“This is an old song but it’s one we’ve never performed before. I’ve never done this live.”
With that, he launched into “The Night Before.”
The song was indeed a first-timer. From the 1965 “Help!” film (and album). Featured in the scene with the group playing in an open field, hiding in plain sight from the bad guys who were out to get them.
The Beatles never performed ‘The Night Before” in concert. Until Yankee Stadium, neither had McCartney. Which is why it became a sweet spot for many of the concert goers. Familiar yet obscure. Old but fresh. Something special. He continued to include it at the subsequent stops of his brief “On the Run” tour of other baseball parks, including Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
It might seem that Paul McCartney would have the easiest job in the world performing in concert. He’s been associated with dozens of chart toppers across the decades since the 1960s. All he has to do is play them, filling an entire night with number ones.
But McCartney the showman is too smart for that.
All hits. All the time. Isn’t that just a creaking oldies tour? Since McCartney began post-Beatles touring, he’s been very deliberate in parceling out Beatles songs. His 1972 Wings “University Tour” in the UK contained zero Beatles originals (tapping instead Wings songs and classic rock covers).
Even his initial U.S. foray, the 1976 Wings Over America thirty-song extravaganza tour, drew heavily from Wings’ latest (especially “Venus and Mars”) and contained just five numbers from his Beatles days – but that wisely included “Yesterday.”
In subsequent touring, McCartney has shifted the mix more in favor of his legacy catalogue, along with his latest release (when there is one). He has repeatedly explained that he tries to picture what he as a fan would want to hear at a Paul McCartney concert and builds a varied set list accordingly, realizing that each fan’s “perfect” McCartney concert would be a little bit different: More Wings! Less Wings! Early Beatles! Late Beatles!
Even the Chicago Tribune’s preview of the Wrigley Field shows devoted an online photo essay and half a page in print to critic Mark Caro’s “dream” McCartney concert track list.
For these 2011 baseball stadium shows (themselves evocative of The Beatles in 1965 and 1966), there is no new album to tout, allowing maximum flexibility to include just about anything. So this is a career-spanning set list, with just enough rarely performed material to give repeat concert goers a smile (bringing back solo era songs such as “Junior’s Farm” and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five” along with the likes of “The Night Before” and “I Will”).
For future reference, there are still more than a dozen Paul-authored Beatles songs he’s yet to perform live, including “What You’re Doing,” “Another Girl,” When I’m 64,” and “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road.”
Add the John-authored Beatles titles, and a few more from George (beyond the ukulele rendering of “Something”), and there’s enough to keep ardent fans coming back for another dozen tours.
And maybe someday Paul McCartney might even consider MY dream song lineup. All cover versions, from every and any era. With reports of work on a collection of standards, that’s not as outlandish as it might seem. Sharing a lifetime of his favorites just might give Paul McCartney his own perfect concert.
© 2011 Walter J. Podrazik