2002 concert review: Sir Paul McCartney, as you wish

Paul McCartney is silhouetted in bright lights onstage as his concert begins at the RBC Center in Raleigh on Oct. 7, 2002.
Paul McCartney is silhouetted in bright lights onstage as his concert begins at the RBC Center in Raleigh on Oct. 7, 2002. N&O file photo

Tickets are going on sale to the public Friday for Paul McCartney’s tour-opening May 27 concert at Raleigh’s PNC Arena -- and already changing hands for big dollars from Tuesday’s pre-sale. This will be his first Triangle show in close to 17 years, and here’s how it went the last time he played this building. From the N&O archive — Oct. 9, 2002

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When you get right down to it, you really can’t trust other people’s opinions about anything — especially the Beatles, whose music is impossible to separate from its soundtrack-of-a-generation iconography. So Paul McCartney played Monday night at Raleigh’s RBC Center, and what can anyone else possibly tell you about the show that you don’t already know?

It was about as predictable as rock concerts get, but in a good way. Beatle Paul offered up three-dozen songs from all phases of his career, with more than half the selections from his Fab Four days. The near-sold-out house responded with as much delirium as it could muster. We are all older than we used to be, after all, which also goes for the 60-year-old McCartney himself.

McCartney’s voice can’t quite hit those high notes anymore, and his appearance has gone from boyish to avuncular. Yet he put on quite a show, taking no breaks to speak of over the course of an energetic two-and-a-half-hour performance (it must be that strict vegetarian diet).

While there weren’t many missteps, the opening definitely qualified. After the lights went down, a troupe of costumed actors and dancers in hoop skirts and powdered wigs wandered the aisles of the arena, accompanied by music that sounded like McCartney’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” recast as ambient techno drones. It went on for nearly 20 minutes, to no apparent purpose.

Fortunately, all was forgiven as soon as McCartney appeared and launched into a rousing “Hello Goodbye.” He brought along a highly skilled backup band featuring lead guitarist Rusty Anderson, whom longtime followers of Triangle music might remember from his stint in Parthenon Huxley’s band.

You don’t go to a concert like this to be surprised (especially at these prices, with close-in seats going for $250). You go expecting to hear old favorites and remember the way we were. McCartney obliged, keeping the songs from his forgettable 2001 album “Driving Rain” to a bare minimum and going heavy on Beatles classics such as “Blackbird,” “We Can Work It Out” and “Eleanor Rigby.” Even with 36 songs, he was obliged to leave out numerous signature hits — “Helter Skelter,” “Helen Wheels” and “Penny Lane” among them.

One pleasant surprise was the presence of Beatles songs that McCartney has never played live before this tour, the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” tracks “Getting Better” and “She’s Leaving Home.” Another was McCartney’s tribute to his late Beatles bandmates John Lennon and George Harrison.

McCartney’s rendition of 1982’s “Here Today,” an imagined conversation with Lennon, was genuinely emotional. And for Harrison’s “Something,” McCartney pulled out a ukulele he said Harrison had given him years ago. Hearing “Something” accompanied by ukulele strums was charmingly, sublimely absurd. McCartney’s late wife, Linda, also got a tribute with 1973’s “My Love,” a song he wrote about her (he patted his heart afterward).

Other highlights included the nifty segue from “Band on the Run” to “Back in the U.S.S.R.”; “Blackbird,” still a gorgeously simple song; the one-two closing punch of “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude,” with the obligatory audience sing-along; and two encores full of money shots, from “Lady Madonna” to “The End.”

McCartney acted as if the show represented one long victory lap (and in a way, it did). He was his inimitably hammy self from start to finish, taking bows and raising triumphant fists after virtually every song. For anyone else, it would have been a bit much — but being a living legend does have its privileges.

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