DETROIT -- Open less than three weeks, the new Little Caesars arena has already hosted a hometown hero (Kid Rock) and the hottest pop star of the moment (Ed Sheeran).
On Sunday night, Oct. 1, the venue had its first bona fide icon moment.
Paul McCartney plays the part of legend well. Keenly aware of the enduring impact he’s made with his music, especially as part of the Beatles, he both honors and delivers that history without a great deal of gratuitous milking but fully conscious that his audience knows all the words to the vast majority (we’re talking 90 percent or so) of the material he plays.
Over the course of nearly three hours on Sunday he and his facile four-piece band served that heritage well with a comprehensive and nimbly staged magical musical tour. During the first of two shows at Little Caesars he was both elder statesman and keeper of the flame -- and, at 75, McCartney also made a case for continuing creative potency alongside an old-shoe comfort to his retelling of many stories, from 60s encounters with Jimi Hendrix in London to writing the Rolling Stones’ first U.K. No. 1 hit “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
McCartney is first and foremost a Beatle, of course, the reason 26 of the show’s 38 songs. with many keys judiciously changed, came from the Fab Four canon -- starting with “A Hard Day’s Night” and finishing the triple guitar rave-up of “The End.” In-between were a few deep digs into the catalog, including “I’ve Got A Feeling” and “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite,” as well as a romp through the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” during which the album’s famed cover was animated on the LED screen behind the band.
And there was an abundance of favorites -- “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “All My Loving,” “Love Me Do,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Back In The U.S.S.R.,” “Let It Be” and a greatest hits album’s worth of others. McCartney -- sporting a dark Army-style jacket and white shirt and switching between bass, guitar and piano -- played “Something,” partly on ukulele, as a tribute to his late Beatles mate George Harrison. He twice saluted the late John Lennon with his own “Here Today,” performed on a hydraulic platform that lifted him above the stage, and with the first half of “A Day In The Life,” which segued into Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance.” “Hey Jude” was its usual singalong highlight, while McCartney and company roared through “Helter Skelter” with a metallic urgency before preceding “Birthday” by bringing a mother and daughter, the latter celebrating her 15th birthday, on stage for a visit.
During “Yesterday,” meanwhile, McCartney strapped on the acoustic guitar with a Detroit Red Wings logo sticker on its face, which he was given when the Beatles played Olympia Arena during the mid-60s.
McCartney’s Wings span got its due, too, with “Juniors Fram,” “Jet,” a fierce “Let Me Roll It” (followed by a vamp through Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five,” “Band On The Run” and the pyrotechnic orgy of “Live And Let Die.” He dedicated “My Valentine,” from his 2012 standards album “Kisses On The Bottom,” to his wife Nancy Shevell, who he said was at Sunday’s show,, and remembered his late first wife Linda with his first solo hit, “Maybe I’m Amazed.”
The entire evening wasn’t past-tense, although McCartney was adroit enough to recognize the limited popularity of his newer material. He noted that while the Beatles favorites bring out the cell phones, “when we do a new number it’s like a big black hole.” Nevertheless, he said, “We don’t care, we’re gonna do them anyway” and nicely cherry-picked strong material from this decade, including the Mersey-flavored “Queenie Eye” and “New” and his easygoing version of the Kanye West/Rihanna/McCartney collaboration “FourFiveSeconds,” with the chorus lyrics on the video screen to help out those moved to sing along to it, too.
It was hard for any of that to compete with the resonance and nostalgia of the rest of the show, however. But while McCartney and his fans may have reveled in this past on Sunday, he certainly made sure it sounded wonderful in the present.
Some tickets remain for McCartney’s second concert at 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2, at Little Caesars Arena, 2645 Woodward Ave., Detroit.
Call 313-471-7000 or visit olympiaentertainment.com.
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