I can’t remember life without Paul McCartney. I’m dating myself, but one of my very earliest childhood memories was seeing McCartney and The Beatles performing “All My Loving” on the "Ed Sullivan Show" back in September of 1964.
I’ve owned his music — with and without The Beatles — on vinyl, eight-track, cassette, CD and MP3s. As a musician, his work has been beyond influential; it’s the yardstick that I, and entire generations, have used to measure artistic and commercial success. How many times have we all heard phrases like “They’re going to be as big as The Beatles” or “They’re good, but they aren’t The Beatles”?
So, when it was announced that McCartney was going to play Yankee Stadium on July 15 and 16, I pulled all my Guitar World strings and managed to get really good seats for the first night. Going to see a boyhood hero in the twilight of his career can be a risky proposition, but I’m happy to report that even at the age of 69, the forever-young legend ripped through 35 songs (not including medleys) with the verve of a man half his age. Almost to make a point about his stamina, he saved “Helter Skelter,” his heaviest and most demanding song, for his 34th song.
As he bounded out and kicked the show off with a crisp performance of The Beatles' psychedelic classic “Hello, Goodbye,” I turned to the person next to me and said it was like “seeing frickin’ Abraham Lincoln.” They rolled their eyes, but what I meant was we were watching a truly historic individual. I mean, who among the living has had more cultural impact and is more beloved than Paul McCartney? The Pope? Nelson Mandela? If there’s a list, it’s a pretty damn short one.
Anyway, Paul and his excellent band played most of the biggies — “Let It Be,” “Hey Jude,” “Band on the Run,” etc. — but the nerd in me loved the surprises such as “Junior’s Farm,” “The Night Before,” “I Will” and an excellently rocking “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five.”
From an instrumental point of view, Paul spent equal time on bass, piano, acoustic guitar and electric guitar, ripping some surprising hot lead work on “Let Me Roll It,” which segued into a mini-Jimi Hendrix tribute version of “Foxy Lady.” As McCartney explained, Hendrix once played a version of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and he was belatedly returning the favor.
But the highlight of the evening for me, as corny as it sounds, was when Paul put on his iconic Hofner violin bass and played “All My Loving.” He performed it with such joy and enthusiasm that it seemed like only days had passed since the Ed Sullivan show, not four decades.
Brad Tolinski is the editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine.