Paul McCartney performing in his signature Hofner bass.

Sir Paul Rocks FedEx Forum With Nearly Forty Songs

Paul McCartney performing on his signature Hofner bass.
Paul McCartney performing on his signature Hofner bass.

Even though he’d only played Memphis three previous times in his long and illustrious career—the Beatles played two shows in one day at the Mid South Coliseum in 1966, and he played a solo gig at the Liberty Bowl in 1993—Sir Paul McCartney seemed to feel right at home when he played to a packed FedEx Forum crowd Sunday night.

Though he has been bestowed the rank of knight, he played more the role of jester for much of the night, an amiable goofball determined to entertain with confident swagger, easygoing demeanor, wry wit and an effortless command of his impressive repertoire.

Over the course of nearly 40 songs and almost three hours, he sampled his catalogue of tunes with the Beatles, Wings and as a solo artist, walloping the crowd with a show of impressive vitality for a group of any age, much less from a man nearing his 71st birthday.

He started with a blast, forging his way through “Eight Days a Week,” “Junior’s Farm” and “All My Lovin’” while sporting his signature Hofner bass guitar before pausing to chat with the crowd and soak up the adoration, some of it coming from women screaming just as loudly as they might have across town back in ’66.

Later, he would switch to guitar for “Let Me Roll It” which concluded with a fuzzy, woozy jam on “Foxy Lady,” which seemed to be sandwiched in just so McCartney could tell a funny story about Jimi Hendrix asking Eric Clapton to tune his guitar at a club show in London.

McCartney moved to piano for a sequence that included “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “The Long and Winding Road,” then back to guitar (guitarist Brian Ray filled in on bass duties when Sir Paul changed to other instruments) for an acoustic segment highlighted by “Blackbird,” performed on an elevated platform.

Throughout the performance, his lean, adept band – Brian Ray on guitar and bass, Rusty Anderson on guitar, Paul Wickens on keyboards and Abe Laboriel, Jr. on drums — proved amazingly capable of capturing the full range of styles represented by this vast body of work.

McCartney took his banter time as an opportunity to repeatedly offer his appreciation and gratitude to the fans (especially the ones up top in the $85 “cheap” seats), the crew, the band, and his former bandmates as he dedicated songs to his fallen Beatle brethren — “Here Today” for John on solo acoustic and “Something” for George, on which he played Harrison’s favorite instrument, the ukulele. At one point he noted that the music of Memphis was so influential on the Beatles that “we couldn’t have done it without Memphis!” It’s the kind of line that seems like a clichéd call for applause by most, but came across as sincere gratitude from McCartney.

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A cavalcade of showstoppers concluded the set, any of which could have ended the show. Powerhouse performances of “Band on the Run,” “Back in the USSR,” “Let It Be” and “Live and Let Die” (replete with fiery pyrotechnics) felt like closing numbers before “Hey Jude” closed the show proper.

But he still wasn’t done. Two encores comprised eight more songs, including a ferocious “Helter Skelter” and the Abbey Road suite of “Golden Slumbers > Carry That Weight > The End.”

The show also included some rare treats from the Beatles psychedelic era like “For The Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Lovely Rita.”  However, with as many wonderful songs as Sir Paul performed during the evening, so much of his enormous catalogue remained untouched, which speaks to its volume.

That he is still able to perform it with such enthusiasm, effortless skill and gratitude speaks to the “mania” that kicked his career off all those years ago.

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