It’s the hottest day of the year so far. Temperatures outside are soaring, with weather forecasters issuing warnings that soon the tarmac on British roads might start to melt.
Inside Liverpool’s immortal Cavern club the temperature is even hotter. Famed as a sweatpit when a generation of Mersey rock ‘n’ rollers performed here, one of the icons produced by that era has decided to pay the old place a visit – and he doesn’t want to roll back the years.
After all, Paul McCartney has no need to. New album ‘Egypt Station’ is incoming, a record that sits comfortably with that lineage of The Beatles, Wings, and of course his own extraordinarily successful solo career. Fans have been queuing since 6am this morning to try and grab a gold-dust ticket, with frantic scenes reminiscent of Beatlemania in its pomp as line after line surge forward.
It’s part of a series of nostalgic moves by Paul McCartney – from touring Liverpool with James Corden, performing in Abbey Road studios, or meeting students at LIPA to reminiscent – but these are definitely not retrospective events. He’s looking backwards only to plot a path forwards, he’s re-connecting with his roots but only to provide source for renewal, a means to craft yet another golden album.
It begins – as is McCartney tradition – with a jam, as a band of musicians more used to the world’s arenas and stadiums prepare to slot their colossal sound into a Scouse sweatden packed to the rafters with delirious fans.
Racing into pristine rock ‘n’ roll number ‘20 Flight Rock’ the Beatle is clearly in his element, even playfully telling off fans who disobeyed the rules on no-filming. If it was good enough for Prince, he points out, then it’s good enough for him.
Breezing into The Beatles’ psychedelic anthem ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, the band then plunge into Wings’ timeless 70s rock belter ‘Jet’ as the set races into supersonic territory. ‘All My Loving’ is as tender, chirpy, and sincere as always, but this isn’t simply a trawl through the ages, a simple fan-pleasing affair.
There’s an edge to the performance, an urge to prove himself, that makes new songs – the frisky ‘Come On To Me’, the pun-tastic and defiant ‘Fu You’ - come into their own. Placed in the wider context of the songwriter’s work, there’s a real neo-classical feel, tapping into elements of prior work while never becoming fully absorbing by them.
There’s more than a few surprises, too. A thundering ‘Let Me Roll It’ moves into a bruising version of ‘Foxy Lady’, the prowling guitar lines emerging dappled in feedback, shoved right into the faces of the thronging, sardine-packed crowd.
Beautifully sincere new song ‘My Valentine’ is dedicated to Paul’s wife, Nancy Shevell, before being followed by Wings’ cut ‘1985’. The classics still hold their power, of course. A wonderful run through ‘Lady Madonna’ finds the Beatle switching to piano, while ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ album cut ‘Things We Said Today’ gets a wonderfully wistful, bittersweet rendering.
Given the location - “Liverpool! The Cavern! These are words that go together well...” - it’s only natural that The Beatles form a formidable backdrop to the show. Paul McCartney freely breezes through some warming anecdotes, a reminder that despite their iconic status the band were once four kids searching for a record deal.
‘Love Me Do’ arrives with a sweet memory of studio fright, with Paul’s wobbling voice seemingly the result of nerves, rather than technique. ‘In Spite Of All The Danger’ also gets an airing, a song so early it was recorded by The Quarrymen, as The Beatles hadn’t been dreamed of yet. Not that the world got a chance to hear it – Paul chuckles and reveals their piano player kept the original demo “for another 20 years”.
Smiling, joking with the front row, it’s clear that the songwriter is enjoying the occasion as much as the fans. When one joker shouts out “Get a round in, Paul!” - the show is a mid-afternoon teetotal affair – he smiles, then quips: “Somebody chuck ‘im out!”
A lightning-quick ‘Birthday’ segues into a bruising, brooding version of ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, and then it’s onwards for a dream finale. ‘Get Back’, a singalong ‘Ob La Di’, a surging, soaring ‘Band On The Run’, before a quicksmart ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, a biting, searing ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ and a guttural, explosive ‘Helter Skelter’.
The only reservations are what to leave out. Now 75 years old Paul McCartney has far out-stripped his contemporaries – put simply, it’s difficult to think of a single artist from that era or any other who has enjoyed anything like the relentless success he has had.
All this makes defining Paul McCartney a difficult business – do we opt for the mop-top boy next door, the psychedelic composer, the defiant Wings maverick, the arena rocker, the elder statesman…?
Somehow, he manages to encompass all this, while still finding wriggle-room, still finding unexplored paths. ‘Egypt Station’ is another storied junction on a relentless onward journey, but it’s a journey well aware of its starting point. I was lucky to be here; we are lucky to have him.
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20 Flight Rock
Magical Mystery Tour
All My Loving
Come On To Me
Let Me Roll It
I Got A Feeling
In Spite Of All The Danger
Things We Said Today
Love Me Do
I Wanna Be Your Man
Ob La Di
Band On The Run
Hi Hi Hi
Saw Her Standing There
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