Even — or especially — in front of 50,000 adoring fans, Paul McCartney was just another proud grandparent.
As the 79-year-old pop legend sang his classic soft-rock ballad “Maybe I’m Amazed” on Friday night, giant screens at Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium flashed old images of him cradling his newborn daughter Mary inside a shearling jacket. You know the photos, the most famous of which — snapped by his late wife Linda, about whom he wrote “Maybe I’m Amazed” — appeared on the back cover of McCartney’s homemade 1970 solo debut, when he’d retreated into the bosom of his family amid the Beatles’ painful breakup.
“That baby in my jacket’s now got four babies of her own,” he told the capacity crowd, itself a clear bastion of grandparenting, at the end of the song.
After more than half a century as one of music’s biggest acts, Sir Paul has an earnest charm that remains his superpower. It’s not that he lacks rock-star swagger. And “relatable” probably isn’t the word for a guy with more money than he could ever spend. But as an icon, what McCartney gets is that people crave art that makes magic from their everyday experiences.
Friday’s concert came a couple of weeks into McCartney’s first tour since a 2019 outing that concluded at Dodger Stadium, where he brought out his old bandmate Ringo Starr for a surprise jam on the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” Called “Got Back,” the current 14-date jaunt also marks McCartney’s return to the road after a lengthy interruption caused by COVID-19.
“We said we’d come back,” he declared at SoFi. “And we got back.”
He wasn’t exactly out of sight during the pandemic. In late 2020 he released “McCartney III,” another DIY solo LP in the shabby-chic spirit of the 1970 disc, as well as a book of his collected lyrics. And last year he helped set off a fresh wave of Beatlemania with “Get Back,” Peter Jackson’s epic fly-on the-wall docuseries about the making of the band’s final two studio albums and its historic 1969 performance atop the Apple Corps building in London.
Still, the stage is where McCartney seems most invested in stewarding his legacy as he prepares to turn 80 next month. (A week after his birthday, he’ll become the oldest person ever to headline England’s massive Glastonbury festival.) McCartney has long viewed his live show as an opportunity to condense his life’s work — music with the Beatles, music with Wings, music on his own — into a 2½-hour survey of crackling riffs, honeyed harmonies and the kind of deep-seated emotional optimism that led him to accompany “Getting Better” on Friday with a video that depicted flowers springing up through the rubble of a post-apocalyptic landscape.
Unlike some of his fellow classic-rock survivors — Bob Dylan and Neil Young, let’s say — McCartney displays little interest in spontaneity or unpredictability, to say nothing of the bewilderment and confusion that Dylan seems to relish sowing in his audiences. Here he recycled between-song banter he’s been using for years, as when he told a story about meeting Jimi Hendrix in London in 1967 and when he introduced the title track from 2013’s “New” album with a quip about how the stadium’s galaxy of glowing cellphones transformed into a black hole every time he played something relatively recent.
During another of those newish tunes — the torchy “My Valentine,” which he dedicated to his wife, Nancy, who he said was in the house Friday — the screens showed Johnny Depp in black-and-white footage shot before the actor’s involvement in an ugly legal battle regarding domestic abuse that you’d have thought the perpetually sunny McCartney would’ve been glad not to conjure.
Awkward associations aside, the unchanging living-museum quality of a McCartney gig is precisely its intended virtue; the show, in which he’s backed by a band of stalwart musicians he’s played with for ages, represents a chance to behold someone still out there doing it at an extremely high level — and, of course, to live inside his songs for an evening.
And, oh, those glorious songs: At SoFi, McCartney played no fewer than three dozen of them, including many you knew you wanted to hear (“Blackbird,” “Band on the Run,” “Hey Jude”), a few you maybe hadn’t realized you wanted to hear (“Let ’Em In,” “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five”) and at least one you definitely didn’t want to hear but endured anyway (“Fuh You,” about which the less said the better).
“Letting Go” had a mean strut; “Let Me Roll It” was snarling and sensual. “Get Back” throbbed with the pent-up energy of both the Beatles in Jackson’s doc and McCartney and his guys after an unwelcome break from the road. For “Live and Let Die” the stage erupted with comically over-the-top pyrotechnics; “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” inspired a euphoric crowd singalong.
In the middle of the show, McCartney and the members of his band convened near the front of the stage for relatively stripped-down versions of the Beatles’ debut single, “Love Me Do,” and “In Spite of All the Danger,” which he, John Lennon and George Harrison recorded when they were known as the Quarrymen.
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To start his encore, McCartney — who reemerged onstage waving a huge Ukrainian flag, while one of his bandmates waved an LGBTQ pride one — deployed a bit of digital tricknology he said Jackson had hooked up for him: a virtual duet with Lennon on “I’ve Got a Feeling” that used the late Beatle’s vocals from a recording of the rooftop concert. It was one of several moments Friday in which McCartney paid loving tribute to his old bandmates, along with a tender rendition of “Here Today,” which he said told Lennon all the things he wasn’t able to in real life, and Harrison’s “Something,” which he began on ukulele before moving to acoustic guitar.
Touchingly, McCartney’s age was more evident here than it was at Dodger Stadium. He moved a little more slowly than he has in the past, and his voice took a little longer to warm up. (His perfect hair, for what it’s worth, still swooped just so.) Yet to view these inevitable concessions as drawbacks is to miss the point of Paul McCartney. The point is that his music allowed for them.