It’s a special year when Paul McCartney tours. That’s a fair comment for his fans around the globe and a gross understatement to followers in Australia, who’ve waited 24 long years for the Beatles great to grace these shores.
The two-time Hall of Famer has gone all-in on this trek Down Under, exploring his career with in-depth interviews and traversing his catalog with marathon concerts. And when his One On One Tourdropped into Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on Saturday — his first solo date in the city — McCartney was in a chatty mood as he took 50,000 fans (and family members) on a journey through his career pre-Beatles to now and shared the stories behind so many of those indelible hits and the bandmates who’re no longer with us.
McCartney promised a party and delivered one with a bumper setlist stacked with works from the Quarrymen’s “In Spite of All the Danger” through to Beatles and Wings standards and up to his 2015 collaboration with Kanye West and Rihanna, “FourFiveSeconds.”
Opening with “A Hard Day’s Night,” the hits kept coming (“All My Loving,” “Lady Madonna,” “Elenor Rigby,” “A Day In The Life,” “Band On The Run” and much more) and tributes flowed. As an outro to Wings’ “Let Me Roll It,” McCartney hit a few lines of “Foxy Lady” on lead guitar and recounted hanging out with for the late great Jimi Hendrix. The guitar virtuoso, we learned, was such a fan of Sgt Pepper’s, he covered the psychedelic rock classic on stage in London. Never one to hold back, Hendrix, according to McCartney, hit the whammy bar so hard his instrument went out of tune and he had the cheek to ask Eric Clapton out of the audience to retune it for him.
There were moving memories of John Lennon (remembered with a performance of “Here Today”), George Martin (“a lovely bloke. He signed us to EMI, without him there would be no Beatles. We have a lot to thank him for”) and George Harrison, whose Abbey Road classic “Something” got a makeover with McCartney opening on ukulele for one of the night’s highlights. McCartney’s retelling of Harrison’s obsession with George Formby and his regular meeting with the comedy actor’s fanclub was a fittingly hilarious homage to a musician who was close friends with the Monty Python comedy crew and, through his Working Title production and distribution company, helped bring The Life of Brian, Time Bandits and Withnail and Ito the big screen.
It was a night of laughter and dancing, of ’60s pop, rock ‘n’ roll, love songs, fireworks (for “Live And Let Die,” of course), psychedelic visuals and family. Seventeen family members were in the audience, including McCartney’s wife Nancy, to whom he paid tribute with the song “My Valentine.” Later, he performed “Maybe I’m Amazed,” a gem dedicated to his late wife Linda and another special moment of the evening.
At 75, McCartney shows no obvious signs of wear and tear, though he did cover himself for any mistakes by blaming the many distracting signs lining the pit. The singer wandered around the stage, reading as he walked. “Shea 65,” read one (“before my time,” quipped McCartney). “German girl would rather hug you than a koala,” read another. And finally, “Can you sign my bot?” McCartney played it like a pro. “Ok, let’s see it,” he said as a full stadium laughed along.
McCartney knows what his fans want and he’s comfortable with his past, even the embarrassing moments. He told of his promotion to lead vocals on “Love Me Do” to accommodate the harmonica. “You can hear the terror in my voice,” said McCartney. In those early days, the Beatles had to take their recording equipment into the Abbey Road Studios via the tradesman entrance, he explained. How things change. And how some stay the same. McCartney tapped into the zeitgeist with a performance of “Blackbird,” a song inspired by the civil rights moment, and asserted John Lennon’s ”Give Peace A Chance” is “now more needed than ever.”
As the set proper came to its conclusion, McCartney bolted back on stage holding aloft the flag of Australia alongside crew members waving the Australian Aboriginal Flag, the Union Flag and a rainbow flag, coming less than a week after the Federal Parliament passed an historic law to legalize same-sex marriage.
McCartney’s encores are typically epic — only a master with a catalog so deep can hold so much back until the end. And with a mini-set of “Yesterday,” “Get Back,” “Mull of Kintyre,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Helter Skelter,” “Golden Slumbers,” “The End,” McCartney was just showing off.
It all could have turned out to be a damp squib had Mother Nature called the shots. Just an hour before the gates opened, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology sent out a damning assessment of the weather conditions. Severe thunderstorms were on the way to Brisbane, with “large hailstones and damaging winds.” Those threat never came to pass. A Beatle, it seems, can force back hail and storms and the worst of the elements.