Paul McCartney rocks Nashville with sold-out concert
October 17, 2014
Music City roared for a rock legend on Thursday night as Sir Paul McCartney brought his "Out There" tour to Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. After opening the show with "Magical Mystery Tour," the former Beatle told his fans it was "great to be back."
"We love this place," he said. "And we are gonna have a party in this hall tonight."
Though it's now been 50 years since The Beatles first took America by storm, Thursday night marked just the second time McCartney, 72, has taken the stage for a concert in Nashville. The first was also at Bridgestone in 2010. But his history with Nashville goes all the way back to 1974, when he and his family spent six weeks living on a farm outside Lebanon, Tenn.
"Some great memories of Nashville, because we did some recording here, you know?" he recalled from the stage. "It was great. Great music people, a couple of them are here tonight."
"And by the way," he added. "You've got to save these old studios, man. History."
It seems even Paul McCartney has heard of the saga of Nashville's historic RCA Studio A, which was recently saved from demolition.
The packed house – with fans of all ages – was a crowd that appreciated that kind of musical history, applauding five decades worth of tunes, from "All My Loving" to several cuts from McCartney's 2013 album, "New."
In between, he shared stories from his past: seeing Jimi Hendrix cover The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and meeting Russian dignitaries when he became the first rock musician to play Red Square. He told those same stories when he headlined last year's Bonnaroo festival in Manchester, Tenn., and cracked many of the same jokes.
But sticking to the script might be best for an artist with at least a dozen tunes he can't leave a stage without playing – and there was still room to improvise. On most of his recent dates, McCartney has opened with The Beatles' "Eight Days a Week." In Nashville, it was "Magical Mystery Tour," a speedy psychedelic rocker that heads straight for the high notes – a few of which McCartney was not quite ready to reach.
His voice has developed a slight warble in the last few years, but for a 72-year-old, it's staggeringly strong, and he continues to sing all of his songs in their original key – a rarity among rock veterans, who often lower the pitch of their songs to give their vocal cords a rest.
He pulled out "Birthday" from the Beatles' "White Album" after a sign in the crowd asked him to wish a happy birthday to a 16-year-old girl named River, who was making McCartney her first-ever concert. Another dedication to an audience member came with recent cut "My Valentine." McCartney wrote the ballad for his wife, Nancy, who was in attendance.
By the time he got to his acoustic tributes to late Beatle bandmates John Lennon and George Harrison, his falsetto was pure and haunting, and the room was silent as he addressed Lennon through song on "Here Today."
In Nashville, one song that's often on the setlist still had some spontaneous charm, as the lesser-known Beatles tune "I've Just Seen a Face" may be the closest the Fab Four ever came to bluegrass. The audience clapped along, and as the song hit its final chord, McCartney let out a spontaneous "Yee-ha!"
Other semi-obscure Beatles cuts were sprinkled through the set ("All Together Now," "Lovely Rita Meter Maid") along with songs by McCartney's post-Beatles band, Wings ("Band On the Run," "Let Me Roll It").
But the 2 ½-hour set inevitably built up to a parade of Beatles favorites in the final hour, and soon the the volume of the fans singing in the stands almost rivaled the band on stage. McCartney invited their voices to take over for him on "Hey Jude," and had the men and women sing separately before joining together for several more massive choruses.
In the end, however, McCartney won the loudness war. "You said you want to keep rocking?" he asked the crowd at the start of his second encore. "You asked for it."
He and his lean-and -mean four-piece backing band then ripped into "Helter Skelter," the most raucous rock song The Beatles ever recorded. A three-way guitar solo battle on "The End" certainly resonated in Music City, too – though it signaled that McCartney was about to step off a Nashville stage for the second time, and hopefully not the last.
"Nashville, Tennessee," he told the still-capacity crowd as he bid them farewell. "I tell you what, you are fantastic. We'll see you next time."
Paul McCartney performs a concert at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday Oct. 16, 2014. (Photo: Shelley Mays/The Tennessean)
Paul McCartney waves to fans before his Nashville concert. (Photo: Shelley Mays/The Tennessean)