There are few artists in the world who can draw a crowd like Sir Paul McCartney, and I’m not talking about numbers.
Bell MTS Place was buzzing Friday night with a multi-generational army of fans; grey-haired couples held hands as they navigated the packed hallways an hour before showtime, teens in Beatles tour T-shirts that were older than they are trailed behind parents who paid a lot less than $50 for them many years ago.
Concert reviewClick to Expand
Sept. 28, Bell MTS Place
And, shortly after 8:15 p.m., when the first chord of the first song, A Hard Day’s Night, hummed through the dozens of speakers dangling from the rafters, all those voices, young and old, merged like rivers into one overwhelming ocean of sound, welcoming the Beatle back to Winnipeg.
It hasn’t been as long a McCartney drought as the city has experienced in the past; he was last in town in 2013, but he played Investors Group Field then, with 31,200 people along for the ride. So in the arena with 13,700 people, this experience was comparatively intimate.
"I get the feeling we’re going to have fun tonight," he said, in the exact casual, friendly tone he said it in last time.
He told stories and did little dance-wiggles in his black jacket and jeans; he mimicked throwing his body into the audience to crowd surf; he implanted a trio of brass players in the crowd for Letting Go; he licked his finger and pretended he burned it on the air because the crowd was so hot after Hi, Hi, Hi. Everyone laughed. Turns out all it takes for a dad joke to be funny is for Paul McCartney to deliver it.
Winnipeg is the third show of McCartney’s 26-date Freshen Up tour, but already things are running like clockwork. Massive video screens flanked both sides of the stage, with lighting/video panels displaying old photos, and modern graphics filled the back of the stage between them. Upping his ante a bit from 2013, some other fancy laser-esque lighting tricks were implemented, though overall, his stage show remains a representation of his music: classic.
McCartney knows his crowd and he knows they want the hits, but he did release a new album earlier this month, Egypt Station, and dropped a few tracks from that album in the mix — Who Cares, Come on to Me and Fuh You. While they obviously didn’t result in the same boisterous reaction as his work from the Beatles, Wings and his older solo material, they actually blend in to his catalogue pretty seamlessly.
Paul McCartney's set listClick to Expand
A Hard Day's Night
Hi, Hi, Hi
Can't Buy Me Love
Come On to Me
Let Me Roll It
I've Got a Feeling
Let 'Em In
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
Maybe I'm Amazed
I've Just Seen a Face
In Spite of All the Danger
From Me to You
Love Me Do
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
I Saw Her Standing There
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
Carry That Weight
Passing off the guitar he used for the first third of the night, McCartney headed to a beautiful black grand piano and knocked out a series of hits including Let ’Em In (which also had a tremendous trombone solo, a comment not often made at a rock show) and My Valentine, which he dedicated to his wife, Nancy Shevell, who was in the building. "This one’s for you, baby," he adorably chirped.
And of course, no visit to the piano would be complete without the love song of all love songs, Maybe I’m Amazed. At 76 years old, McCartney’s voice has its limits; he was, on occasion, a bit strained in certain parts of his upper register, but those moments were few and far between and when he needed to, he really came through.
"Maybe I’m a man, maybe I’m a lonely man who’s in the middle of something," he hollered, just as powerfully as he did when the song was first released in 1970.
Mid-set, McCartney and the four core members of his incredible band gathered centre stage for a bit of a jam session, featuring some of the oldest tracks of the night, such as In Spite of All Danger, From Me To You and Michelle; as fun as the more rock-rooted sections of the night were, it was the quieter times such as this one that warmed the soul.
And then came Blackbird.
Plucking away at that unforgettable opening riff on his acoustic guitar, a completely solo McCartney rose up into the air on a platform, voice soaring through the room. It was the sweetest of moments; even those singing along were doing so in a whisper, careful not to overpower him. And though the same thing happened the last time he performed that song in this city, it still felt special.
As the main set came to a close, it was heavy-hitter after heavy-hitter; the crowd bopped along to Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da; Band on the Run proved to be a stand-out vocal performance; and the final trio of Let It Be, Live and Let Die (with an impressive amount of pyrotechnics) and Hey Jude, were simply perfect.
McCartney returned for an encore brandishing three flags — Canadian, British and Pride — starting things of slow and sweet with solo acoustic rendition ofYesterday before ramping back up with I Saw Her Standing There, a reprise of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and a frenetic Helter Skelter.
Wrapping up the last of his 39-song set, McCartney finished with Golden Slumbers, Carry that Weight, and The End, an absolutely mind-blowing finale.
There are many music stars one-third of McCartney’s age who would struggle to keep up with a three-hour show that moves at the pace his does; he’s on guitar, he’s on piano, he’s at the mike charming the crowd; he’s alone, he’s with the band; he is warm and calm yet full of boyish energy. He does everything and he does it well, making it look easy in the process. He’s an icon for a reason.
This could well be the last time Sir Paul plays a show in Winnipeg, and if that is to be the case, he couldn’t have left on a better note.