There was, to be sure, a whole lot of screaming associated with Paul McCartney’s show at Truist Field at Wake Forest in Winston-Salem on Saturday night.
And most of it I can vouch for first-hand.
One of the loudest examples came just over an hour into his set on the outdoor stage, after a rousing re-creation of the Beatles’ “little minor hit” “Love Me Do,” when McCartney interrupted a reference to how his legendary group got American girls screaming after it crossed the pond in the ’60s with this: “Come on, girls, let’s have a Beatles scream.”
Right on command, for 10 long, deafeningly loud seconds, thousands of women tested the limits of their vocal cords with shrieks and hoots and hollers that filled the air near the university’s campus with euphoria.
There was a lot more where that came from inside the stadium over the course of the evening, all of which — like I said — I heard with my own ears.
But some of the screaming related to the concert I could only imagine.
According to texts I was getting and social-media posts I saw pre-show, a combination of fierce winds, heavy rain, bad luck, poor timing, and decisions by traffic cops that seemed ponderous at best created a perfect traffic storm that left concertgoers cursing a blue streak while waiting up to several hours to get parked.
We’ll dig deeper into that in a minute or two. First, though, back to all those screams of joy.
As he soaked them up, Sir Paul didn’t just look pleased. He looked like a 25-year-old again. Or, at least, like someone who wished he was young again.
“Oh, man,” said the almost-octogenarian, shaking his head. Under his breath, just barely discernible, he added, “Take me back...”
The Winston-Salem show marked the midpoint of McCartney’s limited run of just 13 spring dates. This is his first tour in almost three years, and he said in the original announcement for it that he gave it the awkward name “Got Back” (awkward being our word, not his) because “I said at the end of the last tour that I’d see you next time. I said I was going to get back to you. Well, I got back!”
But “Take Me Back,” as a title, would have worked so much better.
After all, on Saturday night, for 2 hours and 40 minutes — an amount of time that seemed incredibly generous and yet somehow also way too brief — McCartney did exactly that.
In the broadest sense, he took us back simply by letting us be in his presence. Simply by letting us share in his enthusiasm for live performance.
“This is the first tour we’ve done since the COVID and the layoff and everything, so we’re really so happy to be back out playing for you,” McCartney told the crowd of close to 40,000 fans after rocking and rolling through the night’s first two songs, Beatles hit “Can’t Buy Me Love” and Wings hit “Junior’s Farm.” After another Wings pick — “Letting Go” — he added: “This is so cool that I’m just gonna take a moment for myself just to drink it all in,” stepping off to the left of his mic stand to bask in a cacophony of noise produced by the women but also everyone else this time.
More specifically, he took us back through a setlist of 36 thoughtfully curated selections, including 21 from the Beatles’ run through the ’60s and seven by his ’70s band Wings.
Singling out highlights is of course a hugely subjective undertaking (and there’s an argument to be made that the entire night was one big nonstop highlight). But a few musical moments that stood out out to me:
The traditional tacking of a substantial, all-instrumental snippet of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” onto the end of Wings song “Let Me Roll It.” McCartney ably noodled away at his left-handed Gibson Les Paul electric guitar while striking his best-rock star pose — feet shoulder-width apart, facing Abe Laboriel Jr.’s drum kit with his back to the crowd and his mouth agape.
A literally towering solo version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” After switching to an acoustic guitar and very briefly having a bit of fun by pretending he was going to dive off the stage into the audience, Macca got serious as he was lifted up 20 feet in the air on a section of the stage for this famous folk song. It ended with him singing softly in front of a ginormous video screen filled by a galaxy of slowly spinning stars.
The megapowerful 1-2-3 punch of “Let It Be,” “Live and Let Die” and “Hey Jude” to close out the main set. “Let It Be” carried the torch as the song that inspired the largest number of fans to turn on their cellphone lights; “Live and Let Die” climaxed with an eye-popping and ear-splitting display of pyro and flame-balls and on-stage fireworks that left the crowd delirious and the headliner standing up from his piano bench to plug his ears; and “Hey Jude” elicited the greatest group singalong in North Carolina since the last time Neil Diamond was here.
The kickoff of the six-song encore, “I’ve Got a Feeling,” done as a duet with John Lennon thanks to an assist from filmmaker Peter Jackson, director of last year’s Beatles documentary “Get Back.” A hologram would have been cool but gimmicky. The way Jackson helped imagine it — by isolating Lennon’s vocals from the recording used in “Get Back” and projecting the late Beatle’s performance on the screen at the rear of the stage — was at once a simple, beautiful, reverential and ever-so-slightly sorrowful sight to behold.
McCartney also took us back by way of remembrances and recollections, using stories that enriched our experience of some of those songs.
He explained how the American civil rights movement inspired “Blackbird”; why he always adds that bit of “Foxy Lady” onto “Let Me Roll It” (basically, it’s a thank-you to Hendrix for famously covering “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”); and what led to him singing the lead line in “Love Me Do” (it was supposed to be Lennon’s, but right before recording it, their producer, George Martin, decided Lennon needed to be using his mouth for the harmonica part).
And he took us back, too, using his still-boyish charms and humor.
