Out There: Paul McCartney’s Perfect Night At Penn State
Before tonight’s Paul McCartney show at the Bryce Jordan Center, my father sent me a picture of a bucket list I made when I was nine. The third item on the list read “see a Beatle perform live.” Tonight I realized a dream that I first had when I was nine years old, and Sir Paul did not disappoint.
McCartney, in his first ever show in Central Pennsylvania, showed the Bryce Jordan Center why he is still one of the most sought-after concert acts in the world, even at age 73. The ex-Beatle performed numerous crowd favorites, choosing from a variety of his own songs and songs he wrote and performed with his bands Wings and The Beatles. His fame and talent packed the house at the Bryce Jordan Center, and McCartney did not disappoint.
The show, slated to begin at 8 p.m., began at 8:27 with McCartney coming out to raucous applause. At first glance the crowd seemed to consist solely of older generations of fans, at least from my position in the third row on the floor. Upon surveying the BJC (which was completely sold out), I found that approximately 30 percent of the building’s seats were occupied by student-age fans, which was good to see at a college show.
McCartney came out and immediately played to the inner-Beatles-fan in everyone, performing “Eight Days a Week.” He followed the opener, as any good salesman would, by playing a few tracks from his most recent album “New.” Out of this group of songs, “Temporary Secretary” stuck out due to its new-age feel. The song opened with a very techno vibe, with lasers and lights coming to and from the stage in seemingly every direction.
A few songs later, McCartney showed why his “Out There” tour is being hailed for its tremendous visuals. For his song “My Valentine,” which he sang from behind the piano, the screen played a video of Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp singing the song with their hands in sign language. This was the first of many sentimental portrayals used by McCartney throughout the night.
Following “My Valentine” McCartney showed off his vocal range on the Wings hit song “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five.” One of the highlights of the night came while McCartney was still sitting at the piano (for the first time) as he played a heartfelt rendition of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” dedicated to his late wife Linda Eastman. It should also be noted that he and his entire band wore pink sweatbands on their wrists to honor Eastman’s fatal battle with breast cancer.
After the somber and beautiful “Maybe I’m Amazed,” McCartney re-energized the crowd with the classic feel-good Beatles song “I’ve Just Seen a Face.” McCartney took the built-up energy and directed it at the younger generations in the arena by playing “FourFiveSeconds,” his recent collaboration with Rihanna and Kanye West. Before playing, he noted that “Kanye isn’t here, by the way” with a joking grin. The song sounded fantastic, with the lyrics scrolled on the screen behind him. Hearing McCartney say “wildin’,” and “hold me back, I’m ‘bout to spaz,” had to be one of the most entertaining moments of the night.
McCartney played a string of Beatles songs, including “We Can Work it Out” and “And I Love Her,” before slowing down the pace of the show to begin telling stories alongside his songs. After a monologue describing how the Civil Rights Movement in America inspired him to write it, McCartney played a beautiful version of “Blackbird” on acoustic guitar. He followed this by opening up to the crowd about John Lennon and his tragic and early death. His next song, “Here Today,” was dedicated to Lennon, and as he played, pictures flashed across the screen of the legendary songwriting duo.
Many fans came to see McCartney perform his most famous songs, most of which were written and recorded with The Beatles, and it was at this time that McCartney indulged them completely. He strung off a line of four big Beatles hits: “Lovely Rita,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” The shining moment of this portion of the concert was McCartney’s playing of my favorite Beatles song, “Something.” McCartney spoke about his dear friend and bandmate George Harrison before playing his song on both the ukulele and acoustic guitar. He followed “Something” with Wings’ “Band on the Run” and The Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.”
McCartney then sat down at the piano and played the most exciting track of the night. Wings’ “Live and Let Die” began as it usually would, but as the song built toward a climax, fireworks lit up the Bryce Jordan Center. The pyrotechnics show included heat, fire, and cannon-like explosions that probably should have incapacitated some of the older fans in attendance, and it worked to perfection. McCartney asked the crowd if the explosions were too loud for them, and to compensate, played the most fan-friendly track of the evening. After the first few practice chords, the entire stadium knew McCartney was gearing up to play “Hey Jude.” He let the crowd sing the song’s chorus time after time, and the fans gave the energy right back to him for the single best song I’ve ever seen performed live. After a standing ovation, McCartney took his bows and exited the stage.
As fans packed up their belongings and began to head for the exits, applause erupted as the 73-year old rock star sprinted back to the stage, asking if we “wanted to rock some more?” The first encore was brought to a close by The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There.” Again McCartney grabbed the hands of his bandmates and bowed as he left the stage.
This time, the crowd begged McCartney for an encore, whistling and clapping furiously to get the musician back to the stage. McCartney obliged once again and returned with a solo, acoustic version of “Yesterday,” one of his most famous songs. This was followed by a powerful rendering of “Helter Skelter” which had the crowd singing along again. After playing “Carry That Weight” and “The End,” Paul McCartney departed the stage for the final time, fittingly, with a “We Are” chant.
On the night, Paul McCartney was on stage for just under three hours, playing 38 songs and using five different types of instruments (guitar, bass, ukulele, twelve-string guitar, and piano). I was able to realize a childhood dream thanks to the living legend that graced the stage at the Bryce Jordan Center last night. His performance, and his presence as one of the most influential and prolific voices in music, will be remembered in State College, Pennsylvania for a long time to come.