Paul McCartney's set at Bonnaroo 2013 was a modest affair. Just your typical three-hour show packed with dozens of rock's all-time greatest songs, heart-wrenching tributes to late musical legends, Pussy Riot shout-outs, more fireworks than D.C. on the Fourth of July and an impromptu serenade to a stuffed walrus. He handily owned Friday night at the Tennessee fest by delivering the kind of joyous concert that reminds you why you fell in love with music in the first place.
Oscillating between Beatles classics (i.e., many of the best songs ever written), Wings hits (which are more enduring than snobby critics like to allow) and a couple of solo tracks, McCartney's energy never let up. And somehow—even for those watching him as a speck on a stage a football field away—his cheery, endearingly hammy personality managed to enrapture the crowd of tens of thousands.
Throughout the night, Macca took a break to jokingly chide certain "Bonnaroo-vians" for expecting him to read signs with tiny text, compliment front-row tokers on the quality of their weed and imitate Russian politicians quoting Beatles lyrics.
That impersonation—not to mention a roaring take on "Back in U.S.S.R."—allowed him to reiterate his support for Pussy Riot, whom he recently tried to free via handwritten pleas to Russian officials. Perhaps the government's refusal to free the two imprisoned women explains how ready he was to cartoonishly mock their accents.
Throw in tributes to the recently deceased producer Phil Ramone ("Another Day"), John Lennon ("Here Today"), George Harrison ("Something" on ukulele) and Jimi Hendrix ("Foxy Lady" was referenced at the end of "Let Me Roll It"), and Bonnaroo 2013 had its first truly consummate performer.
I watched the show with Fuse Senior Writer Jason Newman and we discussed after our brains returned to our bodies. Here are our unedited, raw Gchat thoughts on the show below.
Joe: Okay, give it to me in one word
Joe: now give it to me in many words
Jason: It's impossible to talk about seeing a Beatle live (well, okay, Paul) without sounding cliche, but I can't imagine anyone this weekend coming close to what he accomplished. Forget age: Let's see a 30- or 40-year-old pull off three hours as if it was one song.
Joe: he turns 71 this week
Jason: My mom is 70 and needs help with the remote on a near-daily basis.
The fireworks and pyro during "Live and Let Die" eradicated any semblance of a journalistic vocabulary...I was basically a 5-year-old talking to my friend, only able to get out, "Fire big" and "Explosion wow."
Joe: they came out of the roof! like missiles launching from a bunker
Jason: For all the elitist posturing so many people have, it's hard to beat pure spectacle
Joe: especially during a Bond theme song
Jason: The other moment: The Abbey Road medley that closes the show
It triggered memories of being a kid and first discovering music and made me start to tear up a little
which I know is incredibly trite and corny
but that was unexpected
Joe: that's exactly how i felt about the show overall
except i didn't cry because i'm dead inside
but it did remind me of discovering the joy of music
Jason: Exactly. Last year when D'Angelo started to play, the random stranger next to me asked, "I don't know you, but can I hug you?" That's pretty much how I felt tonight
Sh-t, maybe Bonnaroo really is the hippie enclave everyone paints it out to be
Joe: i think so
what about the walrus?
i was so delighted that he sang to the stuffed walrus a person handed him
Jason: The whole time, I was just picturing Paul going back to his million-acre castle in England and adding it to the Walrus House, the house he has just for stuffed walruses given to him onstage
but it was a spontaneous touch, which is rare for a massive headliner
he made it talk into the mic. what a ham! in a good way
also, he was definitely singing "Golden Slumbers' directly to the walrus
Jason: haha..who hasn't?
How did his stage banter compare to other times you saw him?
was it canned?
that's the funny thing
it seems sorta silly and premeditated but it's always different
i think it's off the cuff
Jason: I just assumed he had his "Dad Joke 101" playbook out
but hey, 70-year-olds making weed jokes are ALWAYS Funny
that's comedy 101
but hey, dont get superior
he was burning down before you were born!
he's spent more money on weed than you'll see in a lifetime
Jason: That's true...We should talk about "Hey Jude"
Normally you hate when the person next to you yells the song
but here it made perfect sense
you felt weird not singing
Joe: yeah i dont know if it's possible not to sing along to that
the audience almost over-sang him on many beatles choruses
Jason: i was okay with that (for a bit)
the other big surprise
The two Beatles song I hate: "Back in the USSR" and "Ob La Di Ob La Da" were incredible tonight
Joe: firstly, you're wrong on both, but that's a sep conversation
Jason: The saccharine levels diluted by the sheer exuberance of the crowd
You'd feel like a Grinch for not liking them live
Joe: both songs were electric
the crowd was so buoyant during Ob La Di
Jason: Was there anything you didn't like?
It's okay, Joe...he won't read this
using the keyboard's goofy synth settings to replace horns on "Listen to the Man" and strings on "Rigby"
Jason: Well, maybe Paul's operating on a budget these days
Joe: saving for his retirement
any low points for you?
Jason: No holograms
Paul McCartney at Bonnaroo Setlist
1. Eight Days a Week
2. Junior's Farm
3. All My Loving
4. Listen to What the Man Said
5. Let Me Roll It (with "Foxy Lady" tag at the end)
6. Paperback Writer
7. My Valentine
8. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five
9. The Long and Winding Road
10. Maybe I'm Amazed
11. Midnight Special
12. We Can Work It Out
13. Another Day
14. And I Love Her
16. Here Today
17. Your Mother Should Know
18. Lady Madonna
19. All Together Now
20. Lovely Rita
21. Mrs. Vanderbilt
22. Eleanor Rigby
23. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
25. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
26. Band on the Run
27. Back in U.S.S.R.
28. Let It Be
29. Hey Jude
30. Day Tripper
31. Hi Hi Hi
32. Get Back
34. Helter Skelter
35. Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End (Medley)