When people go to a Paul McCartney concert, there are a lot of expectations.
The former Beatle, Wings frontman and accomplished solo artist has enough gold records under his belt to make King Midas jealous. But at the age of 71, could Sir Paul continue his gold standard at San Francisco’s Outside Lands music festival?
After Friday night’s headlining show at the Land’s End Stage in Golden Gate Park, the answer is a resounding YES.
Going on around 7:15 p.m., McCartney pulled from his extensive catalog of compositions, engaged the crowd with convivial banter and sounded great as ever.
He began with the Beatles hit “Eight Days a Week,” originally coming off the 1964 album Beatles for Sale. Then, it was into the jaunty Wings track “Junior’s Farm,” before he dipped back into the Liverpudlian quartet’s “Magical Mystery Tour,” which came complete with colorfully-highlighted puffs of smoke on the giant video board behind his stellar band.
As the sun went down in San Francisco, bringing with it a crisp chill and slight mist, McCartney made a declarative statement from the start. And judging by the crowd that built throughout the evening, nobody wanted to miss a beat.
“Paperback Writer” received more of a rock feel to it with crashing cymbals and amped-up guitars. Fans were given a walk in the park with “Listen to What the Man Says.” And “We Can Work It Out” was a massive singalong.
While those moments were jam sessions that prompted dance parties throughout the grassy field, McCartney made sure to contribute tender moments to the proceedings, whether he was behind the piano or donning an acoustic guitar.
McCartney introduced a solo hit – “My Valentine” – by noting that it was written for his current wife Nancy Shevell. Later, he pulled out the iconic “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which was penned for his deceased first wife Linda McCartney.
Sir Paul also explained how the tender “Blackbird” was written in the mid-1960s in response to racial tensions in the United States, performing the track by himself as a riser lifted him up above the stage.
Once dusk arrived, however, McCartney turned up the rock-o-meter to really bring things home.
Fog machines put in solid work to make McCartney’s light show really pop, as did the natural foliage that surrounded the venue, with multi-colored spotlights accenting the trees that enclosed the deeper reaches of the audience.
McCartney turned it up with the Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and an arm-swaying version of “Let It Be” that had strangers hugging their neighbors in joyful camaraderie.
Perhaps the most-memorable moment came just before the end of the show, however. Once McCartney sang the opening lyrics to the Wings (and James Bond) classic “Live and Let Die,” the crowd was electrified – cheers reaching the sky.
But it was hard to be prepared by the massive amount of pyrotechnics that McCartney had planned for the payoff refrain.
Once that unforgettable riff sliced through the sea of people watching with rapt attention, fireworks exploded both on stage and behind it, creating a light show that something on a video screen could never touch.
After nearly three hours, McCartney set the tone for what should be an amazing Outside Lands. If anything, he showed any aspiring artists watching just how to be a rock star.
After all, McCartney’s been at the top of his game for more than half a century – with no signs of slowing down.