Fans attending Paul McCartney’s show at Wake Forest University’s Truist Field in Winston-Salem, NC, braved a drenching thunderstorm that delayed the gates opening an hour, and endured traffic gridlock on the way to the show — and even inside the antiquated stadium’s tiny concourses — before getting to their seats.
However, the crowd, estimated at 33,000, was rewarded with a thoroughly entertaining performance by Sir Paul and his band. The tickets were pricy, but McCartney outlasted many younger performers, with the concert running 2 hours and 39 minutes.
As a Charlotte Observer headline put it: “Getting to Paul McCartney’s concert was a nightmare. The show itself? A dream.”
Macca was in surprisingly good voice most of the night, having enjoyed a few days off since the previous show, in Forth Worth, Texas. Early in the concert, his voice actually sounded stronger than when I last saw him perform, three years earlier. Yes, his vocals did waver a bit on the ballads, and he had to resort to screaming on some of the rockers, as he’s routinely done in recent years. But, for most of the songs, his vocals were just fine.
The sound inside the college football stadium was another matter. The quieter numbers (as well as McCartney talking to the crowd between songs) saw a distracting echo in the back of the stadium, where some fans were seated on a grassy bank beneath the unused video board. Also, a few numbers, particularly “Let Em In,” were marred by an iffy sound mix — unusual for a McCartney show.
The set list was standard for the Got Back tour (see Beatlefan #256), with “Let Em In,” “We Can Work It Out” and “New” in the rotating slots. It was a familiar mix of Beatles, Wings and solo, ranging in timespan from the Quarrymen to Macca’s recent albums.
There were a lot of holdover bits, of course. “Come On to Me” featured the usual fake ending and reprise, and the band played the now-expected bit of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady” after “Let Me Roll It,” setting up the familiar Paul story about Jimi performing “Sgt. Pepper” and getting his guitar out of tune. The rest of the stage patter was pretty standard: Macca dedicating “My Valentine” to wife Nancy, who was at the show (“this is for you, Nance”), telling the story about Duff Lowe keeping the Quarrymen disc of “In Spite of All the Danger” for 20 years, getting the women in the stadium to do a “Beatle scream” for “Love Me Do,” using the performance of “Here Today” as a chance to advise the audience to say “I love you” to people they hold dear, prompting a display of (phone) lights in the crowd after introducing “New” by saying the band knows which songs the audience isn’t that interested in because it looks like “a black hole,” and telling the George Harrison uke story before “Something.” Macca also kept the videos of Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp accompanying him on “My Valentine.”
And, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. delighted the crowd with his hand gestures and dancing in place during “Dance Tonight.”
Also, thankfully, the Hot City Horns once again were part of the show. Having real horns back McCartney live, rather than Wix’s synth horns, elevates the performance to another level.
One surprise in the show came after “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” when Paul said they were going to play something they’d never done before. The band then launched into “You Never Give Me Your Money,” skipping the first two verses, and beginning instead with “… out of college, money spent,” and going through the “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven / All good children go to Heaven” chorus. Macca and the band then moved straight into “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” medley-style.
Frankly, without the “You never give me your money …” portion, the opening of the first song seemed bit abrupt/awkward. I wondered whether they arranged it that way so that Paul wouldn’t have to open the number up on the piano and then come down to the main stage and strap on his Hofner bass. That might have been a concession to the nearly 80-year-old’s age, though he otherwise didn’t seem to take it easy at all, and only took one drink mid-show.
(It’s worth noting that, while this band never has done “You Never Give Me Your Money” before, McCartney was not completely accurate when he told the crowd, “I don’t believe it’s been played live before, this song, until this tour.” In fact, the 2002 tour included a different, piano-based arrangement of “You Never Give Me Your Money” combined with “Carry That Weight.”)
One other minor complaint: Sir Paul spoiled the surprise for many in the crowd about the duet with John Lennon via the video screen on the opening encore of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” by telling the Peter Jackson anecdote before the song, rather than after the performance — an uncharacteristic misstep for a master showman.
Visually, the presentation featured a smaller video screen behind the band and two very tall video screens on either side of the stage, which was in one of the football field’s end zones. The seating setup had one and a half sections of the stadium right next to the stage unsold, with additional seating on most of the field (leaving room for the technical crews and a souvenir stand that conducted brisk business throughout the concert), and the lawn seating in the back.
Being an outdoor show, a fireworks display was added to “Live and Let Die,” in addition to the usual loud flash-pots on the stage, and there was another fireworks show at the end of the concert, in addition to the usual smoke and confetti.
For the show, Paul wore a black double-breasted jacket over a black vest and white shirt, with black pants. After the fifth number, “Come On to Me,” he doffed the jacket for the rest of the show. He sported the white stubble (beard in progress?) seen throughout the tour.
Oh, one more thing: As he wrapped up the show at 11:16 p.m., McCartney tantalized fans with his usual closing line, “See you next time!”
The Winston-Salem crowd roared its approval.