Review: Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney at full throttle, Steve Beauchampé reports.

Paul McCartney,
Barclaycard Arena,
May 27th

Back in 2012 Paul McCartney’s voice seemed thin and a tad reedy, audibly less powerful than before. His Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert and London 2012 Olympics appearances were disappointing. As he approached his seventieth birthday there was concern amongst fans and media alike that he might need to scale back his live shows and concentrate on less rockier numbers, both in performance and in the studio.

Well, whatever McCartney’s been taking I’ll be wanting some of it a few years down the line as the world’s biggest selling musical artist is back at full throttle, as evidenced by his 165 minute, forty song, set at Birmingham’s Barclaycard Arena (formerly the NIA) on Wednesday. In his first Birmingham appearance since 2003, McCartney tore through a selection of tunes culled from over half a century of songwriting.

The ex-Quarryman took to the stage in white shirt and blue jacket, soon discarding the latter a few songs into a set that opened with Beatles classic Eight Days A Week, one of several numbers on which he played his trademark 1963 Hofner violin bass guitar. McCartney’s touring band consists of Rusty Anderson (guitar), Brian Ray (bass guitar), Paul Wickens (keyboards) and Abe Laboriel Jnr. (percussion). They’ve been with him since 2002 (Wickens a lot longer) and were clearly enjoying themselves (after all, they’ve got the session job of a lifetime) and Anderson’s solo in Can’t Buy Me Love would have done George Harrison proud.

An excellent sound balance helped both the band and McCartney. This was my first visit to the Arena since it’s £26m makeover and arguably the most marked improvement has been to the venue’s acoustics. Where the old NIA was known for it’s dull and muddy sound, everything is now clear and bright.

Although the show focussed heavily on Beatles music (twenty five songs), an awesome rendition of early solo hit Maybe I’m Amazed (McCartney playing piano from a raised part of the stage on a song written about his first wife Linda) was a contender for the evening’s highlight. Beautifully captured on the video screens by a close up video camera, as was The Long and Winding Road, while a superb Paperback Writer, played stage front on the same guitar used in the original recording lacked only John Lennon’s vocal contribution.

Tributes to John (Here Today) and George (Something, the first segment of which McCartney performed on a ukulele given to him by Harrison) left nary a dry eye in the house, whilst My Valentine, written for his new wife Nancy Shevell, and released in 2012, proved that McCartney still composes wonderful ballads.

Wings-era songs included Listen To What The Man Said and Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five but it was Band on the Run and the James Bond theme Live and Let Die (indoor pyrotechnics and ribbons of flame – I could instantly feel the heat from them half way back in the auditorium) that received the most rousing ovations.

With such an expansive catalogue available McCartney can easily chop and change songs and for the quartet of British dates amongst his current European shows (part of the Paul McCartney is Getting ‘Out There’! tour) he has introduced his 1980 electro pop hit Temporary Secretary and Another Girl, the latter of which he has rarely, if ever, previously sung live.

And I Love Her and Blackbird (performed atop a hydraulic cube which rose above the stage) nestled comfortably alongside Sgt. Pepper classics Lovely Rita and Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite! A raucous All Together Now (from the Yellow Submarine film and album) and Ob La Di, Ob La Da were enjoyed by tonight’s inter-generational audience, before Back in the USSR, Let It Be and Hey Jude closed pre-encore proceedings.

McCartney returned with I Saw Her Standing There and later Helter Skelter and Wings’ Hi, Hi, Hi (nearing the end of a long night but both still sounding vocally strong) and a solo rendition of Yesterday, a song composed almost exactly fifty years ago. Closing with part of the Abbey Road album medley (Carry That Weight, Golden Slumbers, The End), Paul McCartney finally exited with a promise that he’d be back.

Yet given the worldwide demand from fans to see him perform, it’s unlikely that he’ll return to Birmingham for a few years at least. By which time he’ll be in his late seventies or even older, and whilst I’ve no doubt that he’ll still be worth the ticket price, it is perhaps unrealistic and unfair to expect such a full on show as witnessed tonight. From Birmingham’s perspective at least, this really could be the last time.