By John Curley
Two days shy of celebrating his 80th birthday, Paul McCartney brought his Got Back North American tour to a close on Thursday, June 16th with an outstanding and quite memorable three-hour show at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, home of the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets.
McCartney’s band includes Rusty Anderson (guitar), Brian Ray (guitar and bass), Paul “Wix” Wickens (keyboards), and Abe Laboriel Jr. (drums). Ray played bass during the songs on which McCartney was playing piano, guitar or ukulele. The band was augmented by the three-piece brass section Hot City Horns that are comprised of Paul Burton, Mike Davis and Kenji Fenton.
A late-arriving crowd may have been the reason why the show began about 30 minutes after the scheduled 8 p.m. start. There was no opening act. McCartney and the band took the stage to a massive cheer from the large crowd and went right into the opening song, The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love.” McCartney was in good voice, the band was tight and Anderson and Ray did some nice guitar work during the song. The crowd loved it, and it set the tone for what would be an outstanding night of music.
The bouncy Wings song “Junior’s Farm” was up next. It was fun to watch McCartney do his vocal on the song because it was clear that he was enjoying himself. And the band was on fire, feeding off of the love and energy coming from the crowd. The slower-paced Wings song “Letting Go” followed. It provided a spotlight to the brass section, who were fantastic. McCartney delivered a great vocal on the song.
McCartney’s bass playing on The Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life” was fantastic, and the band delivered a rock-solid performance. The rocker “Come On to Me” featured a strong McCartney vocal and terrific drumming by Laboriel.
The bluesy Wings song “Let Me Roll It” received a tight performance with some impressive guitar work by Anderson. It came to abrupt stop. Then, the band went into a jam of “Foxy Lady” by McCartney’s old friend Jimi Hendrix. McCartney was on guitar and did some impressive playing. When the jam ended, McCartney talked about hanging out with Hendrix in London. And McCartney spoke of how two days after The Beatles released the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album in May 1967, Hendrix opened his show with an outstanding version of Sgt. Pepper’s title track.
The Beatles’ jaunty “Getting Better” received an excellent performance by McCartney and the band. McCartney did some nice guitar work on the song and the band provided perfect backing vocals. McCartney moved to piano for the Wings song “Let ‘Em In.” The performance of the song was quite enjoyable, and the brass section did great work on it. Prior to performing “My Valentine,” McCartney told the crowd that he wrote the song for his wife Nancy, who was at the show, and dedicated it to her. It’s a nice song on which McCartney played piano and did a nice vocal. Anderson provided some excellent playing on Spanish acoustic guitar. The crowd gave it a big hand at the end.
The rollicking and rocking Wings song “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” included fantastic musicianship by McCartney on piano and Anderson on guitar. An outstanding “Maybe I’m Amazed” had McCartney starting the song solo with the band joining in shortly after. Anderson’s lead guitar playing on the song was terrific. The crowd gave the performance a massive cheer.
McCartney spoke to the crowd about the fans that were holding up signs. Many of the fans were carrying signs that had birthday wishes for McCartney on them. When some of the fans holding those signs were shown on the giant video screens on both sides of the stage, the crowd broke into a spontaneous rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” for McCartney. He appeared to be genuinely touched by the gesture.
The Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face” received a bossa nova-style performance by McCartney and the band. McCartney’s vocal was great, and he and Anderson both played acoustic guitars during the performance of the song. The crowd gave it a big cheer. McCartney spoke to the crowd about the early Liverpool days and about how The Quarrymen, the late 1950s Liverpool band that also included John Lennon and George Harrison, made a demo record that cost the band £5.00. Each band member contributed £1.00 toward the cost of the recording. (It’s quite something that that’s how the recording careers of McCartney, Lennon and Harrison began, isn’t it?) McCartney then led the band in a wonderful rendition of The Quarrymen’s “In Spite of All the Danger.” It featured McCartney on acoustic guitar and Wickens on accordion. McCartney delivered a strong vocal and the band provided nice backing vocals. McCartney encouraged the crowd to join in on backing vocals, and many in the audience did so.
