As the lightning flashed over Corona and a driving rain that would have brought out the grounds crew at a baseball game pelted Citi Field Friday night, some aged rock and poll pyrotechnics lit the stage as well. It's tempting to say that Paul McCartney's show was the best thing to happen at the Mets new ballpark this season - while the Wilpons' losing franchise toils on the road - but that's almost too easy. Because McCartney pulled off something of a miracle in centerfield.
Now, I don't want to focus too much on age in this review - but the markers are obvious. As the country celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Apollo lunar mission, and New Yorkers the Miracle Mets, a rocking English dude the age of the astronauts and those Gil Hodges Metsies poured it on for two and half hour hours, covering a massive swath of the rock canon - a canon he helped to write.
Macca is 67 now and just boyish enough still to get away with the kind of practiced mugging and stragecraft first honed along the Hamburg docks in 1962. Sitting with my family in the first row of the upper deck - soaked and loving it - I made a mental note comparing what McCartney was accomplishing Friday night with the previous generation of entertainers, who looked and sounded their ages in late-career tours. Think Frank Sinatra going low on My Way, for instance. McCartney never went low Friday: he hit all the notes, screamed all the screams, and rang the bell on all those Little Richard falsettos he loves so much.
Backed by a tight four-piece unit - McCartney himself switched between bass, guitar, piano, mandolin, and then ukulele on a particularly touching version of George Harrison's Something - the show moved quickly and packed in 35 tunes ranging from I Saw Her Standing There (with a cameo from Billy Joel) to recent stuff from his 2008 recent Electric Arguments record, released pseudo-anonymously as the Firemen. That's a 44-year pop music bracket, for those keeping score. And frankly, the show was a reminder of just how much popular rock music owes to the lad from Liverpool.
The Beatles numbers came easily, sans pomp and circumstance and the knighthood, and they provided a bit of time capsule quantum theory to a stadium filled with three generations of fans. Yesterday, of course (with an orchestral sampling toward the end), The Long and Winding Road (same), Eleanor Rigby (played with bit more of the bouncy soul Aretha Franklin gave her brilliant cover), Back in the USSR, Paperback Writer, I'm Down, Got To Get You Into My Life, Get Back, Blackbird, Drive My Car (a surprising show opener), Hey Jude (the requisite crowd-swaying sing-along), and McCartney's gemstone elegy for his mother, Let It Be. There was another elegy as well; although McCartney dedicated his recent Here Today to the fallen John Lennon - "my friend John," gone these 29 years - the real tip o' the hat toward his partner came with his segue from a standard rendition of A Day in the Life into Lennon's solo anthem, Give Peace a Chance - which he knowingly urged his largely upper middle class American audience to sing along with him. Yes, there was a message there - and a catch in the throat as well.
Just as there was when McCartney played My Love for his late wife, Linda, his partner in the schmaltzy yet rollicking 70s band, Wings. Because of its superlight mid-70s fluff exemplified by the bestselling Wings at the Speed of Sound (sometimes ridiculed as "Wings at the Speed of Disco") - whose hits were ignored at Citi Field - McCartney's immediate post-Beatles decade often doesn't get the props it should. Yet it's fertile territory indeed, from the world-class rocker Jet (my single fave Macca solo tune) to the bombastic Bond soundtrack Live And Let Die, accompanied Friday night by flame pots and fireworks. And the Wings stuff brought back memories of spinning Wings Over America, circa 1974, then one of the hardest-rocking live records in circulation.
And yes, even at his advanced age (sadly, this focus is hard to avoid; witness the storyline around golfer Tom Watson's quixotic run at the British Open title this weekend), McCartney loves to toss off the mantle of pop songwriter Hall of Famer, switch his Hofner bass for a lefty Les Paul, and do a little shredding. He did just that on two bluesy rockers - one slow, one blistering - that shook the still-setting concrete in the new ballpark. I've Got a Feeling - from the Let It Be record, when the fissures of eventual break-up were showing in Beatleland - has always been and underrated Fab Four B-side, reputedly written duing the rollicking Hamburg days and rewritten later on. McCartney delivered the opening guitar lines with clear relish Friday night, strolling to the front of the stage to belt out the lyrics. And on Helter Skelter, the Beatles' main contribution to the heavy metal genre, Sir Paul extended his solo and just rambled on - setting up a false ending that eventually morphed into Purple Haze.
And a story about his pal Jimi Hendrix - which seems appropriate to me, given the predilictions of my fellow concert-goers. This morning on the beach, there was my guitar-playing 11-year-old, wearing his Hendrix t-shirt and regaling the beach blanket crowd with tales of the "great Paul McCartney concert" he'd seen Friday night. Sometimes - but not very often at all - time does seem to stand still. Music can do that.