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Live review: Paul McCartney's second night at the Hollywood Bowl

April 1, 2010 | 11:05 am

Mccartney Paul McCartney went without an opening act Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl -- unless you count the former Beatle himself, that is.

Playing the second of two sold-out shows this week -- his first at the historic venue since 1993 -- McCartney waited until he was nearly two hours into his marathon set to introduce a sense of the superhuman, a bit of the mystery and wonder that continues to define the Beatles’ brand a half-century on from their formation.

The shift came with “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” which McCartney said he’d never performed on the road until his current tour; on Wednesday he and his four-piece band did it as a spirited ska number (complete with half-time dub breakdown). After that came “Back in the U.S.S.R,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Paperback Writer” and then “A Day in the Life,” each inviting the question that remains impossible to answer despite the depredations of time and countless cover versions: How on earth did regular people write these songs?

Until that point, McCartney was an amiable English guy with a bunch of hits, some more reverentially preserved than others. “Jet” was tart and punchy and “Drive My Car” retained its funky propulsion. But “My Love,” which the singer addressed to “all the lovers in the audience,” was as tired as that dedication, while a dreary rendition of “The Long and Winding Road” sounded like something you’d hear on a PBS telethon. (The sub-Discovery Channel nature footage didn’t help the latter.)

McCartney has drawn wide acclaim over the last few years for the irrepressible energy of his live show, and Wednesday night’s concert delivered in that regard. But too often the engine of that force seemed to be the crowd’s collective nostalgia rather than McCartney’s connection to the material, which sometimes felt chillier than the brisk night air.

You can’t blame fans (many of whom paid hundreds of dollars for their tickets) for being determined to have a good time; for them, what was happening onstage might have been less important than what was happening in their minds. That’s fine -- that’s what pop songs do when they outgrow themselves. But the guarantee of devotion doesn’t always inspire a performance worthy of it.

More happily, that guarantee does make it easier to justify shooting off really expensive fireworks, as McCartney did during a deliciously trashy version of “Live and Let Die.” And it can provide the confidence required to rough up a beloved chestnut the way McCartney did “Helter Skelter,” which at the Bowl seethed with genuinely ferocious punk-blues abandon.

That tune came late in the show, near the end of McCartney’s second encore. In a way, though, with the music finally drowning out the cheers, it sort of felt like Sir Paul was just getting started.


-- Mikael Wood


Photos: Paul McCartney at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times