Liverpool is an odd city, in many ways. It’s a post-industrial Northern city where people live and go about their lives, with Disneyland — or rather, Beatleland — plonked right down in the middle of it. A huge chunk of the city exists in a weird secondary reality, selling “the Beatles experience” to tourists from all over the world. While most of the town is basically like the more downtrodden parts of Manchester, turn a corner and you’re in a theme park where everything is twice as expensive and you can’t walk ten yards without tripping over a statue of John Lennon or a busker singing Strawberry Fields in a thick Japanese accent.
I’ve always been aware of this double-nature (Liverpool was the largest city to me growing up, and my family came from there, but I was also an obsessive Beatles fan who did all the touristy stuff myself as a teenager), but never more than when going to see Paul McCartney there, and feeling myself part of the tourist crowd, rather than as someone who fits in there like I normally feel. Very odd.
McCartney also seemed a bit like a man trying to fit in, barely going two songs without asking “Anyone here born in Woolton hospital?” or talking about living in Speke. A lot of his between-songs chatter sounded like what we are now meant to call “humblebragging” — “I never would have thought when I was growing up on Forthlin Road (pause for applause) that one day I’d be meeting a minister in the Russian government and he’d say the first record he bought was Love Me Do” — but I think was a genuine attempt to make or retain a connection between the people of his home town and the exalted space in which he finds himself now.
He needn’t have bothered — the music more than does that for him. While he came on stage an hour later than advertised (and so I had to leave in the first encore so I could get the last train home) I still saw two and a half hours of very, very fine music.
Many people have said recently that McCartney’s voice has gone. That’s not strictly true. What seems to be true is that his head voice needs a great deal of warming up, and he’s lost pretty much all his very top end (his ventures into falsetto were whispery). But McCartney always has had a remarkable voice, and one of the things that made it so was that there was a *lot* of overlap between his chest and head voices, and so it was a hugely versatile instrument. This means that he can sing from the chest where previously he would have sung from the head, still hit the same notes, and have the only difference be that the voice actually sounds stronger and more resonant. It took about the first eleven songs for his voice to get loosened up enough for him to venture into the head voice (I only noticed him starting to do so after Maybe I’m Amazed). But those first eleven songs, all sung from the chest, still sounded great.
I have spent so much time dealing with the issue of his voice only because a common complaint about McCartney (since a couple of dodgy TV appearances doing Hey Jude) is that he can’t sing any more. Truthfully, though, he still sounds like Paul McCartney. Blackbird still sounds gentle and beautiful, Got To Get You Into My Life is still screamed in a voice that would put anyone half his age to shame, Live And Let Die still sounds as silly as ever.
The setlist and general atmosphere were pretty much as in the show I saw in 2011, and you can assume that most of my comments on that also apply here. There was no Come And Get It or Ram On, unfortunately, but we got to hear Temporary Secretary, his bizarrely wonderful early-80s electropop experiment. The songs from his lacklustre recent album New were the better ones from that album (the title track is a very nice song that has a lot of the Brian Wilson-influenced feel of the Magical Mystery Tour era), and the set was paced wonderfully, with a concentration on the material from 1965-67, but with fans of his later stuff getting plenty of treats.
McCartney may well be the greatest living songwriter, he has an energy that would put people half his age to shame (he doesn’t do as many songs as the Beach Boys, who I’ll be reviewing after I see my second show on this tour, but they have an interval and he doesn’t), and it’s sometimes hard to realise “Oh yes, this man actually *wrote* Blackbird and Eight Days A Week” — those are songs that don’t feel to me like they’re written, as much as they’re part of folk culture, songs that just exist apart from their creator.
The show is overpriced, and the Echo Arena not a very pleasant space, but I can’t recommend highly enough that anyone who gets the chance to see him should go.
Eight Days a Week
Got to Get You into My Life
Listen to What the Man Said
Let Me Roll It
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
The Long and Winding Road
Maybe I’m Amazed
I’m Looking Through You
We Can Work It Out
Hope for the Future
And I Love Her
All Together Now
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
Hi, Hi, Hi
(at this point he pulled someone on stage who wanted to publicly propose to his girlfriend. I always dislike this kind of thing, and felt this was the best time to leave, since I had a train to catch, which I only just made…)
Can’t Buy Me Love (heard while walking to train station)
Encore 2 according to setlist.fm:
Carry That Weight