McCartney discussed the recording deal that The Beatles signed in 1962 and their first recording session at Abbey Road Studios. He spoke fondly of working with George Martin and of how nervous he was during the recording of “Love Me Do.” He admitted that he can still hear the terror in his voice when he listens to the song. The performance of “Love Me Do” by McCartney and the band that followed was perfect. It had an easygoing, countrified feel to it. It featured Wickens on harmonica and McCartney on acoustic guitar. It received quite a reaction from the crowd and was unquestionably one of the highlights of the show.
Following the performance of “Dance Tonight” featuring some impressive dancing by Laboriel that received a big cheer from the crowd, the band left the stage to McCartney for two solo performances on acoustic guitar and vocals. McCartney proceeded to deliver a breathtaking and beautiful version of The Beatles’ “Blackbird.” While performing the song, the section of the stage upon which he was standing was elevated above the rest of the stage. As the partial stage rose, video screens were revealed on the front and the sides that were showing computer-generated video of birds in flight. That touch just added to the performance of the song. When McCartney completed his performance of the song, he told the crowd that he wrote the song after being horrified by the images he had seen on TV of the racist treatment of Black Americans. He went on to say that he hoped that the song would inspire those fighting for racial justice.
McCartney’s second solo acoustic performance was of “Here Today.” Prior to playing the song, he told the crowd that he wrote the song after Lennon’s death. During the performance of the song, the video screens on the rising part of the stage showed images of stars, the Earth and the moon. When McCartney finished playing the song, that section of the stage was lowered so that it was once again level with the rest of the stage.
When the members of the band returned to the stage, McCartney moved to a multicolored piano and joked with the crowd about the lack of enthusiasm in the audience for newer songs. The jaunty song “New” was then performed. McCartney’s vocal was top notch and the brass section did some nice work on it. The crowd gave it a good hand. McCartney remained on piano for the performance of The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna.” The piano featured a video screen on its back showing multicolored images. The rendition of the song was great. The band was tight, the horns were fantastic and McCartney contributed a terrific vocal and impressive piano playing.
McCartney returned to bass, the Hofner, for the performance of the rocker “Fuh You.” His vocal on the song was strong and the band added good backing vocals. A black-and-white video of a young boy walking through the streets of Liverpool was shown on the large screen behind the band as the song was performed. The version of the Wings song “Jet” that followed was outstanding. The brass section provided terrific work, the band was super tight and McCartney’s vocal was great. It was another highlight of the show and received a massive reaction from the crowd.
Six songs by The Beatles were then performed in succession. A jaunty and quite fantastic version of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” had the band firing on all cylinders and a strong vocal by McCartney. The performance of Harrison’s “Something” was really beautiful. McCartney began the song solo, playing a ukulele that Harrison had gifted him. When the full band joined in, McCartney switched to acoustic guitar. Anderson’s lead guitar work was excellent. As the band played, images of Harrison were shown on the video screen behind the musicians. The bouncy “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” had the crowd singing along at the top of their voices. It was a wonderful scene to witness. The brass section was fantastic once again, and Laboriel did the laughing bit in the song on backing vocals. The performance received a huge hand at the end with sustained applause.
Prior to the performance of “You Never Give Me Your Money,” McCartney told the crowd thar he had never done the song in concert until this tour. The live take on the song was fantastic and had a very strong vocal by McCartney at its center. That went right into an outstanding “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” that the crowd gave a big cheer to. For “Get Back,” a video montage put together by director Peter Jackson from his Get Back film specifically for the performance of the song on this tour was shown on the video screen behind the band as they played the song. The performance of "Get Back" was probably THE highlight of the show. McCartney’s vocal was very strong, the band’s playing was downright fiery and Laboriel’s drumming was terrific. The audience was cheering throughout the song and gave it a sustained ovation afterward.
Following a tight performance of the Wings song “Band on the Run” that featured a great McCartney vocal and nice guitar work by Anderson, McCartney welcomed New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen to the stage. Springsteen joined the band for a stirring rendition of his own song “Glory Days.” Springsteen and McCartney shared the lead vocal as the crowd roared throughout. They again shared lead-vocal duties on a fun version of The Beatles’ “I Wanna Be Your Man” that the crowd cheered quite loudly.
