Before all else, it must be remarked upon: Paul McCartney is in incredible shape. The former Beatle took the stage at Candlestick Park last night at 8:55 p.m. (nearly an hour after his supposed start time, but no one in the wine-drunk, median-40ish crowd was complaining). He didn't leave until 11:40, after ripping through nearly 40 songs, the vast majority of them from the Beatles canon. At a certain point in the second hour, during an interlude where he played several songs from his new album, NEW, I became acutely aware of how much my feet hurt and how underdressed I was for the famously unforgiving Candlestick fog. But save for a little sweat, 72-year-old McCartney showed no signs of slowing down.
[jump] There was a lot going on at last night's show, the last-ever event in Candlestick Park, which itself was the site of the last official Beatles concert on Aug. 29, 1966. The air was thick with nostalgia. Nostalgia for the stadium itself, misplaced as it might have been; the arena's concrete-bunker architecture felt like as much a relic of the 20th century as McCartney's psychedelic piano. Many in the crowd seemed to be there as much for The 'Stick as Sir Paul, and were busy taking selfies and trading reminiscences.
Then there was the nostalgia for McCartney himself, the closest most of us will ever get to a Beatle. He played the same set, nearly word for word — including stage banter — as he played last year at Outside Lands (and in 2010 at AT&T Park). But who is going to begrudge Paul McCartney for rehashing the same first-person stories about Jimi Hendrix hollering for Eric Clapton to tune his guitar during a show, or what it was like songwriting with John Lennon and George Harrison? With his near-mullet and ill-fitting dark jeans held up by Union Jack suspenders, McCartney at times seemed like a sentimental grandpa who had forgotten that he'd told these tales before. But then, after seeing a sign asking him to sign a female fan's ass and saying he'd have to see it first, we were reminded that this is the same McCartney who wrote the sly sexual innuendo in “Drive My Car” (and the much more explicit “Why Don't We Do It In the Road?”).
Still, maybe because I'd seen it all before, the occasion did feel like it demanded more than just the well-oiled Paul McCartney show. He didn't mention Candlestick until an hour into his set, and it felt like dialogue his producer had added into the script at the last minute; if you were expecting off-the-cuff stories about the Beatles' last touring days or 1960s San Francisco, you left disappointed. In his second encore, McCartney played “Long Tall Sally,” the last song the Beatles played on that fateful evening in 1966, accompanied by a montage of fresh-faced photos of the lads in the stadium. Even that didn't seem especially heartfelt — but then again, why would it? McCartney probably doesn't even remember the particulars of that foggy night nearly 50 years ago, the last straw for the tired Beatles that caused them to decide to never tour again.
It's impossible to be bored for long in the presence of a Beatle playing Beatles songs, and the three-hour set had more that its share of magic moments. The quiet performance of “Blackbird,” which McCartney said he wrote as a civil rights anthem, was even more poignant thanks to recent events in Ferguson. The haunting, goosebump-inducing “Eleanor Rigby” (though, Paul, why the synthetic strings?); the plaintive, stripped-down “Let It Be”; the rollicking “Back in the U.S.S.R.”; the still-impressive rock-opera virtuosity of the final Abbey Road medley; the moving tribute to Harrison with “Something,” which McCartney started on a ukelele and ended with a whole band.
As is his custom, he went all out with “Live and Let Die” by releasing an onslaught of fireworks, fireballs, and lasers. Insane pyrotechnics like those would be the closer of anyone else's set, but McCartney topped it as only Paul McCartney can: by playing “Hey Jude” and getting the whole stadium to sing along with him. For any building's final public moments, that's hard to beat.