There are countless Beatles tribute acts whose members pride themselves on duplicating the precise sounds that the Fab Four committed to tape some 50 years ago. Paul McCartney isn’t one of those people, as he demonstrates on his Out There tour.
To a record-setting crowd at Fenway Park on Tuesday night, Macca cranked out nearly 40 songs, most of which were amongst the most indelible tunes in the rock canon. Along with guitarist Rusty Anderson, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., keyboardist Paul Wickens and bassist/guitarist Brian Ray, Sir Paul treated these songs not like museum pieces to be kept under glass, but like the living, breathing organisms that they are.
“Maybe I’m Amazed” took on a brutish quality like it had been hanging out with “Helter Skelter” too much. George Harrison’s beautiful “Something” began as a solo ukulele workout and morphed into a full band arrangement augmented by Laboriel’s zealous drumming. “Let it Be” was allowed to be whatever it wanted to be, getting some inventive guitar sounds from Anderson that weren’t too faithful to the recording. Elsewhere, the Wings song, “Hi, Hi, Hi” closed out with a surprisingly Zeppelin-style jam.
But the one area where McCartney does let the Out There shows become a magical history tour is his banter. Sharing anecdotes about Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, departed Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison, he comes across like a professor, rather than a participant.
But the insights he shined upon the songs themselves were remarkable. He spoke of how he wrote “Blackbird” as a paean to the civil rights movement in America, shedding light onto lyrics like “you are only waiting for this moment to arrive” as he performed solo against moonlit silhouette of a bare tree. And before “Here Today” from his 1982 “Tug of War” album, he gave a heartfelt introduction about how the song was a conversation he wished he was able to have with Lennon.
The energy the band brought to the stage for the final suite of “Abbey Road,” which includes “Golden Slumbers,” Carry That Weight” and “The End” was the stuff of goosebumps. While it was a mostly faithful rendition, it benefited from Wickens’ keyboarded brass sounds and each band member being able to take their own spotlight, something which a Beatle never needs to do. But that’s why Paul McCartney is so great at 71 and always has been so great.
He has never needed to create music as intricately as he has. When Beatles songs are reduced to their very essence, strummed on an acoustic guitar, they sound perfect, and the band could have sold just as many copies of their records with such little effort, but when these songs are brought to life in all of their complexity, they are immortal. The fact that Paul McCartney is still finding new ways to serve up these songs is a testament to his creative genius.