Paul McCartney amazes at Smoothie King Center

May 24, 2019

Doug MacCash,

If I reach the age of 76, I hope I still have the stamina to attend a three-hour rock concert, never mind performing a demanding three-hour show like Paul McCartney did at the Smoothie King Center on Thursday night (May 23). McCartney is a superstar’s superstar. He would be one of the great singer-songwriters of the last half century, even if he had not been half of one of the greatest songwriting duos in the history of popular music.

The former British invader -- who co-composed much of The Beatles songbook with John Lennon -- is reputed to be a billionaire. His artistic legacy is assured. He could easily be sleeping like a log on some picturesque estate somewhere. Instead, he was working like a dog on the Smoothie King stage until 11 p.m., energetically recreating almost 40 classics from “A Hard Day’s Night” to “Maybe I’m Amazed” to “Hey Jude,” plus a few newer tunes just to prove he hasn’t lost his composer chops.

“Let Me Roll It,” a less well-known song from his years leading the band Wings in the 1970s, was my favorite of the night. Definitely.


What does an almost unparalleled rock legend look like in the midst of his eighth decade? In a word, he looks swell. McCartney’s shaggy hair has gone gray, but the old dog still has those beseeching puppy eyes.

He wore an understated blue jacket that he nonchalantly peeled off after a few songs, eliciting shouts of appreciation from those in the crowd who remember him as the most cuddly of the Fab Four. Under the jacket lay a conservative long-sleeved shirt of the palest pink hue, tucked into black jeans. McCartney is the rare septuagenarian musical genius who can still pull off pink button-down shirts and black jeans.

On his feet were a type of ankle-cut, moderately high-heeled footwear similar to a style that was once internationally known as, well, Beatle boots.

In the course of the fast-paced show, McCartney played piano, organ, ukulele, mandolin, electric and acoustic guitar, plus his peculiar electric bass with a body that always seems to be masquerading as a cello. His right hand climbed the strings of the instrument as swiftly and nimbly as a spider climbs a water spout.

McCartney was backed by a four-piece band, augmented by the occasional accompaniment of a trio of horns. The spare, underproduced sound lent even the most raucous rock tunes a certain sense of old-fashioned intimacy. His voice may be somewhat less supple than it was during the “Band on the Run” recording sessions, but not enough to undermine his marvelous delivery.


The bubblingly psychedelic “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album was definitely the best song of the show.


At moments during the concert, the reality of the passing of time seemed to pile up as cold and hard as a glacier. McCartney played a country ditty called “In Spite of All the Danger” that dated to 1958, before The Beatles were The Beatles. As some of the more, uh, seasoned members of the audience might recall, McCartney played Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park with his Liverpool bandmates way back in 1964. His 1968 satirical classic “Back in the U.S.S.R.” has outlived the actual U.S.S.R. And the murderous hippie-era cult leader Charles Manson, who was unintentionally inspired by Lennon and McCartney’s “Helter Skelter,” died in prison in 2017.

But McCartney’s songs are not frozen wooly mammoths waiting to be chipped free. Many seem entirely of the moment. His gorgeously melancholy song “Blackbird” has been rediscovered as a hopeful anthem of Civil Rights. In the current political climate “Lady Madonna” and “Let Em In” also seemed much more topical than I’d ever realized. And a new song titled “Who Cares” is meant as an antidote to bullying.

Forget what I’d written earlier. The “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/In the End” medley that concluded the show was the tour de force of the night, for sure. You get the point: With a setlist that includes “Let It Be,” “Live and Let Die,” “Hey Jude” and dozens of other tunes that have crackled through our synapses for decades, it’s impossible to settle on a favorite.

McCartney announced that Thursday’s show was the first stop on a North American tour. He bid his New Orleans fans farewell until his next appearance in the city. Judging by last night’s time-defying performance, there’s no reason to think he won’t be back.

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