by Julian Spivey
When the announcement was made a couple of months ago that Paul McCartney would be bringing his One on One tour to North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena on Saturday, April 30 my jaw just about hit the floor. Verizon has had some great acts in a variety of genres come through in recent years, but Paul McCartney? That was huge and, in fact, it would be the music legend’s first ever appearance in Arkansas at any point in his career.
A former member of The Beatles was coming to Arkansas. This concert was a no-brainer for me.
The concert would be near perfection, with the audience both thrilled and stunned to be in the presence of such musical royalty, it’s arguable that Verizon Arena has never seen such a star before.
But, there was one complaint I’d like to get out of the way before going forward. Early on during his show McCartney asked those in attendance to shout out when he asked where they were from. The crowd’s cheers when McCartney asked if audience members were from places other than Arkansas greatly drowned out the noise from those when he asked the same of people from the state. I’ve long questioned the tastes of musical fans from this state and Saturday night’s representation somewhat confirms that Arkansans just don’t have as refined musical tastes as others. This was a freaking Beatle, and it seemed fans from surrounding states cared a little bit more than our own. And, just to quell possible questions – I don’t feel like the ticket prices were outrageous either.
McCartney opened up his show with The Beatles classic “A Hard Day’s Night,” which he’s been playing on his current tour for the first time since the early days of The Beatles. This Beatles tune really got the crowd pumped up for a night when McCartney would play songs from throughout his entire career, whether with The Beatles, Wings, solo or even with The Quarrymen, a group he was in prior to The Beatles with John Lennon and George Harrison. In fact, his Quarrymen performance of “In Spite of All Danger” was a highlight for me, as I remarked to my wife beside me that it would’ve made for a good country song.
There were probably too many highlights throughout the evening, which fit almost 40 songs into a show that approached the three-hour mark, to pinpoint each and every one in this review. But, I’ll go through some of the most memorable.
It was The Beatles songs that, unsurprisingly, really got the crowd revved up. Throughout the night McCartney peppered his set list with his Beatles output both featuring No. 1 hits like “Lady Madonna” and “Let It Be” with maybe not as remembered performances such as “The Fool on the Hill” and “Here, There and Everywhere.”
A moment that seemed to resonate beautifully with both McCartney and the crowd was when he told us before performing “Blackbird” that the song was inspired by the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s in America and how he views that movement as having gotten its start right there in Little Rock with the integration of Central High School in the ‘50s. McCartney had met with two living members of the Little Rock Nine prior to the show. The performance was absolutely stunning with the imagery of black birds taking flight on a screen behind the superstar’s performance.
The Beatles output from McCartney might have gotten the sold out audience to sing along a bit more than anything else, but some of his ‘70s hits with Wings really had the place rocking. “Maybe I’m Amazed” was a beautiful moment, in which McCartney said he’d written the song for his late wife Linda. The performances of “Band on the Run” and particularly “Live and Let Die,” with its incredible pyrotechnics and light show were everything a kickass rock show should be about.
While much of the audience probably didn’t know some of McCartney’s newer stuff by heart like “Queenie Eye,” “New” and “FourFiveSeconds,” which McCartney collaborated on with pop star Rihanna and hip hop sensation Kanye West last year, the newer stuff expressed that McCartney hasn’t lost anything over the years.
A couple of truly mesmerizing moments from the show were when McCartney paid tribute to his fallen Beatles bandmates John Lennon and George Harrison with performance of “Here Today,” which McCartney wrote for Lennon shortly after he was murdered in the early ‘80s, and “Something,” my personal favorite Harrison song, which McCartney partially performed on ukulele, an instrument he said he and Harrison both liked to fool around a bit with.
McCartney finished his terrific set with “Hey Jude,” of course, which had the bulk of the audience on its feet singing along in unison, especially the “na, na, na, na” parts.
McCartney left the stage to uproarious applause before returning minutes later for a terrific encore that started with him solely on stage with his guitar to perform The Beatles No. 1 hit “Yesterday,” which in my opinion is his greatest accomplishment with the song being so elegantly beautiful and sad at the same time while also being incredibly simplistic in its story and songwriting.
DJ Lou Brutus tweeted after the show: “Watching Paul McCartney perform ‘Yesterday’ is like getting to see John Hancock sign his name.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
The encore continued with rocking performances of Wings’ “Hi Hi Hi” and “Birthday.” At one point during the encore McCartney invited some fans onto the stage with him that were picked out of the crowd based on signs they held up during the show. Two of the lucky fans were a Japanese couple who got engaged on the stage as the man proposed to his girlfriend with McCartney standing by to congratulate the happy couple. It was a great moment for everybody in the building to witness.
McCartney ended his epic concert really the only epic way he could with his portions of the medley that ends The Beatles classic Abbey Road, potentially my favorite Beatles album, with “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End.”
Seeing Paul McCartney in person instantly became one of the all-time great concert moments for me as a musical lover and I still find it hard to believe that he actually came to Arkansas – huge props to Verizon Arena for this booking. It’s really one of those “wake me up because I must be dreaming” type moments.