Editor's note: Staff photographs from Paul McCartney's June 15 performance in Arlington were not possible due to restrictions set in place by the musician's management. The photographs accompanying this review are file photographs from previous performances used for illustration purposes.
Paul McCartney's performance at Globe Life Park in Arlington on Friday night couldn't have come at a better time. He slid into town at just the precise, perfect moment as part of his "Freshen Up" tour, capping what had been an eventful week for a stadium full of music lovers.
To put it mildly, it's been an eventful week in music history for fans of what we now call "classic rock." Netflix premiered its long-awaited Martin Scorsese documentary on Bob Dylan's famed 1975 "Rolling Thunder Revue" concert tour, while Bob's son Jakob hit the big screen with Echo In the Canyon, his own documentary about the history of rock music from California's fabled Laurel Canyon. The Elton John biopic Rocketman continues to soar at the box office, while Bruce Springsteen welcomed the most rabid raves he's felt in over a decade for his new album, Western Stars.
However, it wasn't all good news: On June 11, an explosive New York Times report gave new details on the 2008 Universal Studios fire in Los Angeles, revealing that the master recordings of many classic albums were destroyed in the blaze. For the past decade plus, the fire had been believed to have caused only minimal damage to Universal Music's catalog. Now though, it appears that the original tapes for classic recordings from Nirvana, Chuck Berry, Steely Dan, Tom Petty, The Eagles, R.E.M., Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Buddy Holly, Tupac Shakur, Janet Jackson and so many more are lost forever, leaving the world without a tangible point-of-origin for what is likely an innumerable amount of music.
As the sun set around 8:30 p.m. on Friday, the legendary 76-year old former Beatle strolled onto the stage with his (remarkable) band and immediately kicked into a rollicking performance of "Hard Day's Night." With his long hair waving in the wind and an energetic bounce in his delivery, it seemed as if Sir Paul had been driven to the show in a time machine stocked with sparkling water sourced from the Fountain of Youth. The 55-year-old "Can't Buy Me Love" was delivered early on, and there may not be another septuagenarian alive capable of singing a teeny-bopping ditty like that with as much authentic verve.
At times, the atmosphere of the past week made itself felt on stage. As he has long done, McCartney ended his Wings-era hit "Let Me Roll It" with a Jimi Hendrix-style "Foxy Lady" jam. When the song finished, he told us a story he's told millions of people over many decades about when he met Hendrix and the iconic guitar legend stopped his own concert to ask Eric Clapton to come help him tune his guitar.
As much as he resides on a mythical, musical Mount Olympus, McCartney is also, thankfully, a living, breathing historical figure. Whether it's the Hendrix story, the loving comments he made about his dearly departed Beatles mates, John Lennon and George Harrison, or the memories he recalled of the Quarrymen, the band he and Lennon had just before the Beatles formed, it all felt like much more than benign, rehashed stage banter.
Hearing these sorts of stories mixed in with unassailable songs ripped from the global pop songbook was as much of a tactile interaction as taking a vinyl LP out of the sleeve and reading the liner notes after you drop the needle on the record. We were actually receiving these anecdotes from the historic principal involved rather than reading them on social media or watching a video clip instead.
In his typically humorous, affable way, McCartney introduced the Beatles' first-ever single, "Love Me Do," by telling us about how nervous the group was to be in a recording studio as young lads. That the ensuing, jaunty, jangling performance of the song was nothing short of a slice of joyful innocence was almost anti-climactic.
Over the course of three hours, Sir Paul reeled off nearly 40 songs, with cuts from every era of his catalog represented. For every newer, perhaps more unfamiliar tune (one of which, "My Valentine," he dedicated to his wife, Nancy, who was in attendance), McCartney and his band busted out a lively cut from one of the many other eras of his recording career.
43 years ago, about 15 miles from the ballpark, McCartney kicked off his first ever post-Beatles concert tour with a Wings show at the Tarrant County Convention Center in Fort Worth. If his elegant 1970 solo gem "Maybe I'm Amazed" was any more stunning during that 1976 concert than it was Friday night from behind his piano, it's hard to fathom.
As bombastic as songs like the psychedelic "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" were, or as legitimately rocking as "Band on the Run," "Back in the USSR" or the laser-light and pyrotechnic-powered "Live and Let Die," were, the quieter moments were the gems worth storing away.
All by himself on a high-rising platform with his acoustic guitar, he performed his civil rights-inspired "Blackbird," followed a few songs later by a suitably dramatic "Eleanor Rigby" and its impossible-to-not-sing-along-with "Ah, look at all the lonely people." His ukulele-driven "Something," which he introduced by reminiscing about writing the song with Harrison, began folksy before sweeping into a majestic musical tribute to his late guitar-hero friend.
The jubilant "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" was yet another mandatory group sing-along, as was the sublime "Let It Be." To close out the regular portion of the show, McCartney again sat behind his piano for "Hey Jude," arguably the greatest sing-along song in the history of rock music.
McCartney's performance served as proof that, contrary to countless self-indulgent think-pieces, rock 'n' roll is not dead. And it's also not in the process of growing old, gracefully or otherwise. Seeing and hearing the greats of yesterday create fresh sounds for new memories is a beautiful thing. If anything, Friday night's celebration is a sign that rock 'n' roll is bursting with the spirited verve of a mop-topped teenager.
Shouting and swaying along to the signature "na-na-nas" of "Hey Jude" with around 40,000 or so others is a glorious thing. It's impossible to know how long the memory of that will last in the minds of the ones who were there. But on a week when our music's past felt threatened, it's no small thing to have some control over our vault of irreplaceable musical moments.
Kelly Dearmore is a freelance writer and the former pop music critic of The Dallas Morning News