When McCartney started announcing sporadic destination ballpark shows last year, I naturally felt a twinge of hope that he’d return to the area. I had no delusions about seeing a mind-blowing show, but the truth is, my first time seeing Paul (Chicago, April 2002) was one of the most moving experiences of my life; I went in in a sour mood to begin with, not expecting much considering the rote performances I’d seen from other elder statesmen of rock, totally unprepared for the power of witnessing a Beatle play Beatles songs, and my head swam at the impact of it. From then on, I couldn’t imagine skipping out on the opportunity to get back to that headspace, even if it was purely for the sake of the songs.
At Wrigley on Sunday night, the band was in magnificent form, Paul was as assured and charming as ever, and still it was all about the songs. McCartney has written so many hits, he’s alone on a level of not even being able to play them all at a single concert, giving him the rare freedom to dig deep and really play whatever the hell he wants, knowing that the real fans will be grateful for every note and the casual crowd won’t remember whatever he might be leaving out. So throwing in Wings cuts like “Junior’s Farm” and “Mrs. Vandebilt” and “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five” was almost like some modern rock up-and-comer playing obscure b-sides, a total thrill for a geek like me and an opportunity for Paul and the band to rock out on tunes they haven’t played in decades.
Then, of course, there were the Beatles numbers. It would have killed me to have missed out on “Paperback Writer” after all these years, one of the greatest riffs Paul or anybody ever wrote, as well as the left-field Help! nugget “The Night Before” and (if you’re partial to the U.S. version like me) the classic Rubber Soul opener “I’ve Just Seen A Face”. But you just never know what’s really going to bring your heart into your throat when you’re dealing with the Macca catalog; “Blackbird”? “I Will”? “The Long And Winding Road”? “Let It Be”? An apocalyptic take on “Helter Skelter” that would send most 69-year-old men running for their lives? Impossibly, Paul’s voice was much, much stronger at this show than it was six years ago, and the man never once even took a drink of water the whole show. I was hoarse halfway through.