Concert: Paul McCartney in Las Vegas
Fifty years into a performing and recording career for the ages, Paul McCartney can still surprise and dazzle, as he proved on stage Friday (6/10) in Las Vegas.
The former Beatle's show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena capped his 2011 "Up and Coming" tour, while tweaking his setlist with a couple of possible previews of what's in store for the "On the Run" tour that he'll kick off July 15 at New York's Yankee Stadium.
McCartney began the show on firm footing with The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour," but the energy from the stage and audience blossomed considerably as the band followed with "Junior's Farm," a 1974 single re-introduced at a private show for Hewlett Packard employees the night before, but not played live in recent memory before that -- possibly not since Wings played it around the time of release. McCartney's gritty wail of the song's closing line, "Take me back... I wanna go back," could not have voiced the mood of the room more succinctly.
The set paced quite well, darting from Beatles songs to Wings songs to solo McCartney material, with no shortage of rockers to keep most of the crowd on their feet. With the rich set of pop music gems at his disposal, McCartney can head into endless nooks and crannies should he want to, and really not lose anyone in the process. Case in point: the arena-wide singalong to the aforementioned "Junior's Farm."
McCartney's voice showed a little wear early on, seeming hoarse through his piano set that kicked off with "Long And Winding Road" and included surprise set addition "Maybe I'm Amazed," which he really seemed to struggle with in the early verses. The song, which he said he surprised the band and crew with, earned him a standing ovation from many in the crowd, likely in part for the obvious effort involved keeping it together as his voice threatened to crack.
But he played through the rough spots and, with his excellent band, powered through 33 songs in just over two and a half hours, which would be quite a feat for a frontman half his age (McCartney will turn 69 on June 18).
As reported earlier, the evening moved into historic milestone territory late in the show as video cameras captured Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon and Olivia Harrison leading the sing-along of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" from their seats just off the side of the stage. McCartney performed the Lennon song as a medley with The Beatles' "A Day In The Life."
The John Lennon and George Harrison family members were in town along with Beatles producer George Martin and his son Giles to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Cirque Du Soleil's "The Beatles' Love" production, which continues its permanent staging at the city's Mirage hotel and casino.
Ringo Starr, the only surviving member of the Beatles besides McCartney, was unable to make the ceremony or McCartney's concert, as his own band is touring in Europe.
"Give Peace A Chance" wasn't McCartney's only nod to a signature tune from his former bandmates. He introduced George Harrison's "Something" with a story about how he visited Harrison -- who McCartney said was an excellent ukulele player -- and showed him that he'd learned "Something" on the instrument. He'd actually brought a ukulele that Harrison gifted him with on the tour, and proceeded to play the bouncy, ukulele version until the rest of the band rolled in at the guitar break to finish out the song in Beatles style while a photo montage of Harrison played across the stage screens. A very touching tribute, played out beautifully.
Ultimately, the show proved that McCartney's contributions to recent decades of pop music are simply massive. And his generosity as a performer still clearly focused on delivering his songs very true to their original versions isn't lost on an audience who will gladly pay top dollar to relive many of those moments in the presence of an Original Beatle.
For a generation of fans who can still likely name the first Beatles album they bought and describe where they were the night they heard that John Lennon died, a night like Friday's is a whole lot more than a concert -- it's an intimate-feeling journey with someone who's populated their lifetime with indelible sonic touchstones. In a word, priceless.
Video: McCartney's performance of "Something" in tribute to George Harrison.
Magical Mystery Tour
All My Loving
Got To Get You Into My life
Sing the Changes
Let Me Roll It
The Long and Winding Road
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
Let 'Em In
Maybe I'm Amazed
I'm Looking Through You
And I Love Her
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
I've Got a Feeling
A Day in the Life / Give Peace A Chance
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) / The End