Paul McCartney has nothing left to prove. He’s a Beatle. He’s a knight. He’s an honorary American. He’s been everywhere, done everything. But in Oakland Monday night, he showed up simply “to rock ‘n’ roll.” And after a 2 1/2-hourlong feast for the eyes and ears, McCartney had done his job. He left a sell-out crowd of 15,000 satisfied.
With a non-stop set dominated by Beatles tunes from “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Yesterday” to “The End” and “Getting Better,” which McCartney claimed had never before been performed in concert, he rocked, he rolled, he paid tribute to John Lennon and George Harrison, but, mostly, he brought the Beatles back to life. And the audience, dominated by gray-haired, 50-somethings who grew up with the Fab Four, loved him for it.
McCartney, who turns 60 in June, hit all the high points of his Beatles, Wings and solo years – a career that now spans more than four decades.
He’s one of the best-selling songwriters and recording artists of all time. McCartney’s 1970s band, Wings, scored seven No. 1 albums. In 1999, he was named the Greatest Composer of the Last 1,000 Years in a BBC poll, beating Mozart, Bach and Beethoven.
He’s kept an especially high profile recently, showing up at the Academy Awards, the Superbowl and the Concert for New York City.
Monday was the opening night of his “Driving USA” tour, which will land in 19 cities through May 18.
A parade of costumed characters, from court jesters carrying balloons to contortionists to a man on stilts and a woman walking on a gigantic rolling ball, began the evening’s entertainment. They frolicked in the audience and on stage until McCartney appeared in sillouette on a screen holding his famous violin-shaped Hofner bass guitar high in the air.
He was backed by a group of tight, well-rehearsed Los Angeles musicians, several of whom performed on McCartney’s latest release, “Driving Rain.”
McCartney was the consummate entertainer. He strained to hit a few high notes, he messed up some lyrics and his voice sounded a bit hoarse at times, but his energy was infectious.
Women screamed when, after a few songs, McCartney stripped off his charcoal jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his gray shirt.
He sang “All My Loving,” against a bank of video screens that played black-and-white Beatles footage. He told the story of “Blackbird” and how it was meant to tell about the Civil Rights-era struggle of a young black girl.
The stripped-down, acoustic set, which McCartney says is the first time he’s ever played guitar onstage without accompaniment, also featured “We Can Work it Out,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” and “Carry That Weight,” during which he was forced to improvise: “This is the part where I don’t remember the words. Maybe I’ll remember them by the end of the tour,” he sang.
No one seemed to mind. The mistakes made him human, made the crowd love him even more. By the time he got to “Hey Jude,” it was a full-fledged love-fest, with ear-to-ear grins and waving arms filling the auditorium.
He indulged the crowd with two encores, wrapping things up with “Sgt. Pepper” and fittingly, “The End.”