Paul McCartney didn’t used to be cool. Even back in the Nineties, when the Beatles-indebted Britpop scene was in its pomp, “Macca” always seemed like a cheesy elder statesman. He was a bit dad jeans. A bit Alan Partridge. Both thumbs seemingly fixed permanently aloft. It was John Lennon, the band’s truculent rebel, who the Gallagher brothers deified and all the hip young bands wanted to imitate. Back then, Lennon’s “Imagine” seemed like a secular hymn, a sincere manifesto for a better world. These days it’s that song out-of-touch celebrities sing to show how out-of-touch they are.
If Lennon’s stock has fallen in the last three decades, McCartney’s has only risen. A passionate vegetarian who has long been vocal about the need to protect the planet, his inherent niceness is now lauded as a virtue. Most recently, his reputation has been further burnished by the release of Peter Jackson’s immersive Get Back documentary, which delighted Beatles fans by taking them inside the recording of the band’s final album, Let It Be, and made it crystal clear just how much of a driving force McCartney really was in the creation of that record, and in the band in general.
The spry 79-year-old’s current tour, which arrived at Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium on Friday night (13 May), nods to the impact of Jackson’s film with its title: Got Back. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours, which seem to fly by, it lives up to the promise of that name. Early on in the show, McCartney says he and his well-drilled backing band will play “some old songs, some new songs and some in-between songs”, but the balance is generously tipped in favour of the classics. Of the 36 songs he plays 21 are Beatles songs, while another is his heartfelt tribute to Lennon: 1982’s “Here Today”, written in the wake of his old friend’s murder in 1980, and delivered here with devastating sincerity. He even makes room for a pre-Beatles song, “In Spite Of All The Danger”, which McCartney wrote in 1958 and was the first tune ever recorded by The Quarrymen. He introduces it by recalling the day in Liverpool he and his bandmates – Lennon and George Harrison as well as “Colin and Duff” – put in £1 each to pay to cut the song onto shellac. Moments later, when he’s leading a Californian stadium packed with 70,000 fans singing along to it, it’s hard not to be stunned by the recognition of everything McCartney achieved in the intervening 64 years.
The set is packed full of the best of it. We get a taste of those thrilling early Beatles records, like opener “Can’t Buy Me Love” and the band’s debut 1962 single “Love Me Do”, but even more from the period, just a handful of years later, when McCartney had begun to establish himself as one of history’s greatest and most influential songwriters. He plays “Got To Get You Into My Life”, from 1966 masterpiece Revolver, complete with insouciant horn backing. He leads into “Getting Better”, from 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, by telling the story about his mate Jimi Hendrix covering the album’s title track just three days after the record had been released, and his performance is so joyous that nobody cares that his voice can no longer reach all the high notes. “You Never Give Me Your Money”, from 1969’s Abbey Road, is a new addition for this tour, never before played in Los Angeles, and still sounds as fresh as it did on record.
Having shown us what pop music sounded like when he started out, and then all the magical and wondrous things he did with it, McCartney closes the show with an imperious run of hits, with unifying singalongs “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” sandwiched around the musical and literal pyrotechnics of Wings’ 1973 Bond theme “Live and Let Die”. After a short encore break and a supportive wave of the Ukrainian flag, McCartney delivers the show’s boldest moment as he makes use of Jackson’s cleaned-up footage of the Beatles’ rooftop concert to duet with Lennon on “I’ve Got A Feeling”, a moment of brotherly communion across the great divide.
What’s most evident from this show is just how much McCartney is now enjoying reacquainting himself with his own staggering legacy. He closes the show with the triumphant Abbey Road medley of “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End”, singing: “Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight a long time.” McCartney, though, doesn’t look burdened by history or the weight of his own musical genius. He just looks cool.