Paul McCartney at Dodger Stadium: Fit, giddy and in vintage form

Paul McCartney at Dodger Stadium: Fit, giddy and in vintage form
Paul McCartney greets the sold-out Dodger Stadium crowd before performing in Los Angeles on Sunday night. It was McCartney's first performance at the stadium since the Beatles played there 48 years ago. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
One by one we rolled toward Dodger Stadium, in Hyundais, Jeeps and Teslas amid stretch limousines and black SUVs. We arrived via every avenue, more than 50,000 strong, part of a mass pilgrimage to see Paul McCartney. The last time he played the stadium was 1966, as a Beatle in the middle of a maelstrom.

Tickets then ranged from $3 to $6, and 46,000 attended. The band played only a 30-minute set. During the pre-show news conference, John Lennon was still dealing with his "more popular than Jesus" comment of a few months prior. The following day, the Beatles performed their last ever concert, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. 

On Sunday night, 48 years, hundreds of songs, millions in sales and a few generations later, McCartney returned, looking fit and giddy and fully recovered from a recent illness. The best tickets cost $250. And like ants to a sugar cube, the people gathered. Skinny college kids and 300-pounders, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives focused for three hours, more than three dozen songs and just as many achingly beautiful verses and hooks, the kind that can only be called McCartney-esque.

There it was in "The Long and Winding Road," the ascendant joy that arrived with the "many times I've been alone" chorus. In "Another Day," that "so sad, sometimes she feels so sad" maneuver turned the song upside down. "And any time you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain," sang McCartney, 72, during "Hey Jude."


The refrains and verses arrived like summer rain, amid focused, tight renditions from his long-running four-piece touring band: Let it out and let it in. Dear sir or madame, can you read my book? Close your eyes and I'll kiss you. Try to see it my way. When I find myself in times of trouble mother Mary comes to me.

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. A bell was ringing in the village square for the rabbits on the run. Once there was a way to get back homeward. When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide.

Each its own feeling, each drawing its own gasps of recollection and joy.

McCartney looked and sounded great, good news given his recent bout with a virus that sidelined him in May. Well-tailored and smart, with that dangling brown hair, he wore Beatle boots, a deep blue blazer (until he took it off in what he referred to as his only costume change of the night). His eyes twinkled beneath spotlights and the so-called super moon, one he noted as it rose in the eastern sky, connecting it to Lennon through a dedication of the song "Here Today."

Throughout the night, McCartney swapped instruments, bass to hollow-body electric guitar to grand piano to acoustic to ukulele, the latter for an emotionally rich version of "Something" dedicated to his former bandmate George Harrison.

His voice was strong, even if he'd be the first to tell you that his screams are more strained. He used the high runs sparingly, a man adapting to one changing instrument while remaining remarkably adept on his bass.

As in 1966 with the Beatles, McCartney performed "Day Tripper," "Yesterday" and "Paperback Writer," each birthed as the artist's muse was hitting the richest of his many creative peaks. Over the evening,  he expanded on those next miraculous three years that produced songs including "Blackbird," "Eleanor Rigby," "Let It Be," "Hey Jude" and the concert ending suite of "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight" and "The End." 

The band erupted during the Wings jam "Live and Let Die," as did the fireworks, smoke bombs, flame-shooters and random booms. "Back in the U.S.S.R." sounded apt in L.A., what with its Beach Boys' suggestive runs.

Complaints? Yes, hire a dang string quartet already. I'm sure we'd all have chipped in an extra buck to see "Eleanor Rigby" performed as it should be, rather than with samples. A real brass section would have blown out "Lady Madonna" even further. Not doing so rang of frugality.

A few of the new songs are substandard Macca, especially "Is There Anybody Out There," an audience participation song that felt cloying and barely registered its desired response. But two other songs from McCartney's very good recent album "New" worked: "New" and "Queenie Eye."

Those are quibbles, though. Unlike so many tired old rockers on the casino circuit, McCartney has endured for reasons well beyond mere nostalgia. So, when the artist posed his classic question, many of us had a ready-made answer. "All the lonely people, where do they all belong?"

In a perfect world, within these songs, and awash in this feeling.

Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit