PAUL McCARTNEY AT NEW ORLEANS : Smoothie King Center (October 11 2014)
Paul McCartney’s career-spanning New Orleans concert celebrated the old and the ‘New’
By Keith Spera, 
The Times-Picayune 
October 12, 2014

Five songs into Paul McCartney’s marathon at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center on Saturday (Oct. 11), he hauled out an invaluable rock ‘n’ roll relic: The guitar he used on the Beatles’ recording of “Paperback Writer.” It was not encased in protective glass, or handled with white gloves. Instead, McCartney used it for its intended purpose: He played it. By the song’s conclusion, he had it up against an amplifier, howling with feedback.

For three hours, he treated his songs – a staggering 39 of them, spanning his entire 50-year career – just like that guitar: Not as sacrosanct museum pieces, but as rock ‘n’ roll raw material meant to be manipulated and played, preferably by a band as lean and virile as his.

If anyone could rest on his laurels, it is Paul McCartney. He co-authored arguably the greatest catalog of late-20th century popular music. He is fabulously wealthy, yet consistently gracious and engaged. He has dealt with personal and professional trauma, yet maintained his dignity in public. And he is 72 years old.

Yet Sir Paul refuses to rest, on his laurels or elsewhere. He continues to globetrot, presiding over epics that might give that other rock ‘n’ roll marathoner, Bruce Springsteen, pause. (In addition to Saturday’s three-hour concert, McCartney also banged out an hour-long sound check that afternoon, which reportedly featured “Ram,” “Jet” and other songs he didn’t include in the “official” concert.)

He obviously still delights in making music and making an audience happy. “You want some more?” he asked Saturday, already 33 songs deep into the show. “OK, me too.” He meant it.

Perhaps most tellingly, he is determined to intermingle the old with the “New,” his aptly titled and well-received 2013 album. After leading his band onto the sleek but not ostentatious stage at 8:30 p.m. with smiles, waves, and upraised thumbs, he launched “Eight Days a Week,” the urgent “New” cut “Save Us,” and “All My Lovin’.” Later, “Lovely Rita” and “Eleanor Rigby” bookended the “New” song “Everybody Out There.” The message was clear: He considers his new music worthy of standing alongside his classics. (The Beatles-esque “New” title track, at least, certainly is; “Queenie Eye,” a song inspired by a childhood game, maybe not as much.)

After more than a decade together, he, lead guitarist Rusty Anderson, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., guitarist/bassist Brian Ray and keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens are as much of a band as a band of equals-except-one can be. They are a finely honed unit not afraid to get their hands dirty, as in the “Foxy Lady” coda tacked onto the raucous Wings track “Let Me Roll It,” a mass of sleazy guitars and slinky organ fills.

All four bandmates dressed up arrangements with details. They stacked sunburst harmonies in “Paperback Writer.” Laboriel, in addition to continuously tumbling over his drums with loose-limbed strikes, slipped the “a-hah-hah” laugh into the background of “Ob-La-De, Ob-La-Da.” Wickens inserted a kazoo into “Lovely Rita” and draped accordion over “We Can Work It Out.” Anderson’s many highlights ranged from his flamenco-tinged solo in “My Valentine,” to his letter-perfect “Maybe I’m Amazed” electric solo, to his extra flourishes in a full-bore “Back in the U.S.S.R.”

McCartney, meanwhile, alternated his trademark Hofner bass, electric guitars, six- and 12-string acoustic guitars, ukulele, electric piano and grand piano. His voice has lost very little of its range or dexterity. He nailed the scalded lines in “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Helter Skelter” as well as the falsetto in “Blackbird” and the delicate “And I Love Her.”

He dug up deeper cuts, such as the country-tinted “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” released on the British edition of “Help!” but the American edition of “Rubber Soul”; “All Together Now,” from the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack; “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!,” one of the less-familiar titles on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”; his early solo single “Another Day”; and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” from Wings’ “Band on the Run.”

He saluted the women in his life. He dedicated “My Valentine,” from his 2012 album “Kisses on the Bottom,” to current wife Nancy Shevell, who was in attendance. He acknowledged writing “Maybe I’m Amazed” for his late first wife, Linda. (Not surprisingly, ex-wife Heather Mills didn’t merit a mention, much less a song.)

