There won’t be a more historic concert in Seattle this year than Paul McCartney’s show on Friday night. That was a given even before McCartney came on stage, as it was Safeco’s first-ever concert. But McCartney made it a night for the ages by playing an inspired set of mostly Beatles songs, and ending with a Nirvana reunion, of sorts.
It was a Seattle music lover’s dream-come-true, and the 47,000 in the sold-out stadium will be talking about it for years. As the late Dave Niehaus said, it was grand salami time.
Throughout the early half of the three-hour show, McCartney talked often, and his personal histories gave context to classic songs. He told of how honored he was to hear Jimi Hendrix play “Sgt. Pepper’s” two days after the album’s release. He also said the leaders of Russia told him they learned English from Beatles albums. “Hello, goodbye,” he joked.
He had a stellar four-piece band, but it was McCartney’s performance on bass, guitar, and piano that was most impressive, as he jogged between instruments. A cutting “Band on the Run” was particular muscular as it segued into “Back in the U.S.S.R.”
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Giant display screens flanked the stage and showed videos of his children, the Beatles, Wings, and Linda McCartney. He dedicated “My Valentine” to his current wife Nancy, but the video images of Linda, and his performance of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” was most heartwarming.
The show became legendary one song into the first encore when the remaining members of Nirvana — Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl, and Pat Smear — came onstage for “Cut Me Some Slack.” They wrote this tune together, and played it once before at this year’s Grammy Awards, in a lineup the press dubbed “Sir-Vana.”
Usually these superstar jams devolve, but “Sir-Vana” was the rare exception of musicians who were pushed to new heights by their union. McCartney then varied from his usual set for the first time this tour for a romping “Long Tall Sally” that absolutely killed.
Paul urged the Nirvana guys to stay, so they joined his band for most of the encores. Their version of “Helter Skelter,” with a sharp punk edge, would have made John Lennon, or Kurt Cobain, proud. The concert finally closed, three hours after it began, with “The End.”
Paul McCartney is 71, rich and famous beyond measure, and one might suppose he has little to prove. But he gave the Safeco crowd a gift that isn’t often witnessed at superstar shows: he made the most famous songs in rock feel youthful, fresh, alive, important, vital.
It was magnificent.
Charles R. Cross: firstname.lastname@example.org.