When I reviewed the lineup for this year's Bonnaroo, I saw Paul McCartney's name on the bill and thought to myself: "That's nice that they gave the old guy a spot." I thought the former Beatle and Wings man might draw away a few thousand nostalgia-seekers from the more trendy likes of The XX or Wu-Tang Clan.
But, long before Wilco's set ended, the crowd started to stream into the What Stage. And they just kept coming. And coming. By the time McCartney took the stage with his band around 9:20, it seemed as if the entire capacity crowd of 90,000 had arrived to see McCartney's show. It was such a spectacular sight, McCartney asked for the lights to be turned on, just so he could soak it all in. (To his credit, he did not pull out an iPhone.)
Little did I realize that McCartney, who turns 71 on Tuesday, has more energy and stamina than performers half his age, playing a 38-song set that lasted some two-and-a-half hours. Throughout, he bantered easily with the crowd, playfully poking fun at some of the fans who'd brought signs and other totems. "Thanks for your sign," he told one concertgoer, "but I can't read it. Did you have some trouble?"
McCartney played songs from throughout his career, including a few Wings numbers and some of his newer solo material. But, the bulk of his set consisted of songs he co-wrote with fellow Beatle John Lennon, each of which touched off an increasingly voluble roar of approval from the crowd. The parade of hits was relentless and staggering: "Hey Jude," "Let It Be," "Paperback Writer," "Yesterday," and on, and on. Jumping between grand and upright pianos, his famed Rickenbacker bass, and other guitars which probably belong in a museum, he reminded us just how versatile and talented a musician he is.
Just when folks were starting to fade, McCartney launched into a high-octane rendition of "Live and Let Die," ending with fireworks and roaring flames that erupted from underneath the stage. (Some of the fireworks misfired and landed in the audience; no serious injuries were reported.) Three encores later, McCartney seemed as fresh and energetic as he did at the beginning of the night, as if he were living some kind of fever dream he didn't want to be woken from. For those of us who were seeing him for the first and perhaps only time, the feeling was mutual.
More pics on the photo page.