There are only a handful of artists out there who can play a marathon three-hour set and leave the audience wanting more. At his sold-out show at Target Field on Saturday night, Paul McCartney tore through 40 songs (including two encores), lit off some fireworks, told a few stories, and still had time to stop to gaze out at the sprawling 40,000-plus bowl of people in front of him in awe.
“Hey listen, this is just so cool,” he said, pausing after his third song, “All My Loving.” “I’m just going to take a minute for myself to drink it all in.”
It was one of many endearing and human moments from a man who performed most of the show like a superhero—McCartney bounded across the stage between guitar and piano many times but somehow never stopped to take a sip of water, and he never appeared to break a sweat despite countless spotlights trained on him from every angle. After so many years in the business, it would only make sense that McCartney has every move and moment choreographed, from nostalgia-inducing photo montages right on down to the way stage fans were positioned to blow his wispy bangs to and fro. But how to account for what felt like truly unplanned moments, like when his voice cracked when he told a story about his friend George Harrison and his love for the ukulele, or when he would look out at us and simply mouth the word “Wow”?
McCartney performed flanked by two giant vertical screens, making it easy to observe his animated facial expressions and giddy little dance moves. But what really united the crowd and performer, of course, was his impeccable catalog of music, and his set pulled from the past 50 years of songs he’s written with the Beatles, for Wings, and as a solo artist, appealing to the tastes of every last one of the multi-generational fans in the audience.
After spending an hour-plus waiting in lines to get into the venue and into their seats (metal detectors slowed down the entry process from outside, while the sheer quantity of people in the stadium made for jammed walkways and aisles at every turn), the audience seemed especially eager for a joyful experience, and most on the main floor stayed on their feet to bounce and bob to every Beatles song and many of Wings’ hits. McCartney brought his ace band along for the ride to whip through the songs like a well-oiled machine, and his longtime drummer Abe Laborial, Jr. was especially fun to watch as he hammered away on all those recognizable drum fills and sang harmonies while grinning ear to ear. Remarkably, even on sparser songs like “Something” and “Yesterday” the sound was evenly dispersed and somehow didn’t echo despite traveling further than the arc of a home run to get to some listener’s ears, and when every fan from the front row to the back of the upper deck joined in to sing the choruses of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” or the apex of “Hey Jude” (one of the evening’s highlights), it was hard not to get goosebumps.
With the skyline lit up in the background and the rain clouds parting to reveal clear skies—and with a current of love and appreciation coursing between the crowd and the stage and up into the warm air overhead—there was indeed something magical about McCartney’s summer rendezvous with Minneapolis.
After the show I found myself thinking back to something I’d read in Touré’s book on Prince, I Would Die 4 U, in which the sound engineer Susan Rogers describes the three psychological connections that bond listeners to pieces of music: “There’s our motor system—music can make us move. There’s our emotional system—just chord changes alone can move us emotionally. And there is our cognitive system—lyrics can make us think. If you’re a genius at any one of those you don’t need to be that good at anything else,” she said. It became clear to me over the course of those three hours that McCartney (especially when co-writing with Lennon) became a master of all three of those avenues early on in his career. There was plenty of dancing to upbeat pop tunes like “Eight Days a Week,” “Paperback Writer,” and “We Can Work it Out,” plenty of misty-eyed swaying to heart-tugging ballads like “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “The Long and Winding Road,” and some good old-fashioned social commentary in the introduction to “Blackbird” (which McCartney said was inspired by the civil rights movement of the ’60s) and “Let itBe,” which sounded just as poignant aimed at the broken-hearted people of today as it did when it debuted 44 years ago.
At 72 years old, McCartney is still as charming and energetic as ever—he seemed to have even more bounce in his step this time around that when I saw him 12 years ago at the Xcel—and he doesn’t appear to be retiring from the stage anytime soon. As he unstrapped his guitar for the final time after his second, five-song encore, he gave one last look out at the crowd and waved, saying, “See ya next time.”
Paul McCartney set list:
Eight Days a Week
All My Loving
Listen to What the Man Said
Let Me Roll It
Foxy Lady guitar jam (Hendrix)
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
The Long and Winding Road
Maybe I’m Amazed
I’ve Just Seen a Face
We Can Work it Out
And I Love Her
All Together Now
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let it Be
Live and Let Die
Hi, Hi, Hi
Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End