Paul McCartney is many things—knight, Beatle, international treasure—but as his latest tour appearance at Hard Rock Live Wednesday night once again bore out, he is above all a showman. He is possessed of a nostalgic flair for the dramatic set piece, the wizardry of stagecraft, the pomp and circumstance of the destination rock concert at its thrilling peak.
Everything in a McCartney concert is tailored just so, from the pyrotechnics (an exciting, gloriously excessive trademark of “Live and Let Die”) to the raised stage during “Blackbird” to the post-encore confetti showering the pit section. Yes, he sticks to the set list and tells the same stories and recycles the same quips at the same intervals, night after night, tour after tour. Improvisations are scant.
But there is a benefit to his status as the Rolex watch of the pop world, always on (and in) time. Outside of singular visionaries like Roger Waters and David Byrne, McCartney has few parallels to his sense of experiential consistency from venue to venue, every lighting cue and video backdrop and even individual movement of the musicians curated to provide a sensational night for an audience that paid a great deal to see him.
And so, his “Get Back!” tour was another unmitigated success, even with—God forbid—a fewer number of Beatles favorites than his previous tour, at AA Arena in 2017. The cuts were deeper this time around but arguably just as exciting, augmented by McCartney’s ace quartet and a three-piece horn section. Muscular, slow-burning Wings rockers like “Letting Go” and “Let Me Roll It” (newly famous again for its cameo in “Licorice Pizza”) were played with a narcotic heaviness McCartney would seldom approach in his solo repertory or the Beatles’ infectious confections, lending themselves to the Hard Rock’s exemplary size and acoustics.
McCartney divided his diverse 36-song set list across the Beatles’ roughly three periods—the formative years, the exploratory middle years and the experimental final years—with peppered forays into his vintage and recent solo work. A third of the way into the show, the stage essentially shrunk, accommodating a lovely mini set of time-traveling, rustic folk material, from the blissful “I’ve Just Seen a Face” to the Quarrymen’s “In Spite of All the Danger” to “Love Me Do” to his solo piece “Dance Tonight,” each song cut from the same acoustic cloth despite being recorded decades apart and with shifting personnel.
An immersive lighting grid enhanced these expertly played compositions. Highlights included the roving ribbons of green that crisscrossed the stage during “Junior’s Farm” and the thread-thin tapestry of lasers shooting toward the heavens on “Come On to Me.” Every color of the sunrise lent a transcendent warmth to “Band on the Run,” while the exhilarating “Helter Skelter” included a red light a la the HAL 9000 observing the audience from atop the stage amid an epileptic frenzy of flashing lights.
That song also included video of a rollicking journey through a mechanized cosmos (a reminder that this Manson-inspiring tune was actually about a subject as mundane as a carnival ride) across no less than five screens spanning the stage. Across many numbers, McCartney flooded us with stimuli, offering an experience that was often overwhelming. Other memorable graphic backdrops included flowers sprouting amid a post-apocalyptic landscape for “Getting Better,” a video of a diversity parade for “Let ‘Em In,” psychedelic abstractions for the trippy “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” and Chinese lanterns drifting into place and forming a heart in the sky during the sublime, tear-jerking “Let It Be.”
But in a show full of show-stopping spectacles, nothing tugged at the heart more than “I’ve Got a Feeling,” which was supplemented by video of John Lennon—his vocals, taken from Peter Jackson’s “Get Back!” series, carefully isolated—dueting with the live McCartney. If you closed your eyes, you’d think Lennon was in the room with his former partner of the greatest songbook in pop history. This long-desired “reunion” may have been an illusion, but it certainly worked its magic on me, as did the entire transportive evening.
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