Paul McCartney picked New Orleans, one of his favorite cities, to open the US leg of his Freshen Up tour.
On Thursday, May 23, seven songs into a 38-song show, McCartney told his adoring audience at the sold-out Smoothie King Center that he couldn’t think of “a better place to start it off than right here.”
Following his 2002 and 2014 concerts at the Smoothie King Center, McCartney launched his third appearance in the former New Orleans Arena with a pair of Beatles’ classics, 1964’s “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and the 1974 Wings hit, “Junior’s Farm.”
Vintage film footage of McCartney with his fellow Beatles accompanied “Can’t Buy Me Love” on a giant video screen. After the aptly raucous “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the former Beatle paused to gaze at his fans. “This is so cool,” he said.
McCartney, who’ll be 77 on June 18, obviously doesn’t need the money his tours generate. Hugely successful for 56 years, he still loves performing. After Thursday’s two-and-a-half-hour plus concert in New Orleans, he said, “We’ll see you next time.”
Gregarious and chatty—but not too chatty—McCartney was totally relaxed and comfortable on stage Thursday night. The stage certainly is his home, along with the many lovely homes he likely owns all over the world.
In recent years, the star has also become comfortable enough with himself and his fans to stop coloring his gray hair. An elder superstar at this point in pop music history, McCartney’s voice inevitably betrays the years, but his fire for performance and on-stage stamina seem unstoppable. During Thursday’s marathon performance, he didn’t leave the stage until after the collective bow he and the band took before the encore.
Thursday’s set list at the Smoothie King ranged from the 1958’s pre-Beatles Quarrymen song, “In Spite of All the Danger,” to songs from McCartney’s latest album, 2018’s Egypt Station. The 60-year span of music included 21 Beatles classics, plus Wings and solo material. McCartney and the four-piece band he’s been working steadily with for nearly 20 years stay true to his original recordings. Their fidelity includes the group’s vocal harmonies, Rusty Anderson’s note-for-note reproductions of George Harrison’s guitar solos and Abe Laboriel Jr.’s execution of Ringo Starr’s drum parts.
Following “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the third song of the night, McCartney’s new three-piece horn section made its entrance offstage, show up in the arena stands for a performance of Wings’ “Letting Go.” Later, the trio appeared on to the stage throughout the show, greatly enhancing, for instance, the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life” and Wings’ “Let ’Em In.”
Besides singing, multi-instrumentalist McCartney played acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, ukulele (for Harrison’s “Something”), a baby grand piano and a psychedelically painted upright. His acoustic selections didn’t include “Yesterday,” but there was a solo performance of his Civil Rights era-inspired “Blackbird” as well as the “Yesterday”-like “Here Today,” a deeply personal expression of the grief and regret McCartney felt after John Lennon’s death in 1980.
Elaborate laser shows, a multitude of animated video backdrops and the customary explosive pyrotechnics for Wings’ James Bond movie theme, “Live and Let Die,” are also part of the Freshen Up tour. The fiery, noisy “Live and Let Die” special effects left McCartney with his hands over his ears and fingers in his ears. He was probably joking, but this latest version of the effects for his James Bond movie theme song did appear more extreme than ever.
The pre-encore part of Thursday’s show climaxed with an arena-wide singalong of, naturally, “Hey Jude.” Good vibes, indeed. The six-song encore featured a rocking “Birthday” and, another McCartney concert tradition, the majestic three-song suite that ends the Beatles’ Abbey Road album. Released 50 years ago this year, the concluding, collective resonance of “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End” still yields that warm glow. It was the perfect way to end a visit with a dear old friend most of us have never met, but cherish.