We can never root against Paul McCartney.
We want him to always be healthy and safe. To be immortal, even. To claim victory at every turn and to never leave us, even though we know his musical creations of the past five decades will outlive us all.
We want to forever wonder what drives him, now at 72 and a comfortable multi-multi-millionaire, to endure the rigors of touring that even the plushest accommodations can’t mitigate.
Frankly, we want time to stop and for someone to freeze the musical genius portion of his brain so that even when he’s gone, the part of him that changed pop music will remain.
A McCartney-less world is inevitable, which is why his agreeable stance on touring is so appreciated by fans.
Returning to Atlanta on Wednesday for the first time since 2009 – and a few months later than planned after a virus forced the postponement of his original June date – McCartney demonstrated the joy he has for performing with a nearly three-hour, 39-song set that placed sprightly memories over musty nostalgia.
He entered the Philips Arena stage, all thumbs-up and peace signs in a royal blue blazer, dark pants and pink NFL wristband, and immediately thumped into the bass line of “Eight Days a Week.”
McCartney’s concert is stocked with gems from the equivalent of three careers – The Beatles, Wings and his solo material – and he knows that fans primarily want to hear the work of the first two. But he isn’t about to turn his performance into strictly a festival of reminiscence.
Last year’s “New” album is among the finest in his catalog, and McCartney parked the release’s rollicking “Save Us” into the No. 2 spot on his set list, a direct signal to fans that he’s proud of his musical vitality.
Three other “New” tracks were sprinkled among classics including “We Can Work It Out,” “Another Day” and “Let it Be” as well as the deeper album cuts aimed at the die-hards, such as the always-welcome groove of “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” and the cutesy romp “All Together Now,” from the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack.
While McCartney’s voice sounded a bit muffled during the opening handful of songs, particularly a flat “All My Loving,” his charismatic delivery overpowered any shortcomings.
And really, who is going to begrudge a septuagenarian for losing a notch of mid-range ability when he can still unleash the unfettered howls of passion and pain that power “Maybe I’m Amazed”?
Aiding McCartney is his superlative band – Rusty Anderson on guitar, Brian Ray on guitar and bass, Paul “Wix” Wickens on keyboards, accordion and anything else a song requires (like the kazoo in “Lovely Rita”) and the great Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums.
This is a group well-versed in McCartney perfectionism, and, having performed together for 12 years, they are, believe it or not, McCartney’s longest tenure with the same core players.
Whether adding jagged guitar chords to “Paperback Writer” or cascading harmonies to a truly stunning rendition of “Eleanor Rigby” (Wickens somehow extracts a full symphony sound from his keyboards), this foursome allows McCartney to indulge in every musical possibility.
Still, it is the man himself who is quite a marvel. He doesn’t use a TelePrompTer (unlike many peers decades younger). He doesn’t preach like Springsteen or move like Jagger. In fact, aside from hopping between pianos and center stage and approaching an amplifier for a burst of feedback at the end of “Paperback Writer,” McCartney isn’t even excessively mobile on stage.
None of that matters, though, because what he can do to an audience with the wistful declarations in “The Long and Winding Road” or the simple poignancy in “Blackbird” and “Yesterday” requires an innate ability to bond emotionally.
Plus, he’s, you know, a Beatle.
But a McCartney show always finds a pleasant balance between hushed sincerity and visual stimulation.
You’ll hear a dedication to wife Nancy (who was present at the show) with the ballad “My Valentine” and an acknowledgement of forever-love Linda before “Maybe I’m Amazed.”
Then you’ll experience the trippy haze of swirling lasers during “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” – anchored by McCartney’s defining bass – and the almost comical excess of pyro and fireworks that punctuate “Live and Let Die.”
McCartney’s concerts are filled with more highlights than any review could capture. For some, the endless sing-alongs of “Let it Be” and “Hey Jude” are the magic moments. For others, it’s the rock crunch of “Get Back” and “Helter Skelter.”
But there is something about McCartney’s version of “Something,” that moment when the song swells from the George Harrison-inspired ukulele version and the full band kicks into the sumptuous melody …that is the sound of the heavens parting.
For that elegant rearranging, we thank McCartney. And we thank him for encouraging the sold-out crowd to shout along with everyone’s favorite wedding jam (“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”) and for reminding us that the love we take is equal to the love we make.
And we continue to root for him for as long as time will allow.
Follow the AJC Music Scene on Facebook and Twitter.