A full 20 years after last performing for a Memphis audience at the Liberty Bowl, Paul McCartney returned Sunday night, this time to FedExForum for his 2013 "Out There" tour. And, though the show was dominated by classics from several different periods of the 50-odd years this remarkable artist/icon has been performing, there was no oldies-show aura to any of it.
During the three hours he was onstage, McCartney must have played at least a score of different instruments — including two pianos, a ukulele, and innumerable guitars, both acoustic and electric, on one of which, during an instrumental spell, he convincingly reprised some blues riffs from Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady." The ukulele was used to begin a version of George Harrison's "Something," which former comrade McCartney finished with a full orchestral swirl à la Phil Spector.
McCartney also paid homage to other mates, including members of the Beatles, Wings, and others of his musical aggregates in the photo-montages that played intermittently on a screen behind him. Notably, McCartney performed his 1982 song "Here Today," written for martyred colleague John Lennon, and did a version of Lennon's "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," a novelty number from Sgt. Pepper's that was getting its regional concert debut — "first time in Tennessee, baby," Sir Paul said.
That was one of several references, direct and indirect, to his audience, the most notable of which was McCartney's recollection of the importance that music coming out of Memphis had for the "kids" who would later kick off the British Invasion and his assertion that "I don't think we could have done it without Memphis."
McCartney has always had first-class support — this time consisting of guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, keyboardist Paul Wickens, and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. And there were special effects out the kazoo, including flame jets and fireworks during "Live and Let Die," the eponymous title song which is McCartney's contribution to the legacy of James Bond films. That was one of several songs, including an encore take on "Helter Skelter," that got a full Wagnerian multi-media blowout.
The concert began with "Eight Days a Week," a 1965 Beatles chart-topper and upbeat harmonic stomper typical for that period. Items from the Lennon-McCartney catalog would figure large in the concert mix — "And I Love Her," "Lady Madonna," "Eleanor Rigby," "Back in the USSR," "We Can Work It Out," "Day Tripper," "Get Back," among many others. There were also standards from McCartney's solo periods and from the Wings era and afterward, including the memorable "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Just Another Day," and "Band on the Run."
Even some of McCartney's relatively unfamiliar songs, like the poignant "My Valentine," composed in 2011 as a wedding ballad for his current wife Nancy Shevell, were clearly crowd pleasers. Several of the concert's more intimate moments would come from McCartney sitting at the piano — notably "Let It Be," that ode to stoic perseverance, and the inevitable "Hey Jude," with its extended "na na na" coda, which the audience, orchestrated by McCartney, joined in on — males and females gleefully singing the mantra separately, then together in a communion that was worth the price of admission.
Unlike such honorably withered old soldiers from rock's golden age as Robert Plant and Jagger/Richards, the erstwhile "cute Beatle" has remained a Dorian Gray-like avatar. At 70, McCartney's refusal to age or to go gentle into dilapitude or obsolescence is uncanny. His lithe and youthful appearance was matched on Sunday night by his seemingly undiminished stage energy, much of which was drawn from an often wildly responsive capacity crowd.
Inevitably, the icon's final encore would end with the telling lines from the closing medley on 1969's Abbey Road: "In the end/The love you make/Is equal to/The love you take." There was a lot of that substance going in both directions at FedExForum Sunday night, tokens of an ongoing quid pro quo that, with any luck at all, might go on for quite a while longer.