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Review: In Miami, Paul McCartney's still fab

As the iconic opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” pierced the expectant atmosphere inside AmericanAirlines Arena to begin Paul McCartney’s triumphant return to South Florida Friday night, Laurie Steele was already in tears.

These were the tears the 63-year-old Pompano Beach resident had hoped to shed as a Beatles-obsessed 10-year-old living in Cutler Bay, when the Fab Four landed in Miami in 1964 on their first U.S. tour. “My parents couldn’t afford it,” she said. “They took me to Herman’s Hermits instead.”

Seeing her idol perform was No. 1 on Steele’s bucket list when McCartney announced he would open a U.S. leg of his One On One Tour in Miami, so she plunked down $1,700 for two seats about 20 rows from the stage, where daughter Lyndsey watched Steele cry for close to three hours.

“It was a religious experience,” Steele said after finally catching up to her favorite Beatle. “I’m going to keep doing this until one of us is dead.”

McCartney, indeed, was a revelation Friday night. A remarkably boyish 75-year-old, he joked, flirted, mugged and told stories while performing nearly 40 songs, among them the most memorable music ever created. It was a night of communion and joy, sing-alongs and standing ovations, in which star and audience seemed to feed off each other. A quick jitterbug in his final bow suggested McCartney could have continued for three more hours.

Performing on a spare black stage, backed by a video screen and an intricate grid of lights, McCartney moved easily among the bass, acoustic and electric guitars, two pianos and a ukulele. With his honey-colored hair swept to one side, gray allowed at the temples, McCartney’s impressive fitness and energy extended to his voice. While understandably thinner than in his heyday, McCartney did not seem to strain much to hit the highs and lows on “Maybe I’m Amazed” and applied a graceful warmth to the gentle ballad “And I Love Her.”

McCartney was again accompanied by his excellent band of more than 15 years: guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. and Paul Wickens on keyboards and guitars.

The Beatles’ culture-defining hits produced the expected, if no less magical, reaction. “Let It Be” and “Yesterday” were bathed in a galaxy of cell phones, and “Hey Jude” turned the arena into a bowl of swaying hands.

He honored John Lennon with the touching “Here Today,” written after Lennon’s death (“It’s the conversation we never got to have,” McCartney said). Recalling a day when he and George Harrison did a ukulele duet on “Something,” McCartney opened the song on ukulele in honor of his late friend. Ringo Starr, who turned 77 on Friday, got a version of “Birthday.”

Under swirls of psychedelic panels and lasers, “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and “Can’t Buy Me Love” — the latter backed by the flicker of old footage of John, Paul, George and Ringo joking around in the studio, running from girls — were fun for fun’s sake.

More obscure music yielded unexpected pleasures. McCartney reached back to “the very first song the Beatles ever recorded,” the loping, Roy Orbison-style rocker “In Spite of All the Danger” (when the band was known as the Quarrymen), which the audience sang with unexpected vigor. McCartney’s Kanye West-Rhianna collaboration, “FourFiveSeconds,” was also received enthusiastically by crowd members who may have shoes older than Rihanna.

Several optimism-against-the-odds ballads seemed to find new relevance with the audience, including “Let It Be,” “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “We Can Work It Out.” The latter produced a massive sing-along, with McCartney allowing the audience to handle the final line, “We can work it out,” as he raised his fist.

Similarly, “Blackbird,” which McCartney explained he and Lennon had written to bring “a little bit of hope” to those suffering under segregation in the American South, achieved special poignancy as the final line, “You were only waiting for this moment to arise,” was drowned in applause.

McCartney’s One On One Tour performance in Miami was postponed from its originally scheduled date on July 5, with producers citing production enhancements. If one of the enhancements was the pyrotechnic assault that was part of the Wings classic “Live and Let Die,” they might want to rethink it again.

The huge explosions and balls of flame that rocked the front of the stage had to rival anything Metallica was putting out across town at Hard Rock Stadium, and even McCartney seemed shocked, holding his hands up to his ears as he reoriented himself. And then he sat down at the piano, leaned into the microphone, and sang “Hey Jude…”

bcrandell@sun-sentinel.com

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