Paul McCartney began his concert Sunday night at Chicago's Wrigley Field, his first of two at the ballpark this week, with his jaunty Beatles song "Hello, Goodbye." This is just the latest of Sir Paul's long and winding tours -- the Up and Coming Tour blended right into this current On the Run Tour -- and there seems to be no sign that the man would ever dream of actually saying goodbye.
The concert, which includes more than 30 songs and lasts more than two and a half hours, features most of the Beatles, Wings and solo chestnuts you can think of -- except "When I'm 64," of course, which is now moot. McCartney, 69, is clearly still needed, fed and far from that song's cozy retirement of knitting and gardening.
In fact, in the August edition of Britain's Mojo magazine the former Beatle relays an anecdote about a former manager who had the gall to suggest that McCartney, then 50, consider putting his feet up. "If I'm really enjoying this, why retire?" says Macca. "So I decided against it, and got rid of him. I wonder what he thinks today. Perhaps that he was right, but hopefully not."
• 8 p.m. Aug. 1
• Wrigley Field, 1060 W. Addison
• Tickets: $29.50-$250, (800) THE-CUBS; tickets.com
The manager was wrong, of course. It's good to have McCartney still out there bashing through shows with this much unbridled spirit. Sunday's concert was, like many McCartney shows, mostly refreshing, even if you've seen this same shtick from him numerous times. God knows he doesn't need to be, but he's still touring because he obviously is still enjoying it -- and his joy, however scripted it may be, is infectious.
Sunday night found McCartney -- in his first Chicago show since 2005 -- quite chatty and loose, telling stories about Jimi Hendrix and Russian politicians and reacting to a lot of signs held up by adoring fans (including one seeking a job: "I'm a Priest! I'd Love to Do Your Wedding!"). "Is that you screaming?" he asked, looming over either side of the stage on two video screens with remarkable resolution. "It's like the first time we came here. You couldn't hear anything for all the screaming." So, of course, more screaming. "I always say that, 'cause I really love to hear it."
Backed by four strong players, including powerful and personable drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., McCartney played bass, guitar and several other instruments, adding extra muscle to several songs, especially "Jet," the bluesy lurch of "Let Me Roll It" (concluding in a wild, tortured solo by Mac himself) and the full-bore blast of "Back in the U.S.S.R." (yet another institution he's outlived).
McCartney is so engaged in his music, no wonder he loves it so. Especially at the piano, he seems utterly in the moment, conscious of the words during even a trifle like "Let 'Em In" and selling the song's subtle humor with careful timing.
As infectious as his joy may be, though, it's also pretty exhausting. In that same Mojo interview, McCartney said something else: "People say to me 'You work so hard.' We don't work hard, we play music -- we don't work music. It sounds simplistic but it's really true. It's not like going into an office."
On that point, I might quibble. Because as great as McCartney is and as worthy as his catalog remains -- his whole catalog, even the often unjustly bypassed recent solo albums (witness the great reading the band gave "Sing the Changes," from his experimental 2008 Fireman outing) -- a marathon McCartney concert occasionally does feel like a bit of work. The to-do list is very long. It's quickly apparent, as it was Sunday, that we're not going home until we've ticked off every Beatles and Wings highlight, and until we've blasted the inevitable pyro for "Live and Let Die" and nah-nah'd our way through the entirety of "Hey Jude." Tributes to each of his late mates are also mandatory (Sunday it was "Here Today" for John Lennon, "Something" on ukulele for George Harrison), as are several unexpected cuts (he's doing "The Night Before" for the first time). At nearly three hours a night, you do feel the need to punch a clock when filing out.
But McCartney's a pretty good boss, and Sunday's sold-out crowd (as of tonight there are still tickets available for Monday's reprise) was in it for the long haul, cheering McCartney into two lengthy encores. "The End" was finally the end, with Mac and guitarist Rusty Anderson trading solos that sparked hotter than the fireworks during the Bond theme.
Paul McCartney's set list Sunday night:
"Hello, Goodbye" (The Beatles)
"Junior's Farm" (Wings)
"All My Loving" (The Beatles)
"Drive My Car" (The Beatles)
"Sing the Changes" (The Fireman)
"The Night Before" (The Beatles)
"Let Me Roll It" (Wings)
"Paperback Writer" (The Beatles)
"The Long and Winding Road" (The Beatles)
"Let 'Em In" (Wings)
"Maybe I'm Amazed" (McCartney)
"I've Just Seen a Face" (The Beatles)
"I Will" (The Beatles)
"Blackbird" (The Beatles)
"Here Today" (McCartney)
"Dance Tonight" (McCartney)
"Mrs. Vandebilt" (Wings)
"Eleanor Rigby" (The Beatles)
"Something" (The Beatles)
"Band on the Run" (Wings)
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" (The Beatles)
"Back in the U.S.S.R." (The Beatles)
"I've Got a Feeling" (The Beatles)
"A Day in the Life" / "Give Peace a Chance" (The Beatles/Lennon)
"Let It Be" (The Beatles)
"Live and Let Die" (Wings)
"Hey Jude" (The Beatles)
"Lady Madonna" (The Beatles)
"Day Tripper" (The Beatles)
"Get Back" (The Beatles)
"Yesterday" (The Beatles)
"Helter Skelter" (The Beatles)
"Golden Slumbers" / "Carry That Weight" / "The End" (The Beatles)