Little Caesars Arena received its first visit from music royalty on Sunday as Paul McCartney christened the new complex with a nearly three-hour showstopper for the first night of his two-night engagement at the arena.
The former Beatle and perhaps the world’s most beloved living individual gave the crowd an almost 40-song gift of a concert, a stop on his current “One on One” tour, which felt cozy and intimate despite its large-scale arena setting. Filing through songs spanning a 57-year-period – from the Quarrymen’s “In Spite of All the Danger” to the Kanye West and Rihanna collaboration “FourFiveSeconds” – McCartney cherry-picked selections from the greatest songbook of all-time and gave the all-ages crowd a memorable evening of sing-alongs and storytelling.
When the 75-year-old hit the stage he waved to the crowd, raised a fist in the air and dropped right into “A Hard Day’s Night,” the first of some two dozen Beatles songs he and his ace four-piece band rolled out during the 2-hour, 55-minute concert. As the song wrapped, McCartney licked his finger and reached it out to the crowd, as if he was touching a hot stove.
From there he jumped to Wings’ “Junior’s Farm” and then back to the Beatles for “Can’t Buy Me Love,” beginning a ping-pong between Beatles and Wings hits he carried on during the opening portion of the set.
“Good evening Detroit!” McCartney told the crowd, many of whom held up signs with song requests and other solicitations (one said “SIGN MY BUTT”) for the singer. “Okay, why am I getting the feeling we’re gonna have some fun here tonight?” he asked.
The fun part was a given, but the evening was also a history lesson, with McCartney pausing to tell stories about John Lennon, George Harrison, George Martin, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and his wife Nancy Shevell, who was in attendance.
McCartney was smooth and relaxed in his storytelling, the world’s best dinner guest. He has a knack for punctuating a story where even if he’s ribbing you, you can’t help but be charmed.
“We can tell what songs you like,” he said, explaining the crowd lights up with cell phones on the big Beatles hits and looks like a black hole during the newer tunes. “We don’t care,” he said, “we’re gonna do (the new songs) anyway,” and led into “Queenie Eye,” one of a pair of songs from his 2013 solo album “New.”
After removing his black sport coat -- "that is the only wardrobe change of the whole evening," he joked -- McCartney wore a crisp white shirt and managed to hardly sweat in it; either he’s in phenomenal shape or he really is just that cool. He was backed by a large video wall and tall video screens on either side of the stage, and some simple but effective lighting and production cues.
At one point he stepped to the front of the stage as it elevated roughly 15 feet in the air while he performed solo acoustic versions of “Blackbird” and “Here Today.” He introduced the former by saying he wrote it for those who were fighting for civil rights in the ’60s, with the hopes they might reach the American south and help people who were struggling at the time.
He touched lightly on today’s hot button political climate when he introduced the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” by saying it was a song he hadn’t been performing but added back into the set during the current string of American dates, saying it “seems appropriate at this time.” The song segued in its outro to Plastic Ono Band’s “Give Peace a Chance,” which resulted in the crowd raising a sea of two-finger peace signs while arms gently waved back and forth.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the release of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which McCartney toasted with a performance of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” Reacting to the album’s 50th anniversary, McCartney joked the album’s 1967 release “can’t be true, can it? That’s before my time, man.” Interestingly, it truly was before the time of many in the audience; the crowd was dotted with Gen Xers, Millennials and members of Generation Next, proving the timelessness of McCartney’s and the Beatles catalogs.
Some arena-shaking pyro was set off during “Live and Let Die” – many who sat for the majority of the show were started to their feet – and the immortal “Hey Jude” closed the main set. When McCartney and his bandmates returned for the encore, they brandished flags, flying one each for America, Great Britain, Michigan and Pride.
McCartney’s famed acoustic guitar with the Detroit Red Wings sticker on it made its first appearance during “Yesterday,” receiving an extra round of applause from the home ice audience. A round of Beatles favorites finished out the night until “The End” brought it to its close.
“Detroit, you were fantastic,” McCartney said, as confetti and streamers shot out over the crowd. He’ll do it all over again Monday, another hard day’s night ready to commence with rock’s top living legend.