Climate Pledge Arena was as packed as I’ve seen. The thousands of out-of-towners who’ve witnessed Paul McCartney perform dozens of times and locals — some who were there when the living Beatle played the old Kingdome back in 1976 — had already been on their feet for the better part of two hours when the sweet piano-set intro to Wings’ James Bond tune “Live and Let Die” lulled them into a false sense of security.
There was an audible gasp when the flame cannons at the front of the stage thunder-clapped in, seemingly to the delight of McCartney’s longtime guitarist Rusty Anderson, who was either tickled by the crowd’s reaction or a little spooked himself. Before anyone could catch their breath, the expansive, cinematic tune darted off faster than a BMW motorcycle, with a Mysterious Rock Star Breeze (aka a hidden fan) blowing McCartney’s feathery hair as he hammered away on the piano. Fireworks cracked and banged overhead during the somersaulting, hairpin-turning, bad-guy-dueling crescendo that capped the most dramatic number of McCartney’s marathon set, triggering the longest applause of the night once everyone finally came up for air.
Turns out the Liverpool lad, who turns 80 next month, still has some razzle dazzle and we hadn’t even made it to the encore.
On Monday night, McCartney and his ace backing band settled into their first of two Climate Pledge Arena shows, already sounding in midtour form (minus any strained vocal cords) just two dates into their first outing since the pandemic. With the appropriately titled Got Back tour opening in Spokane last Thursday — a city Sir Paul had never played — Washington state became the center of the rock icon’s COVID-era comeback and seemed to pick up where his last cut-short outing left off, with a similarly constructed set list. (They even closed with the same mammoth “Abbey Road” medley.)
In typical fashion, McCartney’s first Seattle show in six years was a 2.5-hour stroll through the superstar’s extensive catalog of solo material, choice Wings cuts and Beatles classics, which includes some of the most enduring songs in popular music history.
After that explosive “Live and Let Die,” a song that found a new generation when Guns N’ Roses’ cover made it a hit again two decades after its initial release, the crowd joined McCartney for the most famous na-na-na-nas of all time in a harmonious “Hey Jude.” Even among the biggest of big-tent artists, McCartney/the Beatles’ timeless songs have attained a rare cultural ubiquity that transcends age and demographics. Twenty-five years from now, it won’t be surprising to see some kid hop off a school bus that runs on bean sprouts wearing a Beatles shirt underneath their class of 2047 letter jacket.
Glancing around at the multigenerational faces na-na-na’ing in unison, it was one of those arena-show moments that make you feel like everyone on the planet is vibing out to the same song at exactly the same time. As long as you didn’t check Twitter.
Hours before the show, the ever-divided country was rocked by a report that the Supreme Court could be poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, potentially undoing the half-century-old abortion rights ruling that’s one of many flashpoints in our polarized society. An artist who’s selectively weighed into politics, Macca didn’t touch that one with a 10-foot mic stand. The closest he came to politics on Monday night was waving a Ukrainian flag as he reemerged to begin the encore with an easy-grooving “I’ve Got a Feeling.” That and the PETA members passing out literature in the concourse. (Sir Paul’s been meat-free since the ’70s.)
Using footage from last year’s Peter Jackson-directed docuseries “Get Back,” McCartney duetted (via video) with his late mate John Lennon, turning to face the screen when Lennon’s verse began. The move could have felt forced and cheesy, but came off fun, heartfelt and relevant given the buzz around the illuminating three-part documentary that captured the making of what became the last album the Beatles would release in 1970.
McCartney saluted his esteemed songwriting partner earlier in the night, too, with tender weeper “Here Today,” which he explained was a letter to his old friend that he “never got the chance” to write while Lennon was alive. And not to be forgotten, McCartney played a gently swelling version of the George Harrison-penned “Something” using a ukulele the other fallen Beatle had given him.
Part of the fun of a latter-day McCartney set is the feeling you have a not-inexpensive seat to a piece of rock ‘n’ roll history, whether taking in the rickety-in-a-good-way “Can’t Buy Me Love” that opened the show (absent screaming teens) or hearing grade-A rock folklore retold straight from the living legend himself. After swaying Wings cut “Let Me Roll It” segued into a brief “Foxy Lady” jam, McCartney told the one about Jimi Hendrix famously covering “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” days after its release, after which he asked Eric Clapton, who was among the who’s-who London audience, to tune his guitar. It’s a tour favorite that will probably never get old and still sorta functioned as a reciprocal nod to a hometown hero, even if Macca didn’t acknowledge Hendrix’s Seattle roots. (Maybe next time, Paul.)
While there was undoubtedly a nostalgia factor for the many baby boomers in the house, it wasn’t entirely a night of throwbacks. McCartney joked about how the sea of cellphones that lit up for every Beatles hit go dark whenever he plays a new one. “Women and Wives,” a standout off his savory pandemic album “McCartney III,” might not have been a crowd favorite by comparison, but perfectly suits the huskiness in his voice these days. The brooding piano ballad had Macca sounding more like a less raspy Mark Lanegan than the boyish singer who just wanted to hold your hand 60 years ago.
The closest thing to a dud was the Coldplay-channeling “Fuh You” from Macca’s 2018 album “Egypt Station.” Though the cheeky tune came off better live than on record, its buoyant modern pop swing felt a little out of step nestled between “Lady Madonna” and the whirling, psychedelic quirks of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
With a number of baby boomers’ musical icons getting up there in age, there was speculation that COVID-19 could inadvertently mean the end of touring days for some of the generation’s still-active stars. Broadly speaking, it hasn’t exactly played out that way, although sadly, the Beatles old rival the Rolling Stones would never again get to tour with founding drummer Charlie Watts, who died last year. While Macca seems to be in great shape, still playfully shaking his hips to remind us he’ll always be the cute one, it’s hard not to wonder when or if the sounds of a manic “Helter Skelter” will shake a Seattle arena again after McCartney’s second show on Tuesday.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s not to take these moments for granted.
Can’t Buy Me Love
Got to Get You Into My Life
Come on to Me
Let Me Roll It
Women and Wives
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five
Maybe I’m Amazed
I’ve Just Seen a Face
In Spite of All the Danger
Love Me Do
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
You Never Give Me Your Money
Band on the Run
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
I’ve Got a Feeling
Golden Slumbers-Carry That Weight-The End medley