Live Review: Paul McCartney @ Marvel Stadium, Melbourne

23 October 2023 | 11:01 am | Guido Farnell

Paul McCartney put on one of the most memorable gigs we have seen in ages.

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney (Credit: MPL Communications)

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If Beatlemania ails you, then we hope the perfect panacea for your condition is Sir Paul McCartney’s Australian tour, which kicked off this week. At 81, McCartney defied age and simply blew the crowd at Marvel Stadium away with an epic three hours of tunes that showcase an illustrious career that is the stuff of legend. Sir Paul’s expansive songbook meant that not everyone would be satisfied with tonight’s setlist. In the absence of silly love songs and lonely nights, McCartney favoured songs that allowed his band to indulge in fairly hard rock workouts.

A seemingly heavier, more insistent version of Can’t Buy Me Love kicked off the night. It’s an instantly feel-good start to the night, which comes tinged with a certain nostalgia. It’s hard to believe that the Beatles released their first album just on sixty years ago; it’s one of many moments during this concert where it just felt surreal to hear these much-loved songs played live by their creator.

Like, did we really just sing along with Sir Paul to the Na Na Na NaNaNaNas on Hey Jude? McCartney at the piano for Let It Be and Lady Madonna brought to mind high school piano lessons when we took a break from classical music with the sheet music of these songs – never mind those memories of your grandparents playing the jaunty Obla Di Obla Da when you were a toddler.

A truly rollicking version of the song that had the entire stadium singing along assured us that Desmond and Molly Jones are doing just fine. Sometimes coming off sounding a bit rough, the years have done their work on McCartney’s vocal cords, but the honest delivery of these songs shows the crowd that his heart and soul are deeply invested in his music.

Early in the evening, Juniors Farm and Letting Go showcased the awesome raw power of McCartney’s band and introduced us to his awesome horn section, which he referred to as The Horny Boys. Amusingly, McCartney did a kind of quirky ‘happy’ dance at the end of many songs. Despite the early appearance of these Wings songs, much of the setlist indulged the crowd’s Beatlemania. Energetic versions of Jet and Band On The Run were obvious choices for later.

McCartney acknowledged that he and the band knew what songs the crowd liked because mobile phones usually light up the stadium for those songs. While he has more hits than most others and could play them for hours and hours, McCartney was insistent on doing his own thing. The elder statesman of rock peppered the hits with some idiosyncratic choices that thoughtfully explored the back catalogue. Recent solo material such as Fuh You and Come On To Me are presented in a way that kind of glosses over the underlying sexed-up intent of these songs. My Valentine, written for his wife Nancy Shevell, who is in the audience, replaces My Love, which was written for Linda McCartney all those years ago.

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Essentially, the same band that featured in the landmark Good Night New York concerts in 2009 supports McCartney tonight. At this stage of the game, they seem to know these songs like the back of their hand and play each tune like a well-oiled machine. Surprisingly, even McCartney’s banter in between some of these songs has not changed much since those shows – like that story about meeting Jimi Hendrix in London after the release of the Sgt Peppers album. Nonetheless, they deliver the awesome grind of Foxy Lady as a coda to a brilliant version of Let Me Roll It. It isn’t hard to imagine Hendrix offering one he rolled to McCartney all those years ago.

When the crowd cheer him on as McCartney takes off his jacket, a move signifying that he’s about to really get down to business, he pauses and, looking a bit stunned, dryly assures us that this will be the only costume change we will see tonight. Much of the appeal of this show is built squarely on the solid musicianship on display and the timeless appeal of these songs.

Watching McCartney’s fingers slide across the strings of his old Höfner is simply magic. Standing on an elevated platform and playing Blackbird is about as spellbinding as it gets. The entire stadium is pretty much silenced as we soak up the sweetly introspective mood. McCartney tells us that the song came about when he and George took inspiration from the classical music they played to impress upon people that they could play more than just rock and roll.

This tribute to Hendrix is just one of many. Here Today was written after John Lennon was murdered. It is a tearful goodbye as much as it is a celebration of his old friend’s life. While Wings had plenty of hits, those old Lennon-McCartney collaborations are just gold. Later in the show, McCartney holds an old ukulele and casually says, ‘George gave me this one’. He strums and quietly sings Something. It’s a blissful and nostalgic moment with McCartney before the band kicks in with the full dreamy arrangement.

What would the Got Back tour be without the understated grunt of Get Back on the setlist? Surprisingly, She Came In Through The Bathroom Window and Mr Kite! are delivered with a sweet psychedelic sound that’s just groovy. Live And Let Die, complete with pyrotechnics, fireworks, strobe, and lasers, see the band shredding for their lives. It’s a full-tilt rock out that isn’t to be surpassed by the thrills of Helter Skelter, which positively tears the place apart.

McCartney stops the show at some point to tell us that reading the signs fans have made are a great way of making mistakes. He responds to a sign saying, ‘Sign my butt’ with an ‘Okay, then show us what you got’. While you may be thinking, ‘OK boomer’, the cameras turned on the audience to reveal a diverse crowd of young and old. It demonstrates the appeal of these songs is timeless.

There’s a noticeable contingent of fans from Japan up front and worryingly, another fan with a sign calling themselves a ‘fan on the run’ claiming to have seen McCartney 114 times and counting. It’s a clear indication that McCartney’s music transcends and has an almost universal reach.

Encores are comprised entirely of Beatles songs. I’ve Got A Feeling featured a virtual duet with John Lennon, made possible by filmmaker Peter Jackson. McCartney touchingly described the famed rooftop gig as a ‘sweet memory’. Lennon may have snidely accused McCartney of making ‘granny music’ all those years ago, but these songs, more than just stand the test of time, now constitute a culturally significant cornerstone of rock music. Carry That Weight and The End conclude one of the most memorable gigs we have seen in ages.