The Beatles star and solo artist kicked off a North American tour in Spokane, Washington. Andrew Buncombe reports
Sir Paul McCartney made history with his first ever gig in the city of Spokane last night (Thursday 28 April). It was a concert that included “a duet” with John Lennon – courtesy of electronic wizardry – and huge cheers when the Beatles legend waved a Ukrainian flag.
It was McCartney’s first concert since the summer of 2019. When he first walked out on to the stage, the 79-year-old had to pause for a moment, apparently struck by the emotion of being back on the road – amid a pandemic that has destroyed and upended so much, not least live music.
“They said ‘get back”, and we got back. And it feels cool,” he said. “You’ll have to give me a moment to myself, just to let me take this in.”
It was one of several moments during the opening concert of his “Got Back” Tour, comprised from 16 stops before his headline show at Glastonbury Festival on June 25 (which happens to be a week after his 80th birthday).
“How are you Spokane?” McCartney asked. “I think we’re going to have a good night.”
And they did. McCartney has never reached for the onstage swagger of someone such as Mick Jagger, but his performance was in many ways remarkable. The set included his first ever live performance of the entirety of “You Never Give Me Your Money” , a song that comes towards the end of Side Two of Abbey Road, The Beatles’ final recording together. And also played “In Spite of All the Danger”, a stripped down tune he once perfomed with The Quarrymen, the group that predated The Beatles.
While people were struck by the reach of McCartney’s voice, the septuagenarian was at his most moving when that voice did not quite reach the notes it once did.
“Lots of people trying to learn this song ‘Blackbird’,” he said good-naturedly, before he started to play. “And you all get it wrong.”
One felt similary when he and his band returned to the stage for an encore, the former Beatle earning loud cheers by waving a huge Ukraine flag. “We’ve got something pretty special for you,” he said.
And so they did, a performance of “I’ve Got A Feeling”, with John Lennon singing along courtesy of the work of Get Back director Peter Jackson. One of the highlights of the documentary film is the concert they played on 30 January 1969, on the rooftop of their Apple Corps London headquarters at 3 Savile Row. The once grainy footage is now embellished with deep colour and tones.
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“Peter Jackson said ‘I can pull John’s voice out if you’d like me to,“ McCartney told the audience.
And so they played along, McCartney – his grey hair worn long – and Lennon, who was shot dead in New York City on 8 December 1980, for a moment seeming to have avoided that fatal encounter with obsessive fan Mark David Chapman. He was back with his band one more time, on the happy but bitter-sweet January afternoon, representing as it did, the Beatles’ final live performance.
The city of Spokane, with its population of 220,000, sits about 300 miles east of Seattle and 90 miles from the border with Canada. While it is the second largest city in Washington state, it has something of the feel of a country town – one that is markedly more conservative that liberal Seattle. Were people surprised he was playing here, packing out the 8,000 seater Spokane Arena?
“I’m not surprised. We’ve had Elton John here and Rod Stewart,” said Mary Mitchell, 58, originally from Montana, who was at the gig with her London-born husband, Stephen. “It’s awesome,” she said.
Another couple in the audience, Debby and Jim Bangs, 70, said they had previously seen McCartney in Missoula, Montana, when he performed at an outdoor festival in 2014.
“He likes to try out these smaller venues,” Debby, who hoped McCartney would play her favourite song, “Birthday”, observed.
Jim was wanted McCartney to perform ”Till There Was You“, a song originally written and performed by Meredith Wilson, which The Beatles covered and included on their 1963 album, With The Beatles. Jim said he used to sing it to their son when he was a baby. This time, McCartney didn’t include it in his set, but he did play ”Get Back“, another favourite.
Officials said tickets for the show sold out in minutes.
“People are very excited,” Brian Coddington, a spokesperson for the city said ahead of the concert.
He added: “It’s a great opportunity to help Paul McCartney to kick off his tour and also showcase our community to the world.”
McCartney and his band played for more than two-and-a-hours, and worked their way through a setlist containing 36 songs.
“Thank you,” said McCartney. “Thank you.”