This was a concert five decades in the making. And it turned out to be well worth the wait.
In the 50-plus years that he has been one of the most revered figures in all of popular music, Paul McCartney had never taken the stage in Buffalo prior to Thursday’s show at First Niagara Center. That gave his fans in Western New York plenty of time to get themselves fired up. And fired up they were, gobbling up every available ticket within minutes and wringing the secondary market dry quickly thereafter.
Hopes were incredibly high, but even at 73, on the last night of the current leg of his “Out There” tour, McCartney delivered the goods and then some. The show lasted three hours and numbered nearly 40 songs in length. There were a number of emotional peaks within the carefully selected set list, which followed a perfect arc, allowing for intimate acoustic numbers and full-blown rock tour de forces alike. And at the heart of it all was McCartney himself, standing on a Buffalo stage for the first time, and clearly moved by the reception granted him by the capacity crowd, which started the evening in a state of seemingly stunned disbelief, and eventually evolved into a euphoric mood by roughly halfway through the set.
In the weeks leading up to the show, during which McCartney’s “Out There Tour” stopped nearby in Toronto, Columbus, and Detroit, one could feel the energy in town growing toward a palpable frenzy, as the area of lower Washington Street was adorned with light pole banners featuring McCartney’s face and the worlds “Welcome to Buffalo Paul!,” and social media exploded with the memories and excited expectations of devout area fans.
This didn’t just feel like another concert. This was a Beatle, after all. THE Beatle, in the minds of many fans, this writer included.
McCartney took the stage at 8:30 p.m., following an uber-cool film with audio accompaniment, one that offered a tour through the man’s career in images and songs, and concluded with the lights going down, and the band taking to the stage an tearing into “Eight Days A Week.” The shrieking from the assembled was substantial, even if it didn’t come close to rivalling the heyday of Beatlemania, when McCartney was in his 20s and his fans were even younger.
McCartney took a risk by playing “Save Us,” a propulsive rocker form his most recent effort, “New,” in the second spot. But the song made perfect sense in a mix that included abundant Beatles classics – “Got To Get You Into My Life,” “One After 909,” “Paperback Writer,” “The Long And Winding Road,” “I’ve Just seen A Face,” and “Lady Madonna”- in the first part of a set that also tackled Wings classics “Let Me Roll It” (with McCartney swapping his bass for a guitar, and tacking on a coda of the Jimi Hendrix burner “Foxy Lady”) and “Band On the Run”.
McCartney has been playing with his current band – drummer/vocalist Abe Laboriel, Jr; guitarist/vocalist Rusty Anderson; guitarist/bassist/vocalist Brian Ray; and keyboardist/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Wix Wickens – for longer than he played with any other ensembles, including both the Beatles and Wings. It shows in the incredibly tight interplay the musicians revel in, and in the unflagging sense of fun that permeated the whole affair on Thursday. All are top-flight musicians, superior harmony singers, excellent showmen, and quite obviously, the right guys to be backing the greatest bassist and songwriter in rock history. (Calling McCartney the “best” bassist might be slightly off the mark – there are more virtuosic players, yes, but let’s face it, the guy invented melodic rock bass playing.)
The “Out There Tour” has, since it commenced in 2013, drawn liberally from every area of McCartney’s career – the Beatles, Wings, his solo works, and even some of his collaborative one-offs and film soundtrack pieces. Thursday’s show was no exception.
His first post-Beatles single, “Maybe I’m Amazed,” found McCartney seated at the piano and digging deep for the high notes of this yearning-infused classic, penned for his late wife, Linda McCartney. He couldn’t quite nail the highest notes as well as he once did, but McCartney was clearing pouring everything he had into the song, and as I looked around the floor of the arens, I saw many fans overcome, to the point of weeping. The band offered strong versions of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “And I Love Her,” but a solo McCartney mini-set at the show’s mid-point offered the man the opportunity to pay tribute to his former best friend and writing partner, John Lennon, with a soul-stirring “Here Today” that brought rapturous applause from the crowd. Later, McCartney would begin George Harrison’s “Something” alone with a ukulele for accompaniment, before the band came thundering in to the finish the tune in a beautifully grandiose fashion.
Not surprisingly, the show hit a fever pitch with a pair of McCartney’s best-loved Beatles songs, the elegiac gospel-rock ballad “Let It Be” and the anthemic “Hey Jude,” both of which found the crowd singing along at full volume.
McCartney returned for a pair of three-song encores, one of which included perhaps the most heart-rending version of “Yesterday” many of the assembled had ever heard. To hear the man sing a song written in the bloom of his youth, as a 73 year-old man with a full lifetime behind him, his voice cracking on occasion while he soldiered on regardless, was simply beyond poignant.
McCartney offered his Buffalo fans a show befitting of a legend. It took him 50 years to get here, but who knows? Maybe it won’t take him as long to return. “You’ve been fantastic, Buffalo,” McCartney said, as confetti blasted from canons at the front of the stage slowly fell toward the floor of the arena, and the band members left the stage. “We’ll see you again next time!”
We’ll be here, Paul.