For the estimated 11,000 audience members piled into Dickies Arena for the only scheduled Texas stop on McCartney’s “Got Back” tour, the two hour and 40 minute showcase — the Liverpool native’s first stop in Fort Worth proper in 46 years, and his first North Texas appearance in three years — was a joyous revel, a dazzling demonstration of craft as foundational to pop music as piano keys, guitar strings or drumsticks.
“I’ve got a feeling we’re gonna have a great time,” McCartney told the shrieking, ecstatic throng of all ages, some clad in costume, and many of whom clutched homemade signs. “We’ve got some old songs, some new songs, some in between … let’s go.”
The setlist spun easily between past and present — “Junior’s Farm” followed close behind by “Got to Get You Into My Life,” with “Let Me Roll It” and “We Can Work It Out” not long after — and the affable McCartney held it all together with his undimmed charisma. (“We know what songs you like because the room lights up with phones — it’s like stars,” McCartney cracked at one point. “When we do a new one, it’s like a black hole — but we’re gonna play ’em anyway!”)
Indeed, more than once Tuesday, you had to almost physically shake yourself free from the realization that an honest-to-God Beatle was standing 40 feet in front of you, singing melodies so ingrained in the collective memory they may as well be fused with our hippocampi.
He was backed, as always, by his core collaborators, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray and keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens, and the band was further filled out by the Hot City Horns (Kenji Fenton, Mike Davis and Paul Burton). McCartney moved easily from bass to piano to acoustic and electric guitar, even trotting out a ukulele (“George gave me this one”) a time or two. His voice, admittedly, has been thinned by time’s passage — even Beatles are mortal — but McCartney gamely powered through, continuing, admirably, to sing everything in its original key.
Transporting as the songs were, couched by lights, lasers, smoke, confetti and two large, vertical video screens on either side of the stage, it was the persistent undercurrent of melancholy which made the entire night feel deeper, richer and more bittersweet.
Performances from artists of McCartney’s stature are unquestionably events unto themselves — in part because they could very well be the final time, and in part because, whatever you think of today’s pop music landscape, you’d be hard pressed to find any acts consistently producing work of the Beatles’ caliber.
The slow accumulation of loss is another, inescapable facet of aging; McCartney was surrounded by the memories of his former bandmates, John Lennon and George Harrison, but also his late wife, Linda (whose visage was prominent during interstitial videos for “Band on the Run”), and even Jimi Hendrix, to whom McCartney — as he always does — paid tribute with a bit of “Foxy Lady,” and a well-worn but no less appreciated anecdote about watching the guitarist de-tune his guitar as he played “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
The gift of director Peter Jackson’s immense documentary Get Back continued giving Tuesday as well, as it allowed for McCartney to, however briefly, reconnect with his Beatle brethren. “Get Back,” the song, unfolded against the backdrop of footage from the documentary, and the encore began with McCartney, duetting across time, space and mortality with footage of Lennon, high on the bitterly cold rooftop in 1969, on “I’ve Got a Feeling.”
That McCartney bears all of it — the weight of expectations, the heaviness in missing loved ones, the burden of legacy — with such grace and good humor is, in itself, a testament to his brilliance. But it was hard not to sense Tuesday that even though his pop star façade has rarely cracked over the nearly 60 years he’s spent in the public eye, McCartney is, perhaps, a touch weary. He’s had to carry that weight a long time, to borrow a phrase, and any sane person would tire of such emotionally charged responsibilities, no matter how much they might enjoy the lights and adulation and pleasure of performing.
And yet, how could anyone with a pulse not feel invigorated by these songs? The main set’s closing 45-minute run — beginning with the kinetic two-fer “You Never Give Me Your Money” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and climaxing with the pyro-loaded “Live and Let Die” and the eternal “Hey Jude” — was as close to sustained euphoria as one can find in the world these days. It was ecstatic, it was electrifying — it was absolutely everything, then as now.