Desert Trip review: Paul McCartney provides festival moments
Bruce Fessier , The Desert Sun
October 9, 2016
Paul McCartney performs "Can't Buy Me Love" and "Hard Days Night" during Desert Trip at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio. Courtesy of Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney performed at Coachella in 2009 and has visited the spring festival every year since then. He watched Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones at Friday’s opening of Desert Trip.
So McCartney knows what makes for a Coachella moment at Indio's Empire Polo Club. And he was the first to provide a Desert Trip moment Saturday when he brought out Neil Young for a very special collaboration.
Paul McCartney performs as the day two headliner at Desert Trip in Indio.
(Photo: Jay Calderon/USA TODAY NETWORK)
Young had just brought down the house with a set one Young fan called “the best opening act of all time.” After starting with sensitive solo acoustic numbers, Young built his show to a fever pitch. Terry Craig of Scottsdale, celebrating his 61st birthday, called his version of “Down By the River” “worth the $1,000 price of admission alone.” Then Young and his band, Promise of the Real, topped that with dynamic, shredding versions of “Welfare Mothers” and “Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World."
McCartney brought Young back on stage just more than halfway through his set for a song Young has performed in his concerts, “A Day in the Life,” from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.” McCartney joined Young on stage in London for that song in 2009, and now Young was returning the favor.
DAY 2: Paul McCartney, Neil Young please the crowd
And he was smiling like a little kid acting out with his big brother as they segued into John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance.” Peace signs suddenly abounded and the crowd of baby-boomers and gen-Xers, who had been successful enough to afford tickets and hotel rooms costing more than $2,000, but were suddenly peace-and-love hippies again. Young and McCartney had so much fun, they tore into the silly Beatles song, “Why Don’t We Do It It the Run” with the ferocity of “Bulls On Parade,” with Young shredding animatedly on guitar.
Neil Young (left) joined Paul McCartney for a Desert Trip moment Saturday in Indio (Photo: Bruce Fessier/The Desert Sun)
McCartney engendered Beatlemania love from his first song, “A Hard Day’s Night.” It was far from bobby-soxer pandemonium, but a lot of natural ecstasy was going around. There was enough love for fans to forgive McCartney's faltering voice on ballads like “Maybe I’m Amazed.” But the former Beatle wasn’t just receiving mercy love. He was a funny host with a great band. He told the massive crowd in giant grandstands and lawn chairs as far as the eye could see he knew what they liked. When he played a song like a Beatles classic, he said, cell phones lit up the field like a starry galaxy.
“And when we play a song you don’t know,” he said, “it’s like a black hole. So, here’s another black hole.”
With that, he sang “Queenie Eye” from his excellent 2013 album, “New.” It held up as well as most of his Beatles and Wings material. I only wish he had shown the song’s entire video on the back screen because it was cut before the cameos of Meryl Streep, Sean Penn and Johnny Depp – something only a beloved billionaire like McCartney could have produced.
After a fun, rollicking “Lady Madonna,” McCartney switched from piano to acoustic guitar for another song baby-boomers may not have known, but which recently won a Grammy Award for the collaboration with Rihanna and Kanye West, “FourFiveSeconds,” in which McCartney sings, “I might do a little time/ 'Cuz all of my kindness/ Is taken for weakness.”
“Eleanor Rigby” was a little shaky, but beautiful because he sings it with such heart. Then McCartney launched into a swirling, psychedelic multimedia version of “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” that reminded one of “The Beatles” Cirque du Soleil production "Love."
Young joined McCartney for “A Day in the Life” after that. But their segment wasn’t the only Desert Trip moment of the night.
McCartney and his band performed a pyrotechnic “Live and Let Die,” McCartney’s theme from the James Bond movie of that name that he has been doing since the 1970s. But the size of the images on the three-paneled panoramic screen and the actual flames exuding from the stage raised even that show-stopper up a notch.
And it was just a warm-up to another Desert Trip moment, McCartney's audience participation version of “Hey, Jude.”
This was the song that made you realize McCartney must continue performing as long as he can stand. It doesn’t matter if he has no voice. Just his presence leading that classic hit is such a healing, unifying experience, he must keep doing it for nothing less than the benefit of mankind. People of all ages and nationalities raised their arms together and sang the chorus with a sense of unifying love. It was even more powerful than when he did it at the 2009 Coachella because so many people of his generation were singing it with people of other generations. After a short break, he reinforced what had just happened by carrying U.S., British and California flags onto the stage.
It was just after midnight, but no one cared about the cost of violating the curfew. Young had started his set late and McCartney was not about to be denied his big finish. He noted how the Rolling Stones sang a Beatles song on Friday (“Come Together”), so his band sang a song McCartney and John Lennon wrote for them (and which became a hit for Ringo Starr and the Beatles as well), “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
He seemingly had the energy to go on all night. “It’s Saturday night and I just got paid,” he said, reciting a line from Little Richard’s “Rip It Up” as if to say, “Let’s keep this party going.” Then he and the band roared into “Helter Skelter,” the song U2’s Bono once said Charles Manson stole from the Beatles.
Finally, McCartney ended with his medley from the Beatles’ “Abbey Road.” Playing piano, he led a battle royale with his instrumentalists before quietly finishing with the lines that served as the coda for the Beatles: “And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
What better way to let the crowd go back into a world that had been shaken by a tragic event in the desert. The concert ended just moments before a 12-hour standoff in Palm Springs ended with the capture of a suspect accused of murdering two Palm Springs police officers earlier in the day.
Paul McCartney performs at Desert Trip Music Festival in Indio, CA on Saturday October 8. Jay Calderon/USA TODAY NETWORK