This week I review a new release featuring Paul McCartney with his band live at New York's Citi Field in July.
"Good Evening New York," the new, double -CD release by Paul McCartney and his crack band is more than just another McCartney release - it's arguably the best live release from the ex-Beatle ever.
That's not a statement to be made lightly, as McCartney has released at least eight live albums since the Fab Four disbanded in 1970, almost 40 years ago.
During the 1970s through 1980s, McCartney put out a string of albums solo and with his band Wings that featured well-crafted, lighter-than-helium pop that lit up the airwaves. Seemingly gifted at writing hooks that were almost unbearably catchy in his sleep, McCartney's prodigious output during those two decades spoke to a work ethic few songwriters of his generation shared. During that time, McCartney also blithely and purposely ignored even his stellar work while with the Beatles, save for the occasional concert rendition of maybe "Yesterday" and "Blackbird," paid homage to the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.
Not exactly a guy known for low self-esteem - this is the man who wrote "Yesterday," the greatest love song ever, after all - McCartney's work during these two decades wasn't anywhere near up to snuff, and today much of his output from that time sounds dated compared to the Beatles classics he penned.
Still, McCartney refused to back down and perform some of the masterworks he was known for, partly because of lingering resentments between him and Yoko One, John Lennon's widow.
In the 1990s McCartney and Ono reached a detente of sorts, and McCartney slowly began performing some of the classics he wrote for the Beatles. Time and maturity seem to have given McCartney a newfound humbleness as well as a nostalgia for the brotherhood he and the other three Beatles shared.
The really good news in all this is that music lovers get to hear a remarkable-sounding Paul McCartney perform classics live that the Beatles never performed. And it really doesn't get any better than "Hello New York," where McCartney sounds like the 20-something he was when he wrote a lot of these Beatles classics.
One listen to the shear passion, joy and exuberance McCartney exudes on this amazing disc is enough to convince me - yes, the man's still "got it," and in droves. What's really impressive is how McCartney's voice, always a remarkable instrument, hasn't diminished one iota in 40 years.
In fact, he sounds more impassioned performing these songs than when he was with the Beatles, with his supple vocals sitting alongside his now-perfected "gravel" voice and the Little Richard-inspired falsettos he conjured up with some of the Beatles more hard-rocking tunes. One of those, "Helter Skelter," a song McCartney wrote and sang but which some assume was written and sung by Lennon, rocks harder on the new disc than even the Beatles' version. The fact is McCartney is in fabulous voice for a man nearing 70.
The Beatles' mostly-McCartney-penned classics are all here - "Drive My Car," "Got To Get You Into My Life," "The Long And Winding Road," Blackbird," "Eleanor Rigby," "Back In The U.S.S.R.," "I'm Down," "I've Got A Feeling, "Paperback Writer," "Hey Jude," "Day Tripper," Lady Madonna," "I Saw Her Standing There," "Yesterday," Helter Skelter," "Get Back" and a "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/The End" medley.
Every one of them is a thrill, and from McCartney's performance, he obviously enjoyed performing them as much as I did from listening to them.
McCartney also performs songs written by his partners, including a touching version of George Harrison's "Something" performed on a ukulele given to him by Harrison. The only awkward moment is the medley of "A Day in the Life" and "Give Peace a Chance," both primarily Lennon songs. While it's a nice tribute to his former songwriting partner and sometimes-nemesis, the pairing of possibly Lennon's best song with Lennon's "I-wrote-this-in-two-minutes" anthem is a little embarrassing and doesn't work. I'd much rather hear McCartney doing all of "A Day in the Life."
There's also a smattering of McCartney's best solo stuff, including the rocking "Jet," "Let Me Roll It," "Band on the Run," "Mrs. Vanderbilt," "My Love," "Here Today," "Only Mama Knows," "Flaming Pie," "Sing the Changes," "Dance Tonight" and my all-time favorite McCartney single, "Live and Let Die," which I consider a miracle of sound and on par with any of his Beatles-era tunes.
Some may quibble and gripe about McCartney putting some of these songs in the rotation next to the Beatles classics, but I find the pacing of the sets to be just about perfect. The double-CD set also includes the entire show live on DVD, which is worth watching because of McCartney's between-song patter omitted from the CDs.
"Good Evening" would be a wonderful Christmas gift for Beatlemaniacs of any age. It's also a stunning testament to songwriting catalog that only seems to get better with age.
(Mark Miller is co-editor of Weekender.)