Stadium singalong with Paul McCartney is cathartic and magical

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Paul McCartney ****
Marvel Stadium, October 21

Paul McCartney knows what the people prefer. Midway through his show, he jokes, “When we play an old Beatles song, the place lights up with all your phones like a galaxy of stars. When we play a new one, it’s like a black hole. But we play them anyway.”

Paul McCartney at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium: gusto, humour and precision.Credit: Richard Clifford

It’s true that McCartney’s songs with the Fab Four get the best reception – when he and his band launch into Can’t Buy Me Love to kick off the marathon three-hour set, the crowd is immediately rapt. There are some deep cuts, too, such as You Never Give Me Your Money and She Came In Through the Bathroom Window. But with almost 60 years of music to choose from, including with Wings and as a solo artist, there’s plenty else to admire, and the musician delivers it all with gusto, humour and precision.

At 81, McCartney is full of energy, flitting with ease between guitar, bass, keys and ukulele. His voice has naturally worn with time but he still hits the high notes, and there’s more than a hint of the cheeky Liverpool schoolboy who started a musical revolution with his friends.

Paul McCartney plays plays Marvel Stadium: Beatles songs got the best reception.Credit: Richard Clifford

Tributes abound for those friends, both anecdotally and musically. A gospel-inflected Let Me Roll It is dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, and in one of the evening’s best moments, McCartney plays Something on a ukulele gifted to him by George Harrison, blooming from a simple solo number into a robust full-band rendition. In the encore, John Lennon appears on video, vocals isolated from the Get Back sessions, to virtually duet I’ve Got a Feeling – “it’s great to sing with John again,” McCartney offers.

McCartney’s band is a delight to watch, particularly longtime drummer Abe Laboriel Jr, whose facial expressions and subtle dance moves (especially during Dance Tonight) are second only to his serious skills on the kit. That choreography extends to the excellent brass section, which move seamlessly in a line and are sometimes dotted in the stands – they buoy songs such as Got To Get You Into My Life, Letting Go and a dynamic arrangement of Lady Madonna.

The one major misstep of the night is the use of video footage of Johnny Depp, taken from the music video for 2012’s My Valentine. It caused controversy in 2022 at Glastonbury – McCartney’s last live performance before this Australian tour. The feeling at this show, at least for this critic, is the same – a curiosity about what message this ongoing support sends when the performance would have worked just as well without the clip.

Paul McCartney at Marvel Stadium: still hits the high notes.Credit: Photo by Richard Clifford

With a songbook this strong, it’s hard to find much else to fault. The varied set spans McCartney’s entire career, and omissions are unavoidable with such a huge back catalogue. It’s a potent reminder of just how strange and wonderful The Beatles were – from Let It Be and Hey Jude to Helter Skelter and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, these songs are timeless, and singing them with a stadium of strangers is cathartic and magical.

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