Forty-four years after the Beatles‘ legendary show at Shea Stadium, Paul McCartney returned to Flushing Meadows, Queens, last night to perform the first concert at Citi Field, Shea’s replacement. The sold-out crowd was clearly nostalgic for the Beatles’ heyday, but not as much as McCartney himself. “These occasions are so cool,” he said early on in the show, as he walked to the front of the stage to absorb the crowd’s adoration. “I’m just going to take a sec to soak it all in.”
During the first encore McCartney spoke about his most recent appearance in the area, guesting with Billy Joel during his Last Play At Shea concert. “That gentleman is with us tonight,” he said as Joel ran onstage, sending the audience into hysterics. He played piano and sang a rollicking duet with Macca on “I Saw Her Standing There.” Joel, currently on tour with Elton John, looked extremely sunburned, but clearly relished the opportunity to play again with his hero again.
For the rest of the show McCartney stuck to his tried and true concert formula: a smattering of new songs in the beginning, a handful of Wings hits and a fuckload of Beatles classics. Each time he’s toured recently he’s revived a couple Fab Four songs that haven’t been played since their original recording. This time around he dug out “Day Tripper,” and “A Day In The Life.” “Day Tripper” was scorching and clearly should have been unearthed years ago, while “A Day In The Life” was surprisingly effective and emotional considering that the original was a product of so much studio magic. At the end of the Wings cut “Let Me Roll It” the band played a snippet of “Foxy Lady,” followed by a story about McCartney seeing Jimi Hendrix cover a track from Sgt. Pepper in London days after it came out.
The middle section was heavy on material from McCartney’s recent Fireman album, and obscurities like “Flaming Pie” and “Here Today.” It also began raining, and one could feel the energy being sucked out of the stadium as masses of people begin sitting down to huddle under umbrellas and makeshift hats. When McCartney sat down at the piano for “Live And Let Die,” however, the rain stopped and the booming pyrotechnics instantly brought the crowd into the game. From here it was one Beatles song after another: “Lady Madonna,” “Yesterday,” “Get Back,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and the inevitable crowd sing-along on “Hey Jude.” Best of all was “Helter Skelter,” which managed to nearly sound as hard and menacing as the original.
The Beatles’ 1965 and 1966 Shea Stadiums gigs were certainly landmark cultural moments, but as musical events they were quite lousy. The sound was run through the stadium’s public address system, rendering it all but inaudible — regardless of the fact that the girls spent the entire time screaming at the top of their lungs. They only did a dozen songs during a barely 30-minute set. Last night, McCartney played for nearly three hours, in a voice that sounds remarkably unaffected by the passage of time. The only song played at both the 1965 and 2009 shows was “I’m Down.” While nothing could beat this version (watch John Lennon play the keyboards with his elbows), the 2009 rendition was light years better than you’d expect from a man three years short of his 70th birthday.