Column: McCartney enjoys the classics, and so do the fans

WASHINGTON – Paul McCartney’s concert at Nationals Park Friday marked his first appearance in the District since 2010, and thousands of screaming fans were there to greet him.

There weren’t any huge surprises when it came to song selection, but the set list did add several Beatles songs to McCartney’s live repertoire, including “All Together Now,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and “Your Mother Should Know.”

The atmosphere in the stadium before the concert was near-chaotic. Nats Park appeared to be understaffed for the sheer volume of ticket-holders that flooded the stadium after the gates opened nearly an hour late.

The concert began an hour behind schedule as well.

By the time the band emerged onto the giant laser-lit stage, though, all the waiting and confusion seemed to be well worth the trouble.

McCartney, now 71, effortlessly romped through a nearly three-hour set of songs, most of which were classics of The Beatles. He bounded all over the stage, switching between playing bass, piano and guitar.

The first several songs featured McCartney playing his signature Hofner bass before switching to guitar for a particularly heavy rendition of “Let Me Roll It,” which ended with a snippet of “Foxy Lady.”

From the stage, McCartney reminisced about how “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released on a Friday, and two days later Jimi Hendrix had learned the song and performed it at a concert attended by The Beatles.

McCartney’s piano chops remain finely-honed, as evidenced by excellent renditions of “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” and “Lady Madonna.”

He even performed some solo acoustic material: The entire stadium fell nearly silent during “Here Today,” Paul’s tribute to John Lennon.

McCartney still seems to enjoy singing the songs, too – he sang “Yesterday,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and “Hey Jude” as if he hasn’t played them several hundred times before.

The stage production was top-notch. Two giant screens projected multiple camera angles while a screen behind the band showed video and artwork tailored to each song.

It’s difficult to fathom Sir Paul’s mastery of his craft. He’s been performing for more than 50 years and can still sing songs like “Helter Skelter” and “Live and Let Die” in their original keys and with the exuberance of a singer a third his age.

McCartney’s touring band has been the same since 2002, and continues to absolutely nail the arrangements of complicated studio recordings like “Lovely Rita.”

Drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. is a huge asset. He always looks like he’s having the time of his life while drumming, and his singing voice is incredible.

Guitarists Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson also have a knack for locking into excellent harmonies with Laboriel.

Keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens recreated everything from orchestral arrangements to horn solos with his multi-tiered keyboard rig.

In the midst of so many reunion and “album performance” concerts, Paul McCartney is somehow able to transcend those kind of gimmicks. After all, he arguably helped shape the way the world perceives popular music.

Gimmicks or not, the entire audience seemed to be smiling, exhausted and satisfied when the concert ended close to midnight.

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