When I told friends I was going to see Paul McCartney play in Seattle, I joked that it was a rare opportunity to see the Beatles perform in person.
Turns out, there was actually a little truth to that.
McCartney, who opened his new “Got Back” tour in the Pacific Northwest last week, covered more than 60 years of music — including the Beatles — and told plenty of stories that took us back to his days with the Fab Four.
He sang a duet (of sorts) with fellow former Beatle, the late John Lennon, who was shown on a giant screen singing “I’ve Got a Feeling” from archival footage recorded on a London rooftop in 1969 and recently released as part of Peter Jackson’s three-part “Got Back” documentary.
McCartney also paid a tribute to George Harrison, playing a jaunty version of Harrison’s classic “Something in the Way She Moves” on a ukulele given to him by the late Beatles guitarist.
Apparently energized by the enthusiastic audience, McCartney paused early in the show to gaze out over a near-capacity crowd at Climate Pledge Arena.
“This is so cool. I’m just going to have to take a minute here to drink it all in for myself,” McCartney said.
A tight horn trio provided backup to his band: two guitarists, a keyboardist (who played a passable harmonica on “Love Me Do”) and a wildly spirited drummer.
McCartney, who turns 80 next month, is still in full possession of his formidable musical powers. Energetic and trim (perhaps due to his longtime vegetarian diet and, according to a 2020 news story, a daily exercise routine that includes yoga and hand-stands), he moved around the stage like a man decades younger.
Kicking off the night playing electric bass, McCartney frequently changed up instruments, switching frequently between piano, electric and acoustic guitar, mandolin and ukulele.
His voice at times betrayed the toll of his nearly seven decades of performance, but the occasional reediness and warbles vanished as he sailed into the highest registers for the “whoohs” and “aaahs” that punctuate so many of his songs.
He played a brief tribute to Seattle-born Jimi Hendrix (“What a nice guy. Very humble. Fantastic guitar player, of course”) and told a story about watching Hendrix in London and hearing the legendary guitarist asking Eric Clapton to come tune his guitar after a raucous solo. (“Eric said, ‘Nope. Tune it yourself.’”)
Sitting down to a grand piano, McCartney played “My Valentine,” a minor key song he wrote for his wife, Nancy, who was in the audience, and released in 2012.
At one point he entered the stage waving a big Ukrainian flag while the rest of his band carried American, British and Washington state flags.
He played many of his greatest hits, including a solo acoustic version of “Blackbird.” He also led sing-alongs to Beatles favorites like “Hey Jude” and “Ob‐La‐Di, Ob‐La‐Da” (“We’re gonna start, and then I’m gonna say ‘now you,’ and you’re gonna sing most gloriously for us.”)
Many in the crowd were visibly startled and surprised, however, when the mellow piano sound of “Hey Jude” was followed by a rocking performance of his 1973 James Bond theme song, “Live and Let Die,” which was punctuated by explosive pyrotechnics and flames.
McCartney closed his nearly three-hour show with an appropriate Beatles tune, “The End,” and a very 1960s message: “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.”
That came as part of a medley of songs, but the opening tune, “Golden Slumbers,” a plaintive song of longing, is the one that sticks with me: “Once there was a way to get back homeward/Once there was a way to get back home.”
For just a moment, that trip back to a simpler time seemed possible as the power of music eased the weight of the years, the miles, the losses and the heartaches.
The keeper of the old songs is still alive and well. The magic endures.
Thank you, Sir Paul, for the lullaby and for inviting us to sing along.
Brian Mittge has been known to play some Beatles songs around the piano at his rural Chehalis home. What’s your favorite Fab Four favorite? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org.