Paul McCartney, Pop Music History in Person, and in Detail
By BEN RATLIFF
New York Times
Published: October 2, 2005
Paul McCartney performed Friday night at Madison Square Garden. His tour coincides with a new album, but his set list spanned nearly 50 years.
Paul McCartney recently told an interviewer that he was still uneasy with the fact that he had become "an old white cat."
All right, yes, up to a point.
Mr. McCartney, 63, is a product first of time, place, class, geography and bombing raids, and later a product of all that has sparked his competitive will.
Beatleography is awash with references to Mr. McCartney's being spooked by one thing or another and needing to take a run at it, whether a Motown song, a Brian Wilson vocal arrangement, or a Who detonation.
His concert at Madison Square Garden on Friday night bulged with reminders of his competitiveness, and rendered him properly complex. No amount of rationalizing about music-hall songs and Merseybeat really explains how a song like his new "English Tea" - a twee reverie about hollyhocks and roses that actually uses the word twee, as well as the King James archaism "peradventure" - exists in relation to the arrant screamer "Helter Skelter," its polar opposite.
He performed both of those, amid a generous number of new tracks and songs he hasn't performed live before, in a 2-hour-40-minute show complete with a 10-minute biographical video.
This was detail work, carefully executed, and engineered to exercise memories.
The guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, the keyboardist Paul Wickens and the drummer Abe Laboriel reproduced most of the fills and solos from the songs' original versions, whether by the Beatles, or Wings, or Mr. McCartney himself - as in "Too Many People," from the 1971 album "Ram," full of the shaggy inspiration that is only hinted at on his new album, "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard."
Mr. McCartney, if you're just tuning into the subject of popular music, likes a certain amount of order.
The semi-creative shamble of the current Rolling Stones, who played on the same stage last month, holds little interest for him.
Although there was a dispiriting corniness about the moments when Mr. Wickens's synthesizer copied other instrumental tones just for the sake of staying true to holy writ - the strings from "Yesterday," or the piccolo trumpet solo from "Penny Lane" - these were in the service of a long and well-chosen retrospective.
It encompassed the bombastic "Live and Let Die," with explosions and flame-pots shooting red and green; the country ballad "In Spite of All the Danger," from 1958, one of the earliest tracks Mr. McCartney recorded with the pre-Beatles quintet the Quarrymen; "I'll Get You," a relative rarity from 1963 with signature "oh yeahs"; the droning, biting Wings track "Let Me Roll It"; and a lot of Mr. McCartney alone with either guitar or piano, as on "I Will," "Fixing a Hole," "Blackbird" and that song's cousin, the new "Jenny Wren."
Ever on the up-and-up, he kept returning, cheerily waving his guitars aloft and praising New York. (At one juncture he waved an American flag on a long pole.)
He ended up delivering encores from two Beatles albums: the reprise version of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "The End," from "Abbey Road."
But of all the heavyweights he saved for the end, it took "Hey Jude" to get a serious commotion: the song's moral atmosphere, its singalong section, its mantralike repetition, hit the aging parents and their children where they lived.
Paul McCartney's tour continues Tuesday and Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, Saturday at the MCI Center in Washington, Oct. 10 at the Air Canada Center in Toronto, and Oct. 14 and 15 at the Palace of Auburn Hills, nearDetroit.