Sir Paul McCartney is marvelous in his long-awaited Des Moines return
Paul McCartney performs "Can't Buy Me Love" and "Hard Days Night" during Desert Trip at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio. Courtesy of Paul McCartney
It’s a really, really strange feeling… being in the same room as a Beatle before that Beatle is actually seen in the room.
Some could describe the feeling as "electric" — an acceptable way to put it, but not quite right. It’s not an electricity that fills the room; it’s better described as subtle, sneaky bubbles of tension that creep up through toes and into your body, settling in the pit of your stomach. It’s as though euphoria is standing on your emotional doorstep, saying, “Sure, these next three hours could be the best show of your life. But it’s not going to happen... quite yet.” Pure. Anticipation.
In the half-hour before the legend Sir Paul McCartney took to the Wells Fargo Arena stage in downtown Des Moines Friday night, that’s what it felt like.
That was until the iconic opening note of “A Hard Day’s Night” echoed through the arena. Then, well… then the room felt electric.
Arguably the most famed musician in pop’s modern era, McCartney played Des Moines for the second time in his career Friday night, marking his first appearance in the Hawkeye state since headlining the same venue in 2005. Plowing through 39 tracks (rounding to 40 is acceptable if you count the “Foxy Lady” Jimi Hendrix tribute jam) for a sold out estimate of 14,900 people, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer held the stage for about two hours and forty-five minutes.
“Good evening, Des Moines,” McCartney said after performing the evening’s second song — 2013’s “Save Us.”
He then paused for a moment to bask in his audience: “Now, you know, why am I getting the feeling we’re gonna have some fun here tonight? It’s so cool… I’m going to take a second to drink it all in for myself.”
Story time with Sir Paul
In all of its unmatched elation, the set was what rock ‘n’ roll fanatics should come to expect from McCartney: hit after hit after hit after hit after hit… after hit. “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Let Me Roll It,” “Love Me Do,” “And I Love Her” and “I’ve Got A Feeling” all made the cut of Wings, Beatles and solo tracks performed… in the first 15 songs of the night.
Still, with a number of the anthems, McCartney paused before or after to address his audience, telling a story or two from his nearly six-decade career. Most of the stories — such as his tale of Jimi Hendrix covering “Sgt. Pepper’s” days after its release or his “Hello, Goodbye” run-in with Russian officials — are ones he’s told before, maybe in his 2005 visit or maybe as far back as his 1990 stop at Jack Trice Stadium (then Cyclone Stadium) in Ames. But fans ate up every second, falling silent while he talked, and laughing hard when he nailed a punchline.
Some of McCartney’s tales were purposely comical (seriously, I’d pay admission just to hear Sir Paul talk in a Russian accent all night) and some lines — like his all-too-important “if you have something you want to say to someone, say it now” line before performing John Lennon tribute “Here Now” — were grounding. His tribute to George Harrison, prior to delivering “Something,” fell somewhere in the middle.
“Let’s hear it for Georgey,” McCartney said. “After the Beatles… I was sittin’ around at his house and... we were just jammin’ around, playin’ songs. I was, like, ‘you know, I learned one of your songs on the ukulele,’ and we did it that day, and we’re gonna do it for you now.”
Something in the way she says 'yes'
Speaking of “Something,” the evening’s most endearing moment came at a point between McCartney kicking the famed Harrison number off and hitting the last “You know I believe…” note — a couple in the front row got engaged.
McCartney noticed the candid moment, stopping between songs to offer his congratulations.
“I couldn't help but noticing, here in the front row, during that song, I do think this young gentleman proposed to this young lady,” he said. “That’s great. I love it.”
Live and let there be an explosion
The back-end of the initial set proved the most well-received from the audience and the most well-performed from the 75-year-old Liverpudlian and his tightly rehearsed four-member band. From “Something,” he and the group went into a raucus rendition of “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” before the pre-encore grand slam of “Band on the Run,” “Let It Be,” “Live and Let Die” and a nearly 10-minute rendition of “Hey Jude.”
The back-to-back performance of the subtle, sobering “Let It Be” and the explosion-filled “Live And Let Die” may be the best one-two punch McCartney offers. On the one hand is a Beatle serenading an audience with a song that’s deeply personal to so many, and, on the other hand, is a frantic, playful song laced with flame throwers. His vocal delivery may not be as robust — and his aging fans may not show the maddening energy of years past — but McCartney’s showmanship, as displayed none better than in those tracks, is still untouched.
And in the end…
Returning alongside his band — guitarist Rusty Anderson, guitarist Brian Ray, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. and keyboardist Paul Wickens — McCartney entered a seven-song encore featuring a rock ‘n’ roll spread of his career. Starting with “Yesterday,” Macca took fans back 50 years during the “Sgt. Pepper’s” reprise before delivering Wings’ “Hi Hi Hi.”
McCartney then brought an entire family dressed in Sgt. Pepper’s outfits to dance during “Birthday,” the evening’s penultimate number. From there, the gig appropriately closed with an “Abbey Road” medley of “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and, of course, “The End.”
As the last, loving lines of the evening rolled off McCartney’s lips and carried across the audience, that feeling of electrified anticipation finished a transformation into complete satisfaction. Confetti filled the room, McCartney and his band took a bow and he offered his final words of wisdom to the assembled onlookers:
“Tell you what,” he said. “We’ll see you next time.”
Paul McCartney in Des Moines:
- “A Hard Day’s Night”
- “Save Us”
- “Can’t Buy Me Love”
- “Letting Go”
- “Temporary Secretary”
- “Let Me Roll It”
- "I’ve Got A Feeling” (with Jimi Hendrix tribute)
- “My Valentine”
- “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five”
- “Maybe I’m Amazed”
- “We Can Work It Out”
- “In Spite Of All The Danger”
- “You Won’t See Me”
- “Love Me Do”
- “And I Love Her”
- “Here Today”
- “Queenie Eye”
- “Fool On The Hill”
- “Lady Madonna”
- “Four Five Seconds”
- “Eleanor Rigby”
- “I Wanna Be Your Man”
- “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
- “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”
- “Band On The Run”
- "Back In The U.S.S.R."
- “Let It Be”
- “Live And Let Die”
- “Hey Jude”
- “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)”
- “Hi Hi Hi”
- “Golden Slumbers”
- “Carry That Weight”
- “The End”