A bunch of old dudes took over Fenway Park this weekend while the Red Sox were out of town dueling it up with the Yankees. Friday and Saturday night found Dead & Company jamming with John Mayer’s picnic blanket while last night (July 17) saw ex-Wings bassist Paul McCartney deliver a solid two-and-a-half-hour-plus set that spanned hits, rarities, and special guests, none more electrifying than New England Patriots’ tight end and future air guitar champion Rob Gronkowski, who unveiled a surprising dexterity up on the big center field stage.
McCartney kicked off the show precisely at sunset with “A Hard Day’s Night,” from his time in the short-lived ’60s act the Beatles. It’s a song he’s broken out for the first time on this tour since the Liverpool based outfit performed it on their 1965 trek. This one is dubbed the One on One tour, and Macca — as he’s known to diehard fans and acquaintances — has been touching on all periods of his career, including the 2015 collaboration “FourFiveSeconds” with rising breakout artists Rihanna and Kanye West, the latter who has a recurring guest spot on the hit television series Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Dressed in a crisp white shirt (possibly laundered with new red socks and left exhibiting a hint of pink), McCartney, who turned 74 one month ago, has been incredibly active in the live setting in recent years, with this jaunt expected to top out at nearly 40 shows across four continents, shaming all the youngsters who embark on farewell tours before even qualifying for AARP benefits. Closing in on the three-quarter century mark though, the frontman can’t help but feel mortality creeping, leaving much of the night felt like a celebratory eulogy for friends and lovers passed.
He dedicated the live rarity “Love Me Do” to Celine Dion producer and arranger George Martin (died 2016); “Maybe I’m Amazed” to noted vegetarian and backing vocalist Linda McCartney (died 1998); and “Something” to Hinduist and Concert for Bangladesh organizer George Harrison (died 2001) — a risky acknowledgement given Harrison having been found guilty of plagiarizing the Chiffons hit “He’s So Fine” on the song “My Sweet Lord.” McCartney also dedicated his 2012 composition “My Valentine” to his wife Nancy, whom we recommend keep a head up for falling pianos.
Curiously, though his ghost loomed large, John Lennon didn’t have any songs played in his name. Lennon, late husband of indie electronica artist Yoko Ono, had been a writing colleague of Macca on many hits before the two fell out. Lennon went on to retire from music to raise his son Sean, now a musician in his own right as part of the Claypool Lennon Delirium with Les Claypool of Primus.
Yet while he didn’t say it out loud, there were many instances throughout the evening when McCartney was likely thinking of his fallen comrade (the two worked together on the communist anthem “Back in the U.S.S.R.”). He pointed out the high hanging and virtually full moon — which reaches completeness tomorrow evening — an uncomfortable number of times. However, we’d be unethical not to point out Lennon handled vocals on a cover of Piano Red’s “Mr. Moonlight” from the Beatles thinly-veiled attempt at securing gigs in 1964, the LP Beatles for Sale. Perhaps McCartney saw the moon as a lunar metaphor for his time with Sean’s dad? Solemnity reigned and it went unspoken.
The backing band for McCartney, particularly guitarists Rusty Anderson and Duff McKagan look-alike Brian Ray, provided a strong backing vocal foundation for the sometimes wobbly frontman to stand. His vocals strained or were outright hoarse, most notably on the piano driven “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Let It Be.” Oddly, it was on heavier songs like “Live and Let Die” — from McCartney’s down and out, early-’70s soundtrack work days — and the “Happy Birthday to You” rip off “Birthday” where his singing shone.
During the encore, McCartney brought out Dead & Company guitarist Bob Weir, looking like someone just interrupted his nap at the base of the Ted Williams statue, who ambled his way through the sexually charged Wings song “Hi, Hi, Hi”. McCartney saved his biggest surprise of the show for a take on “Helter Skelter,” made popular by Mötley Crüe as the third single from Shout at the Devil in 1984, when he brought out the six-foot-six Gronkowski to liven the crowd up.
Gronk led an unheard of quadruple guitar assault — no one told Weir to leave — with his aforementioned air guitar theatrics, and brought down the house as he did the cabbage patch multiple times. “Give it up for the living legend, Paul McCartney!” the beloved Boston expat gregariously exclaimed. Then, as the lights went up on Fenway under the Lennon moon, the audience went home knowing they had witnessed a moment from the heart like no other.
Follow Michael Christopher on Twitter at @BlackBranchMC.