|April 11, 2002
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
Paul McCartney will turn 60 in June, but the legendary musician's life
and career continue to be dominated by one 10-year period that ended 32
Of course, Beatlemaniacs have no problem with that at all. Nor, it would
seem, does Sir Paul.
The music of the Fab Four prevailed during Macca's 2-1/2-hour performance
here Wednesday, comprising nearly two-thirds of the three dozen songs he
tackled during the first of two sold-out shows at the United Center.
"I would ask you if you're having a good time," the consummate showman
said early in the evening as he basked in his fans' adoration. "But it's
kind of obvious you are."
McCartney's voice remains one of the greatest instruments in rock
history, and it showed little stress or strain as he put it through its
paces on ballads and rockers alike while alternating between guitar,
keyboards, and, naturally, his trademark Hofner bass.
His hired group of Generation X musicians also rose to the occasion,
providing exquisitely tasteful instrumental backing and tight harmony
vocals. Especially valuable were fiery lead guitarist Rusty Anderson and
soulful drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., though Paul "Wix" Wickens showed
impressive range by contributing everything from the analog synthesizer
lines on the Wings anthem "Band On the Run" to the sampled strings on the
Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby."
The show was not without its moments of needless nostalgia. Images of
rampant Beatlemania flashed on the giant video screens suspended overhead as
the group played an otherwise immediate and none-too-dusty "All My Loving."
There were also melodramatic and maudlin tributes to his fallen musical
comrades: the melancholy "Here Today," dedicated to John Lennon (who would
likely have hated the tune), and a version of George Harrison's "Something"
that was performed on a ukulele (which McCartney claimed was the guitarist's
McCartney's late wife and Wings bandmate, Linda, was not mentioned
directly, but he did note that he'd written "Your Loving Flame" for "someone
special," namely his new fiancee, Heather Mills.
The disappointing thing was, the artist didn't really need to play any of
these emotional trump cards, just as he probably didn't really need the
TelePrompTer feeding him lyrics at his feet. The most galvanizing moments
throughout the evening were the ones where he challenged himself the most.
The trio of songs from the recent album "Driving Rain" grew in live
performance because the artist and the band seemed most excited about them,
especially the rollicking "Lonely Road" and the evocative "Driving Rain."
Also daring and rewarding was a mid-set solo acoustic interlude that
found McCartney standing alone and holding the massive crowd riveted with
just his voice and an acoustic guitar as he played the lovely trio of
"Blackbird," "Every Night" and "We Can Work It Out."
More pluses: a spirited reading of the dumb but fun Wings arena-rocker
"Jet"; a psychedelically splendid "Getting Better," which McCartney noted
had never been performed since it was recorded during the Summer of Love; a
kicking "Back in the U.S.S.R." and a transcendent "Maybe I'm Amazed" (a song
that everyone knows he wrote for Linda, and which was more moving for not
being explicitly dedicated to her).
Alas, there were also other minuses, including the horribly cheesy
mock-reggae number "C Moon," and "Coming Up," a solo number that was awful
when it was first released and has been aging even worse.
Overall, though, Macca proved once more that he is the Beatle best suited
for the concert stage because he so obviously loves it and thrives on the
give and take with the audience. There is an undeniable magic in seeing this
icon of rock history loving and living in the music. It's just a shame that,
by setting ticket prices as he did, he limited his audience to a select and
privileged group of his peers.
Has he forgotten what a special experience it was for him when he first
saw Chuck Berry and Little Richard as a Liverpool youth? How that inspired
him and changed his life forever? Why deny younger generations of rock fans
a similar moment with him?
Hey, Paul: Come back soon! And next time, why not play for everyone?