Twenty-five minutes into the show, right before “Let Me Roll It,” he handed his suit jacket to a stagehand and announced: “OK, that is the only wardrobe change of the whole evening.”
Before performing 2013 solo track “New,” McCartney told the crowd: “We know which songs you like. Because when we do something like an old Beatles song, the place lights up with your phones. And it’s like a galaxy of stars. And when we do a new song, it’s like a black hole. But we don’t care. We’re gonna do ’em anyway!”
The sauciest moment of the night, meanwhile, came in the back half, when he took a break from the action to read some of the many signs fans were holding up for him.
“‘Can I please have the shirt off your back?’” he said, reading one. “No. Sorry.”
“‘Sign my arm and I’ll get it tattooed,’” he reeled off from another. “I don’t think we’re gonna have time.” “
“Or this one: ‘Sign my BUTT!’” he laughed. “Now go on, let’s have a look at it...”
As for criticisms of the show, sure, it wouldn’t be difficult to pick on his voice. It’s definitely lacking some of the smoothness and the richness that it had when he was in his prime. At the same time, it’s also nowhere near cringe-inducing. I think most of us are willing to give him a pass and not harp on any shortcomings too much because 1) he’ll turn 80 years old next month, and 2) well, I mean, he’s a Beatle, for crying out loud.
(For what it’s worth, the sole nod to his advanced age Saturday night came after he sang “Maybe I’m Amazed” as images of a young McCartney with a baby were cast on the big screen behind him. “That baby in my jacket ... she’s now got four babies of her own. One of ’em just graduated college. Where’s it go?” he asked, of the time.)
The only production change I’d suggest is to skip the music video that plays during “My Valentine,” of Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp solemnly doing sign language. We want to think about someone we love during that song. Not about Depp and Amber Heard.
McCartney did get some boos at one point Saturday night. Don’t worry, though. This wasn’t legitimate complaining. The tongue-in-cheek smattering came back at him 2-1/2 hours in, with just 10 minutes to go, when Sir Paul announced: “So, there comes a time when we gotta go home.”
But there was some genuine anger hanging in the air, before the concert — and during it, for a select few — as a result of those extraordinary traffic messes.
I don’t think the severe weather that passed through the area shortly before the gates were supposed to open at 6 p.m. helped matters. What surely made them worse, unfortunately, was the poor management of the traffic flow by Wake Forest, the Greensboro Coliseum Complex and, mainly, the Winston-Salem Police Department.
It was like they didn’t have a plan. As if they haven’t handled numerous concerts in the past or, say, half a dozen major college football games per year since the venue was built in 1968 (back when the Beatles were still together!).
The Charlotte Observer’s photographer left Charlotte at 4 p.m. and barely made it into the stadium in time to get in position to shoot McCartney’s entrance at 8:37 p.m. I saw a long list of tweets from concertgoers begging him to delay the show because they were still stuck in traffic after hourslong waits within a mile or two away. Winston-Salem TV station WXII reported talking to a woman who paid more than $1,000 for tickets, waited for three hours in gridlock, then finally gave up and went home, furious.
Those in charge probably could try to argue there was a rhyme or reason to how they were directing flow. I promise you, though: I had a front-row seat to some of the direction of that flow. There was no rhyme or reason.
Anyway, I know I’m biased, but I hope that if McCartney comes back to North Carolina, he comes to Charlotte instead of Winston (he hasn’t been to Charlotte, by the way, since 2010). I also know that that if is a particularly big IF, given his age, and with the business of live music perhaps still in a bit of a tenuous situation.
He typically comes to Charlotte every three or four years. In another four years, he’ll be 84.
“You’ve been fantastic tonight,” Sir Paul said after closing his encore, fittingly, with the Beatles’ “The End.” Thank you very much, North Carolina. We’ve had a great time. So all that remains to be said is —” He paused for just a second, for dramatic effect, before continuing:
“We’ll see you next time.”
With that, a brilliant fireworks display was set off above and behind the stage, colorful pieces of confetti and showers of golden sparks rained down from the rigging, and a ton of smoke billowed up from the floor.
As the crowd unleashed one more long, loud, collective scream, McCartney continued waving and smiling until he disappeared into the clouds.
Paul McCartney’s setlist
1. “Can’t Buy Me Love”
2. “Junior’s Farm”
3. “Letting Go”
4. “Got to Get You Into My Life”
5. “Come on to Me”
6. “Let Me Roll It”
7. “Getting Better”
8. “Let ’Em In”
9. “My Valentine”
10. “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five”
11. “Maybe I’m Amazed”
12. “We Can Work It Out”
13. “In Spite of All the Danger”
14. “Love Me Do”
15. “Dance Tonight”
17. “Here Today”
19. “Lady Madonna”
20. “Fuh You”
21. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
23. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
24. “You Never Give Me Your Money”
25. “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”
26. “Get Back”
27. “Band on the Run”
28. “Let It Be”
29. “Live and Let Die”
30. “Hey Jude”
31. “I’ve Got a Feeling”
33. “Helter Skelter”
34. “Golden Slumbers”
35. “Carry That Weight”
36. “The End”