Live Review: Energetic Hershey show proves Paul McCartney isn't resting on his laurels

Rock writers (including yours truly) have spent thousands of words building the myth of Bruce Springsteen's endless energy and apparent defiance of the laws of time during his live shows.

Well, how about giving a similar nod to Sir Paul McCartney?

During a three-hour set at Hersheypark Stadium on Tuesday night, the Fab Four member ran through Beatles classics, Wings arena rock hits, and some choice cuts from his solo career in a performance that showed Macca is as charismatic and jovial as ever. And at 74, he's got roughly eight years on The Boss.

Yet there he is, more than five decades after The Beatles played Ed Sullivan, bobbing along like a much younger version of himself to timeless songs such as 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'Can't Buy Me Love,' which he opened his set with before launching into the moodier Wings track 'Letting Go.' The whole time he was bounding around the stage to change guitars or go sit at a piano. And once a song was done, he'd pop up from his bench or shuffle from side to side to wave his hands or flash peace signs or use his hands to form a heart over his head.

While McCartney's voice is showing its mileage, the tone that we've all become familiar with shines through in many moments, and he's still capable of approaching falsetto or giving a full-throated howl (like in 'Hey Jude,' for example) when called upon. The backing band of guitarist/bassist Brian Ray, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., guitarist Rusty Anderson, and multi-instrumentalist Paul Wickens (they all chip in vocal harmonies too) keeps things air-tight.

A septuagenarian playing his older hits is, inherently, dabbling in nostalgia, but there's no sign of McCartney and his band resting on their laurels.

There is one important distinction to make between McCartney and Springsteen, though: A Paul McCartney show is expressly for partying and good times. Even when it seemingly isn't, like when he went from 'FourFiveSeconds,' a song, co-written with Rhianna and Kanye West (McCartney sang their parts), about being sick of taking people's shit, into 'Eleanor Rigby,' an ode to dying alone. Or running out to perform an encore and starting with 'Yesterday,' an acoustic ballad about lost love and regret.

But he'd soon bring the mood right back up, playing a life-affirming crowd sing-along like 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' or 'Hey Jude,' or a rocker that says very little but soars on its energy and craftsmanship ('Birthday,' 'Back in the U.S.S.R.'). It doesn't hurt to be drawing from one of the most expansive and beloved songbooks in popular music.

In all, there were close to 40 songs, spanning decades. McCartney and his band played most everything you'd want to hear, and threw in some inspired choices from the Beatles' psychedelic period: 'Fool On the Hill,' 'Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!,' and the album-ending medley from "Abbey Road." A personal favorite deep-cut: the wonderfully weird electro-pop song 'Temporary Secretary' off the loose, experimental solo album "McCartney II" from 1980.

It would be cliché to say the fun of McCartney's show was a welcome distraction in such hectic times, but there were moments when that theme became apparently clear—like when a woman held a "Paul 4 President" sign that caught the singer's eye as he talked with the audience between songs. The camera showed it on the video board, and the packed stadium went wild.

He wagged his finger.

"I don't think so," he laughed. "No comment."

The RNC wasn't mentioned explicitly, but the loud cheers at the thought of McCartney in the Oval Office—a Constitutional impossibility, it should be noted—said enough.

And then there was the monologue before 'Blackbird,' which McCartney explained was written during the civil rights movement in the '60s.

"Of course it's not much better now," he said, alluding to, well, so many things.

The song, he continued, was meant to give hope to people in the south fighting for their rights.

As he played the opening chords, the rectangular platform he was standing on began to rise, revealing another video board, which showed a flower blooming. It was a kind of hokey, flashy display of 21st century technology, but how lucky we are that Paul McCartney is still here to be the one to use it.

And even though his voice was wilting a bit, the earnestness of his words, and even the heavy-handed symbolism of the flower, made it something beautiful. That sincerity is something that characterizes much of McCartney's work, come to think of it. We're all so fortunate to still have him.

Paul McCartney plays the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 9 and 10.

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