Paul McCartney performed at Allianz Stadium, Sydney, on Friday, 27th October
There was a smidge of weariness on Paul McCartney’s face as he walked out to greet tens of thousands of fans at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium. It was just a slight hint, and a perfectly reasonable display from an 81-year-old who’s been playing to audiences of this size for most of the last 60 years.
A song from A Hard Day’s Night was an apt place to start, and by the time McCartney and his long-serving band reached the end of ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, any perceived lassitude had disappeared without a trace.
The Beatles – ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’
Would Paul ever be back again? This question had abounded in the lead-up to the former Beatle’s ‘Got Back’ Australian tour. McCartney’s movements post-Covid have all been fairly deliberate. He toured the US in the northern spring of 2022 before headlining last year’s Glastonbury festival one week after his 80th birthday.
He didn’t perform again until the Australian tour began in Adelaide in mid-October, and the tour setlist is almost an exact match of the Glastonbury performance. In Sydney, more than half of its three-hour run-time was occupied by Beatles songs and roughly a quarter devoted to Wings.
A 30-minute music video preceded the performance, scanning through the various eras of McCartney’s career. Any time a Beatle comes to town, the concerts will double as celebrations of decades gone by, but this opening sequence felt particularly significant given the star’s advanced age. All speculation was soon put to the side, however, as Paul and his band pulsed through dozens of the most enduring pop songs in the Western canon.
There were a few duds. ‘Fuh You’, for example, had “co-write” tattooed on its cheesy surface, while ‘My Valentine’ stood out like a sore thumb for the employment of visuals starring known misogynist Johnny Depp (as well as Natalie Portman).
“We know which songs you like,” McCartney said, “because all your phones light up. It’s like looking out into a galaxy of stars.” By contrast, when they play newer songs, “it’s like looking into a black hole,” McCartney said. “But we don’t care – we’re going to play them anyway.”
Despite this warning, McCartney kept the audience in a rapt embrace for most of the evening. He plucked material from the Fab Four’s touring years (‘She’s a Woman’, ‘Love Me Do’), studio period (‘Got to Get You Into My Life’ ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!’, ‘Getting Better’) and provided a liberal showcase of the band’s late-career brilliance (‘Let It Be’, ‘Get Back’, the final side of Abbey Road).
Wings songs ‘Let Me Roll It’, ‘Jet’ and ‘Band on the Run’ prompted some of the night’s biggest sing-alongs, while Paul thanked us for our “mellifluous” background vocals on ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’. He picked up a ukulele given to him by George Harrison for a jangly redo of Harrison’s ‘Something’ and put the spotlight on the improvised choreography of drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. during ‘Dance Tonight’.
John Lennon received multiple mentions, and with each recollection, you could detect Paul’s sustained love and respect for his former offsider. The encore started with ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’, which Paul said was “a special one for me”. Footage of Lennon performing on the Apple Corps rooftop appeared on the big screen, while Lennon’s original vocal take – “Everybody had a hard year / Everybody had a good time” – came through the PA during the bridge.
It was an emotional moment during a performance that was largely characterised by the pop legend’s immense good cheer. McCartney was frequently funny, and unafraid to make himself the butt of the joke. For instance, after the profuse pyrotechnics that accompanied ‘Live and Let Die’, he covered his ears, shook his head and told us, rather incredulously, “It’s too loud”.
During the extended “Na-na-na-nas” of ‘Hey Jude’, he danced and postured to express his satisfaction with the crowd’s vocal input. He took a moment early in the show to read from the many signs fans had brought along. “I can play ‘Blackbird’ right,” said one of them, to which Paul replied, “So can I.”
He remained casual, chatty and completely engaged throughout. And so, when the show eventually reached its climax – as the heavy decibels of ‘Helter Skelter’ made way for the suite of ‘Golden Slumbers’, ‘Carry That Weight’ and ‘The End’ – the gravity of the occasion began to dawn. Will we ever again hear these epoch-defining songs performed live, in front of us, by their creator?
Paul looked animated, sprightly, and freshly inspired as he left us with the teaser, “We’ll see you next time.”