an acknowledgement of time gone by and just how much McCartney’s music has meant to so many over the years. He wore those rough edges proudly on the solo acoustic portion of the program, performing the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and his 1982 John Lennon tribute “Here Today” from a raised platform above the stage.

Of course, having the Beatles’ soundtrack-of-a-generation nostalgia to draw on helped a good bit. There were stretches when so much of the audience sang along that McCartney himself was difficult to hear.

As for the newer songs from McCartney’s latest album “Egypt Station,” well, they didn’t get nearly the crowd response of the oldies. But the self-aware McCartney was a good sport about it.

“We can tell what songs you like,” he said at one point. “When we do a Beatles song, the phones come out and it’s like a galaxy of stars. Then we do a new one and it’s like a black hole. But we don’t care!”

That was the lead-in to a new song called “Fuh You,” which quite honestly wasn’t much. Far more entertaining was the running between-song dialogue McCartney carried on with various signs that people in the crowd held up.

“’Sign my butt,’” he read at one point, peering out into the audience. And after first shaking his head no, he quipped, “Go on, then, let’s have a look at it.”

While post-Beatles Wings songs dominated the early part of the set, the closing stretch was pretty much one Beatles classic after another, hit after hit after hit – “Hey Jude,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Helter Skelter.” And what did he close the show with? The album-ending “Abbey Road” suite concluding with “The End,” of course, and it could not have been more perfect.

“We’ll see you next time,” McCartney said, taking a bow and waving to the crowd.

We’ll hold you to that.

David Menconi is a music critic, arts reporter and WRAL Out and About contributor.

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