Review: Paul McCartney in Missoula, Mont., Aug. 5, 2014

A cross post from our new sister blog: The Glass Onion Beatles Journal

Paul McCartney's performance at Grizzly-Washington Stadium in Missoula this week was unique in a variety of ways.

It was his first-ever performance in Montana.

It was the first-ever performance by a Beatle in Montana.

And, despite being held in one of the smallest venues of his current tour, it was the biggest-ever concert in Montana. Attendance for the sold-out show was just over 25,000. 

The Rolling Stones sold out the same venue in 2006, but the stadium has added an additional 2,000 seats since then. Also, the Stones' stage was bigger than Paul's and crowded out more of the available seating.

This was also the first time I had the chance to bring my kids to a concert by Paul, who I'd seen twice before. Both are big Beatles fans - either by nature or nurture, I'm not sure - and, as my wife noted, watching their faces throughout was even more fun than watching the show, which - not uniquely - was fantastic.

At 72, Paul still puts on a committed, and epic, performance. Over three hours, he played his way through nearly 40 tunes from his Beatles and solo years, switching from bass to guitar to piano and back again, singing tender ballads and belting out rockers and giving the people everything they could possibly want.

For audiences, each show is the experience of a lifetime, and he provides it each time out.

However, the Missoula show did start out a little rough. Paul seemed a little tentative on the first couple of numbers - not quite into it. Maybe it was the weather - it was 90-plus degrees when he came on, playing "Eight Days a Week" and new song "Save Us" before removing his blue blazer. "The jacket's coming off early. And that's the only wardrobe change of the evening," he joked. And then he warmed up emotionally as well as physically.

Missoula was excited to see him. We don't get shows this big - Stones aside. And the cheers and applause shook the stadium. From the third song (All My Loving) on, Paul threw himself into the performances, smiling, joking, eyes twinkling.

Make no mistake: all the patter and action on stage was slick and well-rehearsed. The set list, as you'll see below, was the same as most of the other shows on the Out There Tour. But it was all simultaneously authentic. This is who Paul is and always has been, the guy who loves to put on a show, and is great at it.

There were numerous highlights. I was pleased to hear the off-beat "Altogether Now" live and got a kick out of the animated cartoon characters in the film that played in the backdrop during the tune. I enjoyed the novelty of hearing him sing "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" --  a John song.

It was cool to hear the rollicking Wings deep cut "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five." And I was glad to see Paul include the two best tunes from his latest LP, the title track "New" and "Queenie Eye." Both worked great live.

And I loved hearing his searing lead guitar on "Let Me Roll It" and the short jam  Jimi Hendrix tribute jam that followed it.

A number of set pieces have evolved over the past several years in Paul's shows, and he did those, too: the tributes to John ("Here Today") and George ("Something"), complete with the background stories on each (turns out George liked to play ukulele); the pyrotechnics of "Live and Let Die," complete with Paul's feigned ear-ringing and heart palpitations afterward, and the fake-out end of show leading into an epic performance of the last quarter of Abbey Road.

Those of us who have seen it before, have seen it before. But keep in mind that thousands among us haven't. Including my kids. And they were just as excited seeing all of this for the first time as I was my first time. In fact, I was excited seeing it again.

Paul's vocals were strong throughout, though they got a little ragged near the end. Understandably so, considering how much he puts into his singing. Given some of his recent performances on TV, where he didn't sound so hot, I was pleasantly surprised. He sounds great. Not like he did at 22, but still very, very good. 

Paul didn't comment much on Missoula. It's a unique setting, the stadium nestled up against Mount Sentinel (renamed Mount McCartney for the day) on the beautiful University of Montana campus, which sits on the banks of the Clark Fork River.

Heat aside, it was a gorgeous summer night. Probably a fair percentage of out-of-staters attending the show wanted to stay here for a while. It's a problem: Everyone who visits town wants to move here for the mountains and rivers, the fishing and hiking and proximity to Glacier National Park and other natural wonders. It's a sweet spot, but Paul most likely didn't have a feel for it, and stuck to his script.

Paul also didn't mention anything about Mick Jagger. When the show was first announced, months ago, some locals claimed it came about because Mick had such great things to say about Missoula.  It's most likely just a local urban legend. If true, Paul didn't confirm it.

He did, however, note the clouds of marijuana smoke wafting from the crowd. Missoula has a longtime rep as hippie town, "the Berkeley of the Rockies," and Paul noted that "it sure smells good out here." He later introduced "Hi, Hi, Hi" by suggesting that we all "get high on life with Wings."

There was also a significant lost opportunity. The day before the show, newspapers carried the story of rockabilly pioneer Chan Romero's plans to be there. He's a native Montanan and was hoping Paul might play his song, "Hippy Hippy Shake," which the Beatles covered in their early days, and on some of their BBC radio sessions. But no go. Either Paul didn't get the word or wasn't interested. Too bad, as it would've been a nice moment and a shake-up to the set list.

That said. I don't mind, as so many others seem to, that Paul's list of songs tends to remain the same throughout a tour.

I compared the set lists from the last time I saw him, in 2005, and the time before that, in 1989, and it turns out that each show was significantly different.

Sure, there were many songs in common, but there also were many differences in which Beatles tunes and solo songs he played. Turns out, over the course of those three shows, I've heard Paul play a lot of different stuff. Including, each time, several songs off current albums. Not really anything to complain about unless you're following Paul's tour Grateful Dead style around the world. Keep in mind, the Beatles played the same sets during each of their tours, too. And they were only on stage for  30 minutes.

Paul said he'd be back, and I hope he will - so long as he enjoys playing, and plays so well, I don't see him packing it in anytime soon.

Set list:
  1. “Eight Days a Week” 
  2. “Save Us”
  3. “All My Loving”
  4. “Listen to What the Man Said”
  5. “Let Me Roll It”
  6. “Paperback Writer” 
  7. “My Valentine” 
  8. “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five” 
  9. “The Long and Winding Road” 
  10. “Maybe I'm Amazed” 
  11. “I've Just Seen a Face” 
  12. “We Can Work It Out” 
  13. “Another Day” 
  14. “And I Love Her”
  15. “Blackbird” 
  16. “Here Today” 
  17. “New” 
  18. “Queenie Eye” 
  19. “Lady Madonna”
  20. “All Together Now” 
  21. “Lovely Rita” 
  22. “Everybody Out There” 
  23. “Eleanor Rigby”
  24. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”
  25. “Something” 
  26. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” 
  27. “Band on the Run” 
  28. “Back in the U.S.S.R.” 
  29. “Let It Be” 
  30. “Live and Let Die”
  31. “Hey Jude” 
  32. “Day Tripper” 
  33. “Hi Hi Hi” 
  34. “I Saw Her Standing There”
  35. “Yesterday” 
  36. “Helter Skelter” 
  37. “Golden Slumbers”/“Carry That Weight”/“The End.”