Paul McCartney stood, wreathed in light, his hands on an acoustic guitar, fingers plucking out a melody as if by reflex.
“Yesterday/All my troubles seemed so far away …”
And it was Yesterday — the song as well as memories from the past — that pulled a sold-out crowd to American Airlines Center on Monday night for an eagerly anticipated make-up date (McCartney’s ongoing “Out There” tour was originally scheduled to hit DFW in June, but an illness forced a postponement).
His first North Texas gig in five years, following a 2009 date at then-Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, was comparatively scaled down, but really only when it came to capacity.
As before, the nearly three-hour set list packed in favorites from all phases of the Cute One’s career — even wedging in some satisfyingly spiky selections from his recently released LP New — and never scrimped on showmanship. ( Live and Let Die remains an eye-popping high point, full of fire, fury, smoke and lasers, practically built up to the point of parody.)
Backed by his ace quartet, including the ferociously talented drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., McCartney’s voice was occasionally ragged — his upper register, in particular, was rough throughout. But the infrequent vocal harshness was the only evidence he’s aged at all since last appearing in North Texas.
The 72-year-old isn’t afraid to recast the familiar, dosing Paperback Writer with a furious squall of feedback, or wrapping up Let Me Roll It with a sizzling interpolation of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady.
That flexibility is key to understanding how McCartney, for all the weight of expectation he bears, performs as if burdened by nothing.
It’s quite remarkable, particularly given how labored or leaden some legacy acts can seem in concert.
McCartney relies on no TelePrompTer and moves easily from bass to guitar to piano to ukelele and back again, keeping up a steady patter (“Normally you don’t talk about football teams, in case there’s rivals in the audience, but how ’bout them Cowboys?” Sir Paul asked early on) and making an epic event feel utterly approachable.
You’re in the presence of a Beatle — a living, breathing god of pop music; a molder of cultural clay — but his disarming enthusiasm and ability to let the past mingle freely with the present reminds you just how durable so many of these songs are.
They start to pile up, an endless mountain of melodies melded with our shared DNA: Eight Days a Week, All Together Now, Lovely Rita, Hey Jude, Get Back, All My Loving.
The night feels like it may never end, a catalog of greatness not treated as something precious, but something vibrant and real and happening in front of you.
And that may be McCartney’s greatest gift.
As the songs are passed down from one generation to the next — parents stood alongside children Monday, just as those who were young when the Fab Four first invaded America held each other tight — it’s easy to put them behind glass, to be admired and appreciated, but not necessarily enjoyed.
The Beatles are Important Artists, and sometimes, that Important Art is only observed, instead of engaged.
Paul McCartney has no use for that.
Whether it’s the familiar chords of Yesterday, ringing out from the soft white glow around him, or the serrated madness of Helter Skelter, he grabs hold of what he has made in his life, shakes loose the cobwebs of memory and thrusts it back into being.
The words fall out of our mouths, as if by reflex, and an abiding, marrow-deep love is rekindled anew.