Personable and chatty, he filled the moments between songs with stories and crowd interaction. Shedding his jacket, he announced, would be “the one and only wardrobe change of the whole evening.” He asked how many people in the audience had tried to decipher “Blackbird” on guitar.

Big cheer.

“How cool does that make me feel?” And then: “You all got it wrong.”

He summoned a 14-year-old fan to the stage whose banner proclaimed that her father believed she was too young for a tattoo, but she’d love to have a hug from McCartney. He both agreed with her father and gave her a hug, along with an autograph on the copy of “Sgt. Pepper’s” she happened to have with her.

Given his history, resume and the opportunities it has afforded him, he’s got some great stories. Like the time he went to see Jimi Hendrix in London two days after “Sgt. Pepper’s” came out, and was flattered that Hendrix had already learned to play it (but had to ask Eric Clapton to come out of the audience and retune his guitar). Or the time he played Moscow’s Red Square (“the Ruskies were rockin'”) and met the head of the Russian defense ministry – “a really good job, you know?” – who said the first record he ever bought was “Love Me Do.”

He clearly knew where he was. He noted that “Listen to What the Man Says” was recorded in New Orleans at Allen Toussaint’s SeaSaint studio for the 1975 Wings album “Venus and Mars.” He recalled costuming for that year’s Mardi Gras as a clown that wasn’t as incognito as he’d hoped. He threw out admirably enunciated local catchphrases (“How’s ya mama and dem?” “Where y’at, darlin’?” “Who Dat!”). The city’s music gets all the attention, he said, “but the people in New Orleans are very special.”

He rendered the first half of George Harrison’s “Something” alone on ukulele, just as he’d once done at Harrison’s house; black-and-white images of the pair, with varying degrees of facial hair, flashed on video screens. The full band fell in just in time for Anderson to replicate Harrison’s electric guitar solo. A joyous “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and a brash “Band on the Run” followed, in one of the show’s strongest segments.

As impressive as was the bombast – the literal and musical pyrotechnics of “Live and Let Die,” the brazen guitars and howls of “Helter Skelter” — the quiet moments underscored the real power of McCartney and his music. He wrote “Blackbird” at the height of Civil Rights era’s unrest, as a sort of balm. Alone on an elevated platform, he finger-picked an acoustic guitar, holding the arena rapt. “Here Today,” an imagined conversation with John Lennon recorded barely two years after his death, was presented the same way, with similarly emotional results.

“Let It Be” ended up almost too intense; a lovely, more restrained “Yesterday” featured only McCartney’s acoustic guitar and Wickens’ synthesized strings. For “Carry That Weight,” near the close, McCartney, Anderson and Ray stood side-by-side, trading guitar licks, looking and sounding like a very good band with a very special frontman.

McCartney’s long and winding road won’t go on forever. But he’s determined to travel as long and as far as possible, while still hauling around his enormous legacy. On Saturday, he carried that weight well.

Paul McCartney’s set at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans on Oct. 11, 2014:

1. Eight Days a Week
2. Save Us
3. All My Loving
4. Listen to What the Man Said
5. Let Me Roll It
6. Paperback Writer
7. My Valentine
8. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
9. The Long and Winding Road
10. Maybe I’m Amazed
11. I’ve Just Seen a Face
12. We Can Work It Out
13. Another Day
14. And I Love Her
15. Blackbird
16. Here Today
17. New
18. Queenie Eye
19. Lady Madonna
20. All Together Now
21. Lovely Rita
22. Everybody Out There
23. Eleanor Rigby
24. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
25. Something
26. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Do
27. Band on the Run
28. Back in the U.S.S.R.
29. Let It Be
30. Live and Let Die
31. Hey Jude
First encore:
32. Day Tripper
33. Birthday
34. Get Back
Second encore:
35. Yesterday
36. Helter Skelter
37. Golden Slumbers
38. Carry That Weight
39. The End

Paul McCartney performs at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans on Saturday, October 11, 2014. (Photos by Chris Granger, | The Times-Picayune) :