Paul McCartney Powers Through Pittsburgh Concert

Paul McCartney brought his Out There tour to the Consol Energy Center Monday night and performed before a sold-out crowd. A talented musician and apparently very likable fellow, McCartney is the consummate entertainer. Some performers don’t interact much with the audience, but McCartney did, using every song break to share a witty tale or remembrance. (All gold nuggets for avid McCartney and Beatles’ fans, including this reviewer.) It’s clear that he wants his audience to have a great time, and like many good performers, feeds off their energy. And what an abundance of energy there was, so much so that maybe during the show, Consol could easily have been called the McCartney Energy Center.

Fans initiated the energy-generating process when they spied McCartney taking the stage at the beginning of the performance. Clapping and screaming wildly—slightly reminiscent of the frenzied young girls at the Beatles’ “Ed Sullivan Show” appearances in the 60’s—the crowd brought a wide smile to McCartney’s face. Dressed smartly in a royal blue sports coat with plain epaulettes and his Beatles’ bass guitar (Höfner 500/1 bass) strapped to his side, he generated  his own energy just by striking the chords for “Eight Days a Week.” The crowd, mainly over-50 with a smattering of appreciative youngsters, roared its approval.

Great Music + Outstanding Multimedia Effects

The broad stage was set simply, illuminated with an array of overhead lighting. A large video monitor (approximately 80 feet high) was at the back of the stage, flanked by two narrower monitors of similar height. The concert featured a fantastic multimedia display that worked together for a powerful synergistic effect; that included mobile multicolored spot lights, lasers, fog, flash pots, video footage, photos, psychedelic images, and the moving bank of lights above the front of the stage that created different basic formations throughout the show.

After the second song, his 2013 release “Save Us,” McCartney said, “Thank you, Pittsburgh. Great to be back. Let’s have a party here tonight.” He kept the party going with “All My Loving” while Beatles’ film footage played on the main video screen. Numerous images of hearts were displayed, even one with a dagger through it. Drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr., who’s played  every McCartney tour since 2001, contributed vocal harmonies and backing vocals throughout the show.

Next up was “Listen to What the Man Said,” a 1975 hit by McCartney’s first post-Beatles band, Wings. Removing his jacket and strapping on a Fender guitar, McCartney launched into the simmering rocker “Let Me Roll It.” with fellow guitarists Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson.  A short Jimi Hendrix instrumental followed, and McCartney recounted their meeting and becoming friends in London and their appreciation for each others music.

McCartney, a southpaw, switched guitars again, this time sporting a mustard-yellow Epiphone Casino with black trim. (How fitting, a black and gold guitar for a Pittsburgh performance!) It was an original from his days with the Beatles, he told the audience, and then ran through “Paperback Writer” with it.

Showing a romantic side, McCartney dedicated one song to his current wife, Nancy Shevell (“My Valentine”), who he said was in the audience, and one to his late wife, Linda (“Maybe I’m Amazed”). McCartney also took a turn at the grand piano for “1985,” “The Long and Winding Road,” and the aforementioned “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

Strapping on his acoustic guitar, he ran through “I’ve Just Seen a Face” from the Beatles’ Help album. That was followed by “We Can Work It Out,” “Another Day,” “And I Love Her,” and the incredibly beautiful “Blackbird.” McCartney said solemnly that he wrote ” ‘Blackbird’ for all the people suffering through the struggle for civil rights, including the people in Little Rock,” then jokingly asked who in the crowd had ever played “Blackbird” on a guitar, and adding that it was a difficult song to master.

Beatle Bandmate Tributes

He also had tributes to his former Beatles’ bandmates. For the late John Lennon, it was “Here Today,” sharing with the audience that he’d put off a conversation with Lennon, whose unexpected death never allowed him to have that talk, so he wrote his thoughts into a song. George Harrison’s tribute was his song “Something.” McCartney noted that the two of them agreed they should learn a song of the others and play it on one of the other’s musical instruments. McCartney began the song with a ukulele, an instrument Harrison liked to play, but finished with an electric guitar and full band. There was also a birthday shout out to his father and former Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr, the latter including parts of Ringo’s song, “Yellow Submarine,” accompanied by yellow lights and a picture of the Yellow Submarine on the video screen.

McCartney’s multicolored thunderbolt-painted honky-tonk piano was rolled out, and he performed several songs from New, the album released last fall, including “New” and “Queenie Eye.” He then moved into the jaunty “Lady Madonna,” with images of Princess Diana, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, the late Queen Mother, Wilma Rudolph, and Anne Frank on the video screen. This was followed in short order by “All Together Now,” “Lovely Rita,” “Everybody Out There,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” Then “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” was done with a rousing audience sing-along.

“Band on the Run” exploded with great lead guitar slide work by Brian Ray. As the band jammed and the lights created an awesome display, the main video screen played fascinating footage from the Band on the Run’s photo shoot, which also included actor James Coburn (In Like Flint, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape).

Footage of Soviet factory workers, dancers, athletes, and ballerinas—sped up slightly to create a somewhat humorous effect—with pop art renditions of Soviet symbols provided a backdrop while McCartney and the band rocked through “Back in the U.S.S.R.”

McCartney retook the piano bench for the beautiful and inspirational “Let It Be,” a quiet contrast to the next song up, the James Bond theme, “Live and Let Die,” This provided an opportunity for a post-Fourth of July pyrotechnics celebration. Exploding flash pots exuding continuous flames, indoor fireworks, a dazzling light display, and lasers created a sustained sensory engagement while the band played. Just when everyone thought the song was over, McCartney and his gang surprised the audience with another round of exploding flash pots. The first set ended with the classic “Hey Jude,” and its “na na na na” chorus. While the audience took it all in, McCartney and band exited stage left.

Encore! Encore!

Encouraged by the constant clapping and yelling, they soon returned with McCartney waving a giant American flag while others carried British and Pennsylvanian flags. “Day Tripper, “Get Back,” and Wings’ “Hi, Hi, Hi” were part of the first encore set.

The crowd optimistically clapped and cheered, hoping for a second encore, and sometimes wishes come true. McCartney returned with his acoustic guitar playing “Yesterday,” generally recognized as one of the top pop songs of all time. Then he and his bandmates tore into “Helter Skelter” while special-effect videos bathed in red, black, and white lights took concert goers down a simulated 3-D tunnel. The flexible light bar above the stage realigned itself into smaller, disjointed segments that kept flashing, and laser lights darted across the crowd. By this time, the concert’s “rock energy” knob pegged well past 10, heading quickly to 11. The only thing missing was Ringo Starr exclaiming when the song was over, “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”

Wow! How can McCartney possibly top that, I thought. Then he launches the band into a song medley from the 1969 Abbey Road album—”Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” and finally, “The End” (with piano played by keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Paul Wickens). Like few pieces of music, this mystical and spiritual medley generated great joy among the concert-goers and provided the consummate ending to an amazing concert. Two hours and 40 minutes after it all began, both McCartney and the crowd were like spent lovers, with satisfied smiles creasing their happy faces. McCartney summed it up well when he said, ” Thanks Pittsburgh. It’s been a great time, and now it’s time for all of us to go.”

Here’s hoping we get together again.

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central and a lover of great entertainment.