There’s a sequence in Peter Jackson’s 2021 Beatles documentary, Get Back, when, on the fourth day of the tense writing-and-rehearsal marathon for a high-stakes live show and what would become the Fab Four’s final album, Let It Be:, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr are sitting around griping that John Lennon is running late, as usual. The Beatles are in the dumps and just about done. And McCartney, bearded and overflowing with song ideas – among them, the seeds of “Get Back” – becomes the group’s engine. It’s his job to get the Beatles back to being the Beatles again.
So, it’s no coincidence that McCartney, two months shy of 80 and returning to the road for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic threw the world into a collective doldrum, is calling his tour Got Back.
In a small-city warmup in Spokane, Washington, a delighted McCartney led his tight band through a smorgasbord of Beatles, Wings, and solo classics – including portions of the famed Side Two medley from Abbey Road: and some surprise vocals from the late John Lennon.
McCartney made it clear he was fulfilling a promise.
“Well, we said we’d come back, and we got back,” the singer and multi-instrumentalist told the crowd at the Spokane Arena on Thursday. “And believe me,” he said. “We’re really happy to be back. I’m gonna take a moment for myself to drink it all in. “
McCartney last toured in 2019; a 2020 Europe run was squashed by the pandemic. In the meantime, he recorded the solo LP: McCartney III:playing nearly all the parts himself, in the tradition of 1970’s: McCartney: and 1980’s: McCartney II: – a well-suited approach to Covid isolation. He’s also basking in the renewed interest in all things Beatles that Jackson’s film has sparked.
The show was one long set of Beatles, Wings, and McCartney tunes – and plenty of storytelling. McCartney, keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., guitarist Rusty Anderson, and guitarist-bassist Brian Ray, opened with the early Beatles hit “Can’t Buy Me Love” and a heavy take on Wings’ riff rocker Junior’s Farm. ” The Hot City Horns (saxophonist Kenji Fenton, trumpeter Mike Davis, and trombonist Paul Burton) joined for Wings’ “Letting Go,” and lent tight and tasteful brass harmony throughout the night.
McCartney played his iconic fiddle-shaped Höfner bass – but also electric and acoustic guitar, mandolin, and both upright and baby-grand pianos. The big screen behind the stage shone with images from across McCartney’s history, with animations of the young Beatles, and montages of that band in joyous form from Get Back:with psychedelic cartoons in the vein of: Yellow Submarine:.
During “Getting Better,” rubble in images of post-apocalyptic New York, London, and Paris yielded to sprouting vines and burgeoning flowers, emphasizing the night’s theme of rebirth.
Midshow, the core band came out front and played in front of a projected tin-roof shack, like an old juke joint. McCartney talked about recording the first Beatles demo, “In Spite of All the Danger.” Then the band played it, a doo-wop tune with a country lilt and cowboy harmonies, followed by “Love Me Do” and McCartney’s 2007 single “Dance Tonight.”
McCartney stepped forward onto another stage that lifted him halfway to the lighting trusses for a solo “Blackbird” on acoustic guitar, while birds and trees glimmered all around him. He dedicated “Here Today” to Lennon, and expressed regret that he hadn’t properly told his old friend he loved him while he had the chance.
A few songs later, McCartney paid tribute to Harrison, playing Harrison’s “Something” on a ukulele that had been a gift from him.
He introduced “an old one,” which turned out to be “You Never Give Me Your Money,” the kickoff to the cinematic suite that occupies the second half of Abbey Road:, played live for the first time in close to 20 years – with the band filling out the Beatles’ harmonies. Then came later Abbey Road medley song “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” leading into “Get Back.” The: Let It Be: closer was clearly the night’s theme song, and it got the sometimes-subdued small-city crowd on its feet. The string of big guns that followed kept them there: Wings anthem “Band on the Run,” “Let It Be” (with McCartney on baby grand), and a shocking “Live and Let Die” that seemed informed by the Guns N ‘Roses cover, with full pyrotechnics – explosions, shooting columns of flame, and fireworks.
McCartney played “Hey Jude” on the shiny black baby grand – then the band departed.
They returned not with instruments, but with flags – for the US, the UK, and Washington state – and McCartney waving the blue-and-yellow banner of war-torn Ukraine.
“We’ve got something a bit special for you here,” McCartney said, and the band started “I’ve Got a Feeling.” Lennon appeared on the big screen, and it took a moment to register that the band was playing – and McCartney singing – with his isolated vocals from the Beatles’ final live set, on the roof of Apple Records in 1969. (McCartney said Jackson had texted him, “We can extract John’s voice, and he san sing with you. I said, ‘Oh, yeah!'”)
“Everybody had a hard year,” Lennon sang. And it was true.
The band played “Birthday” and “Helter Skelter,” which was appropriately heavy – and perhaps a bit lost on the high-desert crowd.
“Yeah, we all got back,” McCartney said at the end of the night. “Together in the same room.”
And now, he said, it’s time to go home, before returning to the: Abbey Road: medley to close with “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” and “The End.”
McCartney never specifically mentioned Covid. He did not seem interested in preaching. Instead, he seemed content, and maybe quietly dazzled, to be back onstage, back with fans, back singing great songs from his vast career, and back embracing the legacy of his oldest musical mates. Back to where he once belonged.
Paul McCartney Set List:
“Can’t Buy Me Love”
“Got to Get You Into My Life”
“Come On to Me”
“Let Me Roll It”
“Women and Wives”
“Maybe I’m Amazed”
“I’ve Just Seen a Face”
“In Spite of All the Danger”
“Love Me Do”
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite ”
“Ob La Di Ob La Da”
“You Never Give Me Your Money”
“She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”
“Band on the Run:
“Let It Be”
“Live and Let Die”
“I’ve Got a Feeling”
“Golden Slumbers” / ”Carry That Weight” / ”The End”