Last week, in the lead-up to his tour of Australia and New Zealand, Sir Paul McCartney returned to Subiaco, Perth – where he had opened his most recent Australian tour in 1993 – to host an intimate, rare fan Q&A at the Regal Theatre.
He had spent the week rehearsing at the venue, and on Thursday invited 10 competition winners and their guests to shake his hand, ask him questions, and have him play them an intimate set.
Many had clearly waited a lifetime for an opportunity like this. The group spanned the generations, from a nine-year-old with his dad – both decked out in blue Sgt Pepper’s uniforms – to people of grandparent age.
With more than 50 years of historic songwriting behind him, he explained, there was a rich catalogue to mine when it came to creating setlists. “I’ll sit down and think, ‘If I was going to our show, what would I wanna see him do?’” McCartney said. “It’s basically to please the audience and I’m not ashamed to say that, because they pay good money to come see a show. I remember, when I was a kid, I’d go to shows and some of them would be a bit disappointing and I’d think, ‘Oh, there goes my pocket money’.”
In an experience that won’t be repeated on this tour, he followed with a set that ferried through favourites such as Drive My Car, I’ve Got A Feeling and Lady Madonna, to an audience consisted of the first three rows of an otherwise empty theatre.
Come Saturday at the NIB Stadium, about 24,000 fans streamed in under a full moon for very different show: rock for the ages again, of course, but this time writ large.
It has been so long since the last go-round that the majority were seeing McCartney in Perth for the very first time. A jet quite appropriately flew overhead moments before the lights went down, and McCartney, armed with his iconic 1963 Höfner Violin Bass, strolled onstage with his left hand raised in the air, index finger pointed to the sky.
Suddenly Hard Day’s Night was happening to an audience who seemed awestruck that this was happening at all. The chunky lead guitar break was handled by axemen Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, paying wondrous heed to the raw quality of the original song. A smile and wave from Macca led into Wings’ 1975 cracker Junior’s Farm, “guitarmonies” and all.
“G’day Perth, how you going?” McCartney enquired. “I get a feeling we are going to have a good time here tonight. There’ll be old songs, new songs and some in between and the next is from the first category.”
Can’t Buy Me Love certainly was from that first category, as was All My Loving and the pre-Beatles Quarrymen tune, In Spite Of All The Danger. Alternating with those were Wings-era classics Letting Go and Let Me Roll It, featuring an impressive outro encompassing Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady, with McCartney taking the lead on a psychedelic red Les Paul.
He remembered Hendrix as “a really nice, humble man,” who honoured the Beatles by opening a show with the titular Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band two days after its release: Eric Clapton was in the audience that night, and Hendrix asked him if he could retune his guitar.
As these songs and stories were reeled off, if it wasn’t your own life flashing before your eyes it was certainly someone else’s. The tales and contexts were delivered in McCartney’s sing-songy speaking voice, still so recognisable and endearing.
The raspy shouts required for the likes of I’ve Got A Feeling and, later, Helter Skelter (stolen back from the recently-deceased Charles Manson, who rightly received no mention) are still there, and although they have matured and are handled with more fragility. McCartney and his audience have aged with this voice through the years. The growl sounds older, but it’s from the same heart.
Tributes to McCartney’s lost-and-loved abounded, from memories of Sir George Martin’s vocal instructions preceding Love Me Do, to a beautiful, ukulele-led rendition of George Harrison’s Something, led by McCartney on a uke that had been gifted to him by the “Quiet Beatle” himself. Maybe I’m Amazed was introduced as a song written “for Linda”, Here Today was offered as a conversation he and John Lennon never got to have, and A Day In The Life segued into a singalong finale of Give Peace A Chance.
The Macca moments were still in full force, from And I Love Her to a wondrous solo rendition of Blackbird – these gentler songs pepping up what was becoming an oddly subdued audience – and a show-stopping Lady Madonna. He preceded a suite of “new” songs Queenie Eye and New by correctly predicting that the enthusiastic glow of mobile phones would suddenly become a “black hole”, but his collaboration with Kanye West and Rhianna, FourFiveSeconds, was well-received.
Of course, it’s hard to compete with songs – and their anecdotes – such as Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite! (“the lyrics were all on a poster on John’s wall,”) and I Wanna Be Your Man (“we were in a cab with Mick and Keith and the Stones had just been signed but Mick said, ‘we haven’t got a single’”), or milestones including Band On The Run or Back In The USSR.
And that’s before you get to the utterly inspirational Let It Be and Hey Jude (with sublime work from keyboardist Paul Wickens), the latter with na-na-na-na’s to the heavens; or the song that split them, the firework-blasting Live And Let Die, in this case stolen back (again) from Guns N’ Roses. At this point, Macca had them in the palm of his hands.
A previously hinted-at marriage proposal became a reality, as Perth man Martyn Davison was given the stage to ask his sweetheart, Saya Imai, to be his wife – with Paul McCartney informally officiating. It was a sweetness that was appropriately followed by the rarely-performed Mull Of Kintyre (incorporating the WA Police Pipe Band), and the ever-celebratory Birthday.
It could only, possibly, conclude with a definitive finish, and the triumvirate wrap-up of 1969’s Abbey Road B-side medley, Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight and The End brought the curtain down on a history shared with a man who surely must be considered as the premier surviving force in contemporary music over the last 100 years.
“And in the end,” McCartney had serenaded, “the love you take, is equal to the love you make …” As thousands exited the stadium into the latter part of Saturday night, it was clear that people had had nowhere near enough of silly love songs. And, if you’d like to know, there’s nothing wrong with that.
• Paul McCartney’s One on One tour continues in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Auckland through December
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
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