You could forgive Paul McCartney for wanting to retire from live shows. For more than five decades, the musician has been ricocheting from venue to venue – and yet, at 76, he continues to do so with as much apparent fervour as when he was a fresh-faced youth fronting The Beatles.
His tour-closing performance at London’s O2 Arena exceeds three hours with a set spanning “new ones, old ones, and in between ones”. It’s a carefully curated time tunnel of Beatles tracks, Wings gems and solo favourites, during which the showman, casually kitted out in a bomber jacket and jeans, puts no step wrong.
McCartney promises a “celebration” and that’s precisely what he delivers. The opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” kicks things off, serving as the ultimate rabble-rouser for an audience clearly in awe. He whams at his guitar to Sixties ditties “All My Loving” and “From Me to You”, brings tears to eyes via White Album stand-out “Blackbird”, and croons away behind a piano for epics “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Hey Jude.”
Even tracks from his most recent chart-topper, Egypt Station, receive a deservedly warm response. Released this autumn, his first record in five years features numerous crowd-pleasers (see: “Fuh You” and “Come On to Me”) that tonight serve as a necessary reprieve from the welcome, if overwhelming, onslaught of classics.
He performs with a vibrancy that belies the fact he’s played the majority of these songs hundreds of times before. Unlike, say, Bob Dylan – whose recent live shows are something of a chore due to his refusal to address the audience – McCartney has one intention: to thrill. He careens about the stage, cheekily winking at select members of the crowd, and still reaches the falsettos he was hitting decades ago. Even after all these years, his voice shows surprisingly little sign of wear.
See the gallery below for pictures by Aaron Parsons Photography
It’s his generous willingness to reel off anecdotes about musical icons of old that truly sets this show apart, telling tales about John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, to name but a few (recalling, for instance, how Hendrix performed the Sgt Pepper’s title track at a live show just three days after it was released in 1967). The crowd – which includes Emma Thompson, Harry Styles and Geri Halliwell – has the air of a church congregation, all gathered to worship their idol. But any rock star coolness is rather endearingly cancelled out by his dad jokes. “Brings me back,” he quips after conducting a cacophony of cheers from the women in the crowd.
The evening’s biggest surprise arrives when McCartney welcomes Ringo Starr and Rolling Stone guitarist Ronnie Wood onto the stage for a rollicking encore performance of “Get Back”. The trio flash grins at one another as they enjoy their jamming session – albeit one in front of 20,000 people – that’s delightfully capped with a sea of embraces. It’s an early Christmas gift for all, and one that McCartney follows with the rare, and rather timely, deployment of festive favourite “Wonderful Christmastime”, accompanied by the Capital Children’s Choir. It’s the apex of a show that will never be forgotten.
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