Just over an hour into a set that lasted nearly three, Paul McCartney acknowledged the city in which he was performing. “How many people here are actually from Brooklyn?” he asked, as many in the sold-out Barclays Center crowd greeted him with loud applause. He continued to gauge the crowd’s geographical roots, asking next who wasn’t from Brooklyn, but New York City, then asking who came from out of town.
This crowd-hyping exercise, which came last night at 9:48 p.m., is a classic in any performer’s playbook, but coming from perhaps the most legendary living musical presence, something about it felt extraordinarily genuine; perhaps it was aided by the fact that he could lead his band right into “And I Love Her” the moment the clock struck 9:50. With his four touring bandmates alongside him—including longtime drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. beating the bongos—McCartney did what he does every night, and jumped full speed, moving his hips, playing guitar, and, of course, singing along with all of the excited fans who came out to see him.
Once he finished his time with this classic 1964 track—each and every selection within his 40-song set list is treated like it’s his baby; the attention to detail is pristine, and not a single lyric is ever slurred, skipped or otherwise—he headed over to stage left to thanks the crowd. Then he looked straight ahead, again thanking the crowd. And finally he walked over to stage right to thank the crowd. Excessive thanking of the crowd, in my experience, generally signifies the end, or at least near-end, of a set.
Paul McCartney does it after every song. That’s right: Every. Single. Song. And, you know, really, if you were living life as Paul McCartney—Paul McCartney!—wouldn’t you do the same?
I suppose when you’re a 75-year-old icon and have been performing for more than half a century, it would make sense that you’d feel pretty confident in your stage banter, and McCartney sure does deliver a lot of it. But when you’re telling stories about Jimi Hendrix, and saying things that we mere mortals simply can’t say, like “He was a great guy, we used to hang out,” before telling an extensive story about Jimi Hendrix performing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, well, at that point you can banter all you well please.
McCartney’s time on stage was largely split either plugging away on the keys or behind his rotating array of guitars, while his band always seemed to complement perfectly in one way or another, whether that was filling in with different percussion, backup vocals that came from nowhere, or a killer solo.
The stage production for the One on One tour, which made a pair of stops in both Newark and Madison Square Garden before this first of two nights in Brooklyn was stunningly high budget and innovative: during “Blackbird,” McCartney rose to mid-air atop a mini-platform, which was actually an LED screen. At first, it displayed a rotating globe in space, then transitioned to a waterfall, making it look like Paul was standing right on top of a waterfall as he played “Here Today,” his solo tribute to John Lennon. During “Live and Let Die,” there were pyrotechnics that rivaled Kanye West’s when he performs “Blood on the Leaves.” I felt the heat of the flames on my face when they combusted high into the air of the Barclays Center space.
A notable New Yorker was in residence celebrating his 43rd birthday; Jimmy Fallon—seated next to his pal Lorne Michaels—got a special shout-out near the end of the set, which prompted McCartney and the band to jump into their rendition of Happy Birthday, which was a surprise that only added to the grandiose theme of what the whole night had become.
There are so many songs to be played from the McCartney songbook that it would be impossible to please everyone, but it’s fair to say that the mix was diverse in both the ages and composition of the songs that were included—there were never too many slow songs or fast songs, new songs or old songs, stacked one after the other. “We know which songs you like, and which are…iffy,” he said, addressing the crowd. “When we do an old Beatles favorite, your phones all light up like the stars at night, but when we do a new one, it’s like a black hole. But we don’t care—we’re gonna play them anyway!” He then jumped right into a new song, and the crowd rejoiced (even if Paul was right, and most of them didn’t know what their ears were about to experience).
We live in a time so rich time for music, where we have so many options for shows, for albums, so many different avenues in which to aid our discovery of said music, that it can at times be difficult to explain why people would spend premium ticket money to see a massive show in an arena or a stadium. But when you see the kind of show that Paul McCartney—or many of his brethren, like, say, Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty—puts on, as a true icon that can still bring it for three hours? That’s unparalleled, and is something—perhaps, the only thing—that a smaller, more intimate show can’t offer.
When the night finally came to a close, McCartney and his entire five-piece band locked hands, faced the crowd, and bowed as if they were closing out a Broadway show. The song they played earlier that night may be called “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and, in a way, it could never be more accurate. Paul McCartney won’t ever need anyone to buy that: he’s earned all he’ll ever need.