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Concert Review: Paul McCartney at Wrigley Field, Chicago, 7/31/11

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Paul McCartney delivered a message to the cheering audience at Wrigley Field on Sunday, July 31:

This is how to rock.

Visiting Chicago for the first time since 2005, McCartney showed fans that age is nothing but a number, as he played over 30 songs with no breaks. Backed by his excellent band—drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, and keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens—he charged hard through songs covering his Beatles, Wings, and solo careers, leaning more toward the uptempo numbers than his signature ballads. Blazing guitars ruled the evening, with McCartney’s strong voice hitting the same high notes as on the original recordings.

Sporting a blue jacket (which he quickly doffed due to the extreme humidity) and a wide smile, McCartney greeted the excited crowd with, appropriately, “Hello Goodbye,” immediately segueing into “Junior’s Farm,” one of a handful of songs he played for hard-core fans. Live, the song rocks even harder than the original. Against a backdrop of scenes from A Hard Day’s Night, McCartney blazed through “All My Loving” with the energy of a 20-year-old. As usual, he played the concert-friendly “Jet,” fist pumping in the air with the entire audience.

Another highlight was “The Night Before,” a buried gem from Help! that he rolled Paul McCartneyout for this tour. Announcing that he had never played the song in Chicago before, he tore into the classic tune with vigor. The enthusiasm continued with Band on the Run’s “Let Me Roll It,” which sounds even blusier live than it does on record. McCartney’s growling voice effectively conveyed the song’s passion, and demonstrated his love of blues as well as rock. In another nod to his influences, the band played a segment of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady,” with McCartney treating the audience to a blistering guitar solo. The hits just kept on coming: “Paperback Writer,” which fit in perfectly with the overall harder tone of the night, only to be followed by “The Long and Winding Road,” with McCartney’s voice sounding clear.

A nice surprise for Wings fans was “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” which played quite well live. The instantly recognizable piano riff rang out as McCartney sang “Oh, no one ever left alive /In 1985 will ever do,” seemingly enjoying performing the Band on the Run track. He dug out another Beatles classic, “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” a holdover from the 1976 Wings North American Tour. The charming “I Will,” which was given a fuller treatment than the White Album version (slightly heavier percussion in addition to the acoustic guitar), showcased McCartney’s straightfoward delivery. “Blackbird” earned a thunderous standing ovation, which seemed to surprise McCartney.

As on previous tours, he paid tribute to his departed bandmates in song. “Here Today,” written shortly after John Lennon’s death, still inspires tears with its simple message of not waiting until it’s too late to say “I love you” to someone. George Harrison also received his due with McCartney’s ukulele rendition of “Something”; unlike the 2005 tour, however, he segued into a full band arrangement on the beautiful ballad.

Sweating through his shirt but not slowing down in the least, McCartney showed off his love for rootsy rock and roll with “Back in the USSR,” and “I’ve Got a Feeling,” with Anderson and Laboriel taking over Lennon’s singing parts. As if that weren’t enough, the band roared into an extended jam, with McCartney performing a scorching guitar solo. Another surprise, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” inspired a spirited sing-along, with McCartney stepping away from the microphone to let the audience take over.

Of course the legend performed the expected tunes: “Let It Be,” “Hey Jude,” and the literally explosive “Live and Let Die” (along with the usual explosions on stage, fireworks shot out of Wrigley’s scoreboard). But McCartney was far from finished, as he played two encores, containing mostly uptempo tracks: “Lady Madonna,” where he pounded the piano like Fats Domino; “Daytripper,” which featured McCartney’s bass and Anderson’s guitar in perfect synchronization; and “Get Back,” where Ray performed a searing guitar solo.

Despite the concert’s length, McCartney remained in fine voice for the second encore, which included an exquisite version of “Yesterday.” Ending the evening with a bang with the one-two punch of “Helter Skelter” and the finale of the Abbey Road medley (“Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End”), he definitively answered the question: Can one still rock over age 30? The answer: without a doubt. “Helter Skelter” approached metal territory with Laboriel’s pounding drums, the crunch of the guitars, and McCartney’s screaming vocals.

I have seen McCartney at least five times, and this show rocked harder than any other concert I’ve attended. He celebrated his past, but his aggressive guitar and singing injected new energy into very familiar songs. Clearly, McCartney enjoys “getting back,” but continues moving forward.



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About Kit O'Toole

  • El Bicho

    Good review. Sounds similar to the high energy performance I saw at Coachella.

  • Kit O’Toole

    Thanks! Yes, that gig was great, too. I hope I’m that sprightly at 69!

  • Glen Boyd

    The Night Before…damn! One of my all-time Macca faves. I’m truly envious…


  • John Lake

    I would have loved to have seen it.

  • Kit O’Toole

    Glen and John: Yes, it was an amazing experience. And Glen, it was indeed a thrill to see him do “The Night Before” live.

  • Tom

    I had the good fortune to see Paul on Monday at Wrigley and it was unbelievable! Having seen him in 1992 and in 2003, I had high expectations for the show. Paul, almost 70 years old, not only exceeded my expectations, but absolutely blew me away. 3 hours of pure rock in roll by one of the men who invented the genre and he hit every note and chord perfectly. His band was also fantastic, with his guitar buddies doing a more then decent job filling in harmonies from George and John and ripping it up during the solos. ‘Here Today’, his tribute song to John, caused me and everyone around me to break down. You could tell he was having an emotional time singing it, and the song seems to have become only more hauntingly beautiful with time. You could feel that he truly missed and loved his former best friend even more today then ever as he was singing.

    If you are a Beatles fan, a McCartney fan, or just want to see one of the most legendary and inspirational musicians who ever lived perform, you owe to yourself to make it to one of his concerts soon. There is nothing in the world like watching a Beatle perform thirty yards in front of you.

    That was definitely a night I will remember for the rest of my life. Love you Paul!