Concert review: Paul McCartney at Nationwide Arena

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Endurance emerged as a dominant theme when Paul McCartney took up residence at a sold-out Nationwide Arena on Tuesday.

This was true both in physical terms - looking trim and spry at 73, the former Beatle, dressed in dark slacks, a crisp white shirt and a blazer, led his four-piece backing band through a marathon 39-song set that stretched out over nearly three hours - and in regards to cultural relevance. When McCartney bounded through "Back in the U.S.S.R.," for one, it struck that the song had somehow managed to outlast even the nation Ronald Reagan once dubbed "the Evil Empire."

McCartney, making his first visit to Columbus in 10 years, drew from the entire spectrum of his decades-spanning catalog, delving heavily into classic Beatles material (the band's songs rightfully made up a bulk of the set) without ignoring his time in Wings ("Band on the Run" and a dancing, piano-driven "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five") or his solo output.

Further proof of McCartney's enduring vitality surfaced in his onstage banter - few artists could regale audiences with tales of being covered by Jimi Hendrix and penning songs alongside Kanye West ("FourFiveSeconds," a jumpy, acoustic number performed mid-set here) - and in his tributes to his deceased bandmates. He paid homage to George Harrison on "Something," opening the song playing a ukulele gifted to him by the late-Beatle, and to John Lennon on "Here Today," which was written after the musician's death and imagined a final conversation between the longtime songwriting team.

Even these heavier moments, however, were leavened by McCartney's boyish spirit and a deep-seated sense of optimism.

"She said someday soon/ The sun was going to shine/ And she was right," he sang with typical hope on the atypically down-tempo "My Valentine."

It helps, of course, that McCartney remains a guileless performer prone to cornball #dadjokes ("You know how they say 'good morning' in Japan? Ohio!") and charming faux ego-trips. "I'm going to take a minute just to drink it in for myself," he announced at the close of "Got to Get You into My Life," moving to the lip of the stage to soak up the applause, like Tinkerbell gaining a turbo-charged boost of virility.

McCartney rotated instruments throughout the evening, logging time with his Hofner bass, ukulele, piano, and a smattering of acoustic and electric guitars, including the same amber-hued six-string he employed in the studio recording "Paperback Writer." The music shifted form nearly as often, moving from raw-nerve blasts of British Invasion garage ("One After 909") to Cajun-spiked New Orleans R&B ("Lady Madonna") to thundering arena rock ("Live and Let Die," accompanied here by a flotilla of explosives). The players even adopted a bouncing oompah beat on a trippy "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," which mimicked a dizzying spin through a Ukrainian carnival.

While time was generally on McCartney's side, there were occasions the concert felt slightly dated. Such was the case during the singer's introduction to "Blackbird," which he said he wrote in response to the Civil Rights Movement in 1960s America, pointing to locales like Birmingham, Alabama and Little Rock, Arkansas as sources of inspiration. Even the slightest mention of the current racial tensions sweeping the country could have given the song added potency.

Additionally, McCartney introduced the percolating "Temporary Secretary" as a "newer song," which might have been true in comparison with much of the set list, but felt out-of-step with both its actual release date (the tune first appeared on McCartney II, from 1980) and the images of various vintage technologies (typewriters, rotary phones, etc.) that cycled onscreen behind the musicians.

For his part, McCartney expressed fondness for modern technology. He performed one song he penned for a video game (the pretty-but-cornball "Hope for the Future") and even informed the audience that he can tell how popular a song is with a given crowd based on the number of cell phones held aloft to capture the moment. "So when you've not struck on it, the [arena] goes [dark] like a black hole," he said

He needn't have worried. On this night, at least, the audience responded in force as McCartney led sing-alongs on songs like "Let It Be," "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "Hey Jude," the latter of which caused the arena to flicker and glow with all the intensity of a newborn galaxy.