Paul McCartney Live: Still Transcendent At 73

Macca magic touches every stage he steps on – as evidenced at this year’s Roskilde Festival.

Paul McCartney Live: Still Transcendent At 73

TAKING SIR PAUL MCCARTNEY for granted is easy. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he’s the ex-Beatle who will always be an ex-Beatle. But last Saturday’s spectacular at Denmark’s Roskilde Festival rammed home every damn reason for his legendary status. For two hours and 40 minutes of all-time classics delivered with magnificence, this was the beginning and end of music. When something’s this great it can make you wonder if there’s any point seeing another gig, ever.

“It was a special night for a festival that’s seen its fair share.”

Of course, sanity returns. There is other music – there has to be. But that doesn’t change the fact that THIS WAS PAUL McCARTNEY! On stage, being PAUL McCARTNEY! Sounding JUST LIKE Paul McCartney! OK, there was some trouble holding the long, high notes in The Long And Winding Road. Nonetheless, at Roskilde, he was all he should be and more.

The set list won’t have surprised seasoned Macca watchers. He did George's Something with the ukulele intro. The solo Blackbird delighted. In the opening quartet of songs, following Got To Get You Into My Life with Good Day Sunshine was a killer blow. Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite! was riotous. The encore Helter Skelter was volcanic. Another Day bounced like a spring lamb. A left-turn into Temporary Secretary’s electro-new-wave enthralled. Even potential cheeseballs like All Together Now and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da exuded class. And the set-closing Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight was hymnal.

The quality of McCartney’s regular band is no secret, either. Yet Brian Ray, Rusty Anderson, Abe Laboriel Jr. and Wix Wickens approached this weighty canon with a startling freshness. And there were twists for the locals, too, here for the biggest date on Denmark’s rock calendar. Macca’s attempts at Danish were charming. Although obviously reading from notes affixed to his guitar, piano or monitors, a “tusind tak” (a thousand thanks) went a long way. His “hvordan har du det? (how are you doing?) went even further.

But in the end it was about the timeless songs – with odd deviations into less-enduring fare like Hope For The Future – and how extraordinarily well they were performed. This by a 73-year-old man who did not take even a sip of water while on stage. It was a special night for a festival that’s seen its fair share.

“The quality of McCartney’s regular band is no secret.”

Roskilde began in 1971, and has attracted headliners like Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones, and occupies a cultural position similar to Glastonbury. It's huge, and held on a huge site. Over eight days (the first four are one-stage icebreakers for early campers), 175 acts played five stages. From ex-Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit to Muse; from bonkers rappers Run The Jewels to a relentless Florence + The Machine there was choice enough for anyone this time. By the end, most of the campsites resembled a nightmare take on Slumdog Millionaire’s shantytown.

The festival has few salaried staff, and the 85,000 ticket holders each day are supplemented by 30,000 volunteers. All profits are donated to charity and fans are drawn by the cultural capital rather than the big names. Which is why Sir Paul chose to play Roskilde. The bookers had not approached him – he came to them. And perhaps that's partly why Sir James Paul McCartney MBE seemed so vital, so energised – he’s still about making a difference. If you’re heading to Lollapalooza at the end of the month, catch him while he’s on this roll.

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PHOTO: Matías Altbach