Deconstructing Paul

Can a 71-year-old ex-Beatle offer something new?

Mark Caro

12:15 PM EDT, July 20, 2013



When Paul McCartney asked how many people packing Miller Park on Tuesday night were from Milwaukee, loud cheers erupted. When he asked how many were from Chicago, the cheers were even louder, perhaps to compete with boos from the Milwaukee folks.

Wherever the fans were from, they got to enjoy yet another marathon show from the indefatigable 71-year-old in sweltering conditions not unlike those at his two Wrigley Field appearances two summers ago. The news on this tour is that he's playing five Beatles songs that neither he nor his former band had ever performed live. But how are he and his voice holding up?

Some listening notes from Milwaukee:

1. "Eight Days a Week"

McCartney and band get the sing-and-clap-along energy going with this 1964 single that John Lennon deemed "lousy" in his 1980 Playboy interview. Although it never previously cracked a Beatles or McCartney set list, it proves a happy, effective opener.

2. "Junior's Farm"

3. "All My Loving"

Man, McCartney's voice sounds good. Oh, those falsettos …

4. "Listen to What the Man Said"

This New Orleans-flavored 1975 Wings hit appeared on the recently reissued 1976 live album "Wings Over America" but had been in mothballs till this tour. McCartney's touring band of 11 years gives it the right groove and bounce, though Paul "Wix" Wickens emulates the original sax parts on a synth.

5. "Let Me Roll It" (with a Jimi Hendrix "Foxy Lady" instrumental coda)

This "Band on the Run" track and McCartney concert staple keeps getting harder and heavier — a good thing.

6. "Paperback Writer"

7. "My Valentine"

McCartney dedicates this, his credible stab at an old-fashioned pop standard, to wife Nancy Shevell in the audience. Released on last year's "Kisses on the Bottom" album, it's the set's newest song by 30 years.

8. "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five"

McCartney lets out a huge "Yeaaaaah!" as he pounds the piano while powerhouse drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. pushes the beat during the song's extended climax.

9. "The Long and Winding Road"

Here's my nit to pick with McCartney: He notoriously hated Phil Spector's overblown production on this ballad, and the spare "Let It Be … Naked" version was released as a corrective, yet when he plays the song live, he has Wix synthesize the Spector orchestrations. At least there's no choir.

10. "Maybe I'm Amazed"

I think I've figured out part of why McCartney's voice sounds so much better here than in recent TV appearances: On TV his voice is mixed way up, and you hear every crack and strain. Here he's belting over loud background vocals — and his bandmates putting the power back into "power ballad" — so you feel his passion without scrutinizing every vocal detail. That he's killing it tonight also helps.

11. "I've Just Seen a Face"

12. "We Can Work It Out"

13. "Another Day"

McCartney said this 1971 single was making its live debut on this tour, but he did perform it at some 1993 shows. It's one of those early solo songs derided as lightweight at the time (and skewered in Lennon's "How Do You Sleep?") that now holds up as both charming and deceptively complex.

14. "And I Love Her"

15. "Blackbird"

Offering his usual introduction about how the Civil Rights movement inspired this solo acoustic song, McCartney makes no reference to more recent events.

16. "Here Today"

His voice cracks a bit on "tears," which suits the emotion of this acoustic tribute to Lennon. Sweet falsetto on the last line.

17. "Your Mother Should Know"

As the story goes, the Beatles needed a song for the "Our World" live international TV special, and Paul came up with "Your Mother Should Know" and John came up with "All You Need Is Love." Guess which won? Paul's chirpy piano tune wound up in "Magical Mystery Tour" and makes a winning live debut on this tour.

18. "Lady Madonna"

19. "All Together Now"

"That was one of the more intellectually challenging ones," McCartney quips after acoustic-strumming through this singalong ditty that wound up in the "Yellow Submarine" film but wasn't performed live until this tour.

20. "Lovely Rita"

Also making its live debut, a tad sluggishly, is McCartney's cheeky pop ode to a "meter maid" from "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

21. "Mrs. Vandebilt"

22. "Eleanor Rigby"

23. "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"

The last and most intriguing of the tour's "new" songs is a psychedelic Lennon "Sgt. Pepper" contribution complete with swirling circus-music samples and McCartney singing about "10 somersets he'll undertake." All five live Beatle-song debuts fall into the "fun" category, as opposed to the "showstopper" category.

24. "Something"

25. "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"

26. "Band on the Run"

27. "Back in the U.S.S.R."

"FREE PUSSY RIOT" appears in big block letters on the video screen in support of the feminist punk rockers imprisoned in Russia for denigrating President Vladimir Putin. Also, we're almost two hours in, and I have yet to see the sticky-shirted McCartney take a sip of water.

28. "Let It Be"

The website Setlist.fm has this as the song McCartney has performed most: 473 times so far. In second place is the song after next.

29. "Live and Let Die"

30. "Hey Jude"

You've heard and sung along to it a zillion times, but as perhaps the greatest single of the rock 'n' roll era, it remains potent the zillion-and-oneth time.

First encore

31. "Day Tripper"

32. "Hi, Hi, Hi"

"You wanna get high on life?" McCartney asks in introducing this Wings rocker, which he's playing live for the first time since 1976. OK, Paul, but when this single was released in 1972, no one thought getting high on life was what you had in mind.

33. "Get Back"

They're slamming this one. How is McCartney's voice holding up so well?

Second encore

34. "Yesterday"

35. "Helter Skelter"

36. "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End"

He's trading searing solos with fellow guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, and then he's singing, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make," and it hits you hard: That guy … that guy right there … wrote these songs and is still performing them with such joy and energy at age 71, and, geez, that "love you take" line sure is profound, and, whoa, what's that lump in my throat? I'd love to hear him take more chances on less universally known songs, but he's one of the wonders of the world at this point. Appreciate the greats while they're here today, and maybe you'll be amazed.


Twitter @MarkCaro