in performance: paul mccartney


paul mccartey performing last night at the kfc yum! center in louisville. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

“We’ve been waiting for you, Paul,” shouted an eager fan to Paul McCartney early into his marathon concert last night at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.

“Hey, I’ve been waiting for you, pal,” replied the one time Beatle and lasting pop icon. In a way, McCartney wasn’t kidding. This was his first show ever in Louisville and only his second in Kentucky (the first being a February 1990 stop at Rupp Arena). Given he has been playing shows on North American soil for over a half century, it was perhaps understandable that expectations for artist and audience alike were high. But McCartney offered quite the icebreaker for bringing both parties together. He served up a tireless three hour, 39 song performance that began with the Beatles classic Eight Days a Week and ended just after 11:30 with the Golden Slumbers medley from Abbey Road. In between there were hits and album tracks from his ‘70s recordings with Wings and a generous sampling of solo material, which together encompassed some 43 years worth of recordings outside of the Beatles.

The big joy of it all was that McCartney, an elder pop statesman at age 72, made it all look remarkably easy. A lot of that had to do with the fact he appeared vocally and physically fit. Sure, there were a few cracks and blemishes in his singing to remind you he is not the 20-something Beatle of yore. But there were far more instances – the Band on the Run rocker Let Me Roll It, a joyous and semi-acoustic We Can Work It Out and the 2013 tune Queenie Eye (one of four songs pulled from the album New, which, ironically, is now a year old) – that were rich with vocal stamina and intent.

But show’s other primary attribute was its design. For the last 12 years, McCartney has worked with the same four member band (which has now lasted longer than The Beatles and Wings) with concert programs rooted in simplicity. Yes, he still rolls out the pyrotechnics for Live and Let Die and afterwards feigns deafness from the commotion they cause. But the majority of the program wasn’t fussy or excessive at all. In fact, some of its most fascinating moments were also its quietest, from a lovely and faithful reading of And I Love Her, complete with woodblocks and hand percussion, and a solo version of Blackbird that was full of stark grace.

How much nostalgia played into one’s appreciation of the concert probably depended on their age. The 2012 song My Valentine was presented along a split screen video of Natalie Portman and Johnny Deep interpreting the lyrics in sign language. That was about as concessionary to modern times as the show got. The rest of the program used the Beatles’ still-brilliant catalog as its backbone. When those songs commenced, it was pretty much impossible to not go reeling through the years, whether it was with the backdrop of clips from A Hard Day’s Night that were shown as the band played All My Loving early into the performance or the especially moving montage of George Harrison photos shown when McCartney covered one of his late bandmate’s most popular songs (Something) on one of his favored instruments (ukulele).

You could go on about the rarities (the Sgt. Pepper gem Lovely Rita), the total surprises (Pepper’s Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, which was originally sung by John Lennon) and all the expected classics that you hoped would still pack an emotive punch and did (Hey Jude, Back in the U.S.S.R. and the always devastating Eleanor Rigby).

All in all, it was an exhilarating, exhaustive pop joyride, not to mention a grand effort by one of rock music’s most endearing and defining artists in getting back to the Kentucky roots he probably never knew he had.

Take a look at Mark Cornelison’s photo gallery from last night’s concert here.

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