If all historic events were as fun as Friday night's Paul McCartney concert, text books would be a lot more popular.
Some 44 years after the Beatles performed the world's first concert in a sports arena at New York's Shea Stadium to a record 55,000 screaming fans on August 15, 1965, McCartney returned to the same plot of land for another first -- the inaugural concert at the Mets' brand new Citi Field.
The three-hour set was a Beatles diehard's fantasy come true, all delivered with Macca's cheeky stage demeanor.
"It's been a while since I've been here," he joked after set-opener "Drive My Car." "I have a feeling we're going to have fun tonight."
He was right. A sold-out crowd of some 45,000 endured rain showers from start to finish, and the former Beatle and his taut four-piece band held their attention the whole time. Macca, the consummate showman, is, in many ways, the opposite of rock star cool. It's as if your high school theatre teacher suddenly became music's biggest star. He cracked hilariously embarrassing jokes between songs -- "I smell weed! Please don't tempt me" -- and at one point barked like a dog and got the crowd nonsensically chanting, "oooobbbbie obbbbbie obbbieeee wwwwooooohhhhhh."
"Wow, we got a little silly on that one," he confessed afterward.
But nothing could overshadow the genius of McCartney's songs and his onstage prowess. He made 67 years old look as limber as 30, raising one of his many stringed instruments over his head in triumph after each song. Wings classic "Jet," the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life" (with digital avatars of the foursome performing onscreen, lifted from their upcoming Rock Band game), and "Highway," a song from his side-project Fireman, were all delivered with both a polish and exuberance that's rare in live music today.
He played George Harrison's "Something" on a Ukulele the late Beatle guitarist gave him, and honored John Lennon with a medley of "Day in the Life" and "Give Peace a Chance." He even nodded at Jimi Hendrix by coupling a few bars of "Foxy Lady" onto Wings' "Let Me Roll It," delivered at jackhammer force.
On "Dance Tonight," a song from his 2007 album Memory Almost Full, the Liverpool native pumped his fists and got the crowd chanting, "ohhhhh wayyyy ohhhhh" like soccer fans at a World Cup game. "We played that in Ukraine -- and they really liked it," he laughed at the song's end.
Later came a solo acoustic version of "Here Today," a song that Macca explained was written after Lennon's death about a would-be conversation with his onetime Beatles band mate. And "My Love," dedicated to his late wife Linda, "a New York girl." After the song, a large gust of wind swept panes of rain onstage. "Ah, tears from the sky," he said, visibly moved.
On "Back in the U.S.S.R.," Rusty Anderson loosened Harrison's guitar part into an unhinged solo. (Later, between songs, as a commercial jet flew over mimicking the song's opening, McCartney joked, "We already played that one!") On "Live and Let Die," fireworks exploded from the top of the stadium, with Macca, now behind the piano, looking as surprised by the blasts as the crowd. Billy Joel even played piano on "I Saw Her Standing There."
If that wasn't enough for Beatles fans, the set's second half was a Fab Four sampler with "Lady Madonna," "Get Back," "Long and Winding Road," "Eleanor Rigby," and "Paperback Writer." And McCartney took the stage solo for "Yesterday" and White Album favorite "Blackbird."
During "Band on the Run" the crowd, now soaked, screamed its middle verse, "The rain exploded with a mighty crash as we fell into the sun / I hope you're having funnnnnnnn!" High fives were traded by 13-year-olds and their parents.
If McCartney left anyone unsatisfied, they got their kicks on the walk to the Subway, where a thousands-strong sing-along belted one of the set's only missing gems: Can't buy me love / Can't buy me love. Love, maybe not. But unforgettable amounts of fun? You betcha.
Paul McCartney Setlist:
"Drive My Car"
"Only Mama Knows"
"Got To Get You Into My Life"
"Let Me Roll It" (with a "Purple Haze" coda)
"The Long and Winding Road"
"Sing the Changes"
"Band on the Run"
"Back in the U.S.S.R."
"Something" (on ukulele)
"I've Got a Feeling"
"A Day in the Life"/"Give Peace a Chance"
"Let It Be"
"Live and Let Die"
"I Saw Her Standing There" (with Billy Joel)
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (reprise)/"The End"