Paul McCartney at Nationals Park, Washington, DC, Friday 12 July 2013
Getting in to Nationals Park on Friday night to see Paul McCartney was line after interminable line, accented by a pesky drizzle and ominous skies. But by the time McCartney finally took the stage (at 9 p.m., an hour after the advertised start time), the skies had cleared and the sold-out audience was ready for a sing-along. And McCartney delivered with a 38-song, two-hour-and-40-minute performance that was two-thirds Beatles songs, some of his biggest Wings hits, and solo tunes thrown in for good measure.
He made sure to weave in some history as well: he played "Paperback Writer" on the guitar he had used to record it. He described "Blackbird" as a commentary on the 1960s civil rights movement and he played two songs for the first time ever in front of a D.C. audience ("All Together Now" and the trippy "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"). McCartney closed "Let Me Roll With It" with a tribute to Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady", then described Hendrix's biggest tribute to him: learning and performing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" just two days after the Beatles had released it.
McCartney knows how to pace a show, too. Sure, there were some lulls-- the tender "My Valentine" and the Lennon tribute "Here Today" were dips in an otherwise spirited set. But McCartney sandwiched each of those between higher-energy sing-alongs, never spending too much time chasing down a rabbit-hole of lesser-known tunes. It's hard for any song to follow a huge spectacle of "Live and Let Die" with its on-stage pyrotechnics and sky-high fireworks, but McCartney pulled that off as well, simplifying things for his main set closer, "Hey Jude".
There is so much youthful exuberance in his songs-- from "Eight Days a Week" to "All My Loving" to the sing-along favorite "Ob-La Di, Ob-La-Da"-- that McCartney never quite seemed his age of 71. Only rarely-- when he strained for the high notes on "Maybe I'm Amazed" and "Band on the Run"-- did his voice seem worn out from decades of performing. But more often, his songs' emotional heft was strengthened by his years: "Let It Be" and "The Long and Winding Road" were even more poignant sung from his older, wearier perspective. And when McCartney didn't quite have the notes, the audience chimed in to help.
-- Catherine P. Lewis