Once and forever a Beatle

April 11, 2002



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 years ago.

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 favorite instrument).

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?