Springsteen then exited and McCartney moved to piano for an excellent take on “Let It Be.” McCartney delivered a strong vocal while the band’s backing vocals provided good support. Anderson’s guitar work on the song was great. The performance of the song received sustained applause from the audience. McCartney and the band then delivered an amazing version of “Live and Let Die,” Wings’ 1973 theme song for the James Bond film of the same name. McCartney remained on piano for the song. The horns were outstanding, and the band were giving it their all. The performance of the song received deafening cheers from the crowd at the end. The pyrotechnics that accompanied the song seemed unnecessary and, honestly, detracted from the experience. A songwriter of McCartney’s stature and talent really didn’t need the pyro, the intense heat of which could be felt by those in the first 30 or so rows on the field in front of the stage.
The main set concluded with an extended version of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” McCartney began the song behind the piano, then went out front as the song neared its conclusion to lead the crowd in a singalong. He returned to the piano for the song’s big finish. Anderson was wailing on guitar toward the end of the song. The crowd roared with approval and the ovation continued as McCartney and the band took their bows and walked off the stage.
After a very brief interval, McCartney and the band returned to the stage waving flags. McCartney held the flag of Ukraine, while the other band members carried the flags of the United States, the United Kingdom, the State of New Jersey and Pride. The encore began with the unique duet on The Beatles’ “I’ve Got a Feeling” featuring McCartney onstage and video of Lennon from the 1969 rooftop concert in London. Lennon’s vocal was isolated. McCartney told the crowd that Peter Jackson had made it possible for the virtual duet to take place. And it worked very well.
Jon Bon Jovi walked onstage carrying a bunch of balloons and led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday to You” to McCartney. Bon Jovi then left the stage, and McCartney and the band then ripped into a tight performance of The Beatles’ “Birthday.” It received a big reaction from the crowd. During the take on The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” intense computer-generated video played on the screen behind the band. The performance of the song was quite powerful and energetic as the band rocked out. McCartney then thanked the road crew and the band members.
The final section of the encore featured three songs at the tail end of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album. “Golden Slumbers” had McCartney on piano and delivering a great vocal. “Carry That Weight” featured fantastic work by the brass section. For “The End,” Springsteen returned to the stage and rocked out with the band that featured McCartney on guitar. It was the perfect conclusion to the show. The crowd roared with approval as McCartney, now onstage alone, thanked them and then exited as a dry-ice fog and a storm of confetti enveloped the crowd on the field in front of the stage.
McCartney’s energetic performance during the lengthy concert made it difficult to believe that he would be turning 80 two days later. He clearly loves to perform. Here’s hoping that he will continue to do so as long as he feels up to it.
The setlist was:
Can’t Buy Me Love (The Beatles song)
Junior’s Farm (Wings song)
Letting Go (Wings song)
Got to Get You Into My Life (The Beatles song)
Come On to Me
Let Me Roll It (Wings song, with outro jam of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady)
Getting Better (The Beatles song)
Let ‘Em In (Wings song)
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five (Wings song)
Maybe I’m Amazed
I’ve Just Seen a Face (The Beatles song)
In Spite of All the Danger (The Quarrymen song)
Love Me Do (The Beatles song)
Blackbird (The Beatles song)
Lady Madonna (The Beatles song)
Jet (Wings song)
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! (The Beatles song)
Something (The Beatles song)
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (The Beatles song)
You Never Give Me Your Money (The Beatles song)
She Came in Through the Bathroom Window (The Beatles song)
Get Back (The Beatles song)
Band on the Run (Wings song)
Glory Days (Bruce Springsteen song, with Bruce Springsteen)
I Wanna Be Your Man (The Beatles song, with Bruce Springsteen)
Let It Be (The Beatles song)
Live and Let Die (Wings song)
Hey Jude (The Beatles song)
I’ve Got a Feeling (The Beatles song, virtual duet with John Lennon using footage from the 1969 rooftop concert)
Happy Birthday to You (Mildred J. Hill and Patty Hill song, featuring Jon Bon Jovi and the band leading crowd singalong to McCartney)
Birthday (The Beatles song)
Helter Skelter (The Beatles song)
Golden Slumbers (The Beatles song)
Carry That Weight (The Beatles song)
The End (The Beatles song, with Bruce Springsteen)