There's a great moment in the Beatles Anthology documentary when Paul McCartney is asked about the oft-proposed theory that the White Album would have been better if its 30 tracks had been pared down to a single album. McCartney replies, "You know, I'm not a great one for that, 'Maybe it was too many of them.' What d'you mean? It was great, it sold, it's the bloody Beatles' White Album, shut up."
McCartney and his four-piece backing band played a thorough career survey in Portland's Moda Center on Friday night, playing songs from as early as 1959 (the Quarrymen's "In Spite of All the Danger") to last year (McCartney's collaboration with Rihanna and Kanye West, "FourFiveSeconds"). In between he played monstrously popular songs from both the Beatles and his solo catalog—playing more songs that actually appeared on the White Album, for that matter—and if moments of the set came off a little cheesy or if the 73-year-old rocker strained to hit some of the high notes, all I have to say is: It was great, it sold out, it's the bloody Paul McCartney concert, shut up.
The Portland crowd rapturously received hit after hit after hit, and McCartney seemed dapper and spry, like a mischievous grandpa who still makes the kids laugh with jokes he's been telling for 50 years. Kicking off with "A Hard Day's Night"—reportedly never played by Paul since the mid '60s until this tour—the sheer amount of familiar songs was staggering: "I've Got a Feeling," "Let Me Roll It," "The Fool on the Hill," which were leavened with relative obscurities, like the angular "Temporary Secretary" and the gloopy "My Valentine." McCartney's voice has aged, which was noticeable early in the set when he took the piano for "Here There and Everywhere" and particularly "Maybe I'm Amazed." But soon his voice warmed up and he was able to hit the high notes with ease—especially impressive when one considers all the songs were performed in their original key signatures. (No other rock star his age does this.)
McCartney's capable backing band played an acoustic mini-set midway through, and Paul did solo acoustic performances of "Blackbird" and the John Lennon memorial song "Here Today." He later paid another tribute to Lennon by performing "Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite!" (which Lennon sung originally) and strummed ukulele in memory of George Harrison on "Something," one of the concert's emotional highlights (the full band later chimed in to recreate the Abbey Road track's familiar slow-dance arrangement).
Sir Paul told some amusing stories about his days in the Beatles, including when Hendrix covered "Sgt. Pepper" the same weekend the album was released, and his solo years, including memories of the late Linda McCartney and when his band was the first rock band to play Red Square. The show almost went off the rails when he invited a couple on stage who seemed to want Paul to marry them despite the fact that they weren't even engaged. McCartney seemed slightly nonplussed by their craziness, and instructed the man to get down on one knee and propose properly. He then rushed them off the stage and got on with the show.
By the time the show entered hour three, the limberness of McCartney and his backing band and the ecstasy of the audience proved hard to deny. Yes, songs like "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," "Let It Be," and especially "Hey Jude" are practically clichés now, but that fact robbed none of their power when the actual man behind them was performing them. The first few rows could feel the heat off the, literally, explosive pyrotechnics during "Live and Let Die," but they were musically matched by the band replicating the McCartney/Harrison/Lennon triple guitar solo from "The End" at the show's finale.
In other words, it was a fantastic show by one of the most significant musicians in history. Paul McCartney showed that he a gifted songwriter, singer, bass player, guitarist, and pianist on Friday night (and a credible ukulele player as well), but he also showed that part of his gift is in his people-pleasing abilities. Here's a man who loves the crowd as much as they love him, and it made for an unforgettable night.