When we talk about a Paul McCartney concert in 2022, we’re not really discussing an arena-packing event, the icon’s legendary career, or even really music at all.
We’re really talking about life and death.
As soon as McCartney’s tour-opening stop at Spokane Arena was announced back in February, every conversation I heard about the show didn’t center around potential set lists or Sir Paul’s live energy or anything of that sort. The topic was universally a really morbid strain of capitalistic discourse.
“I mean… those tickets are crazy expensive, but… you know… is this our last chance?”
Sure, there are no indications that the 79-year-old is going to retire from performing anytime soon, but we can all still feel that clock ticking. Even if he lives till 100, he’s not going to be arena rocking for 21 more years. And he’s almost certainly never going out of his way to get back to Spokane again.
Realistically, this was many of our only chances to see the legend live. It’s not the most pleasant backdrop for a fun rock concert, but it’s the actually unspoken one that exists.
And I don’t think this is lost on McCartney. Because the “Got Back” tour serves as an encapsulation of his musical life that doesn’t shy away from the fact that death is a part of living.
Over the course of a set spanning two-and-a-half hours and 36 songs, McCartney took the audience on a musical journey of his life touching on the early days of the Quarrymen, Wings, newer solo material, and, of course, plenty of the Beatles’ timeless tunes. Like all our lives, things weren’t perfect throughout the night, but even moments that weren’t standout highlights still felt lived-in.
There’s a certain simplicity to McCartney’s live show even after decades of being one of the world’s premiere rock stars. Opening with a blissful rendition of “Can’t Buy Me Love” he set this tone from the jump. Sure, there is a dazzling light show, giant video screens, and a wild pyrotechnic display for “Live and Let Die,” but at its core his live show is fairly streamlined. It’s just Paul and four other guys ripping through classic songs (with accompaniment on some tunes by a three-piece horn section).
While McCartney could get away with pretentiousness, it just doesn’t appear to be part of his DNA. It feels like he’s content sharing these songs that are dear to him and so many, while being relatively unconcerned with trying to be the greatest rock band in the world. He still revels in telling stories between songs about the early days of The Beatles or seeing Jimi Hendrix live. He’s still the playful lad from Liverpool who makes stage banter jokes when people yell out unintelligible things at him and likes trying to read the signs in the audience.
And the audience ate up that playful energy. As McCartney’s fans have aged with him (or at least the ones who can afford to go to one of his shows), the shrieking ways of Beatlemania days have subsided (except for the one point when he specifically asks for those high-pitched cries), but they’ve been replaced by an incredible sense of communal warmth that’s unlike almost any other concert I’ve attended. It feels like everyone is embraced in a collective spiritual hug for over two hours.
It should come as no surprise that people freaked out for every Beatles song (all 21 of them), and that they served as the high points of the set. Backed by Beatles imagery on the screens, renditions of “Got to Get You Into My Life” and “Get Back” whipped the arena into a frenzy. When he stepped alone onto a raising platform with just his guitar to play a rendition of “Blackbird,” it was a moment of pure tenderness and joy that felt intimate even among 10,000 strangers.
And while every time he dipped into newer solo material you could feel a collective lull in the energy (also occasionally hampered by past music video footage prominently featuring Johnny Depp, which felt incredibly odd considering his abuse/defamation legal situation currently), it still felt like an earned part of McCartney telling his musical story.
And death is part of the musical journey. When he stopped to talk about John Lennon before playing “Here Today” and chatted about George Harrison after playing “Something,” they became communal moments of mourning and celebration. The most buzzed about moment came during the first song of the encore, where McCartney was able to sing a posthumous duet with Lennon via the footage from the Get Back documentary with isolated audio. In lesser hands, this might’ve felt someway exploitative, but the way Paul pulled it off felt like a beautifully melancholy moment among old friends.
It should be noted that we’ve reached the point where you can hear the age in McCartney’s voice. He’s no spring chicken, so he can’t pack quite the same vocal punch as he once did. You can hear the thinness on certain songs that require a bit more belting like “Maybe I’m Amazed,” but it doesn’t ever reach the point of dragging the concert down. Again, it’s part of the musical life.
The mild vocal instability actually led to the best moment of the show. “Let It Be” always resonates, but the warble in McCartney’s voice added a new level of fragile resonance to the tune. It somehow amplified the song’s emotional wallop. After a rough few years, it felt like a sonic candle flame of hope barely flickering in the darkness.
By the end of the night the vibe in the arena was less one of a rock show and more of a religious gathering. The crowd wasn’t worshiping at the alter of McCartney as much as they were praising the holy spirit of these songs that enriched their lives. These tunes transcended merely being a soundtrack to their lives into being living characters – friends – that they’ve traveled with their whole lives. The concert was a baptism cleansing away some of the angst of the past few pandemic years. It was a funeral for Paul’s lost creative partners. The high priest delivered words of wisdom to live by: “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” The gathered congregation raised their arms and sang along. Instead of “hallelujah,” we belted out “Na na na nananana, nananana, hey Jude…” This might’ve be the final mass for many, but that was a reason for celebration not sorrow.