Review: McCartney's music heals fans on difficult day

Susan Whitall
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — Quite a lot happened between Paul McCartney’s high energy, upbeat Sunday concert at Little Caesars Arena, and Monday night’s show, the last stop of McCartney’s North American tour.

But so many of the former Beatle’s best-loved songs are healing anthems of love and peace, that he didn't have to change anything, to give emotional solace on a day with much troubling news.

First, he came out strong with the upbeat “A Hard Day’s Night." When his voice booms out “When I’m hoooome” in that lyric, it’s hard to detect much change from 1964.

Then' after the more recent “Save Us,” McCartney obliquely addressed Monday’s tragic events — the Las Vegas shootings, and Tom Petty’s sudden illness (and now, death).

“Even though this has been a sad day, we’re going to celebrate the joys in life,” said McCartney, 75, to cheers. Then the most famous bassist in the world and his four-piece combo kicked into “Can’t Buy Me Love,” from the Beatles film “Hard Day’s Night.”

Someone on the McCartney team is cracking the social media whip, because shortly after he said those words from the LCA stage, it was tweeted from @paulmccartney.

“Let it Be” had particular resonance, with its call to “mother Mary” —  meaning both the mother of Jesus, and Paul’s own mother Mary, who died when he was 14 — seeking words of wisdom, and finding the answer, “let it be.”

And it felt perfect that he ended the apocalyptic, somber “A Day in The Life” (just added to his shows recently, “in light of current events,”) with a bit of chant from John Lennon’s “Give Peace a  Chance.”

“All we are saying, is give peace a chance,” McCartney sang, as several fans toward the front waved signs with red hearts, lettered “Las Vegas.”

The show was very much like Sunday’s set, and many bits were familiar from previous tour stops. Garbed in a blue military jacket and black pants, McCartney was charming, self-deprecating (he pretended that the fireworks on “Live and Let Die” had deafened him) and quick with the local jokes —  he greeted the audience with “Hello Detroitians,” before calling attention to  the local industry when he played the Beatles classic “Drive My Car.” And he took great delight in the audience’s boos when a fan was introduced as being from “Columbus, Ohio.”

If some stories are well known, such as the civil rights backstory to “Blackbird,” if some jokes are familiar, they have been honed by a master compere in the British music hall tradition, skilled in comedy, variety and just plain charm. Hearing them again is a treat —  and for many in his audience, it’s the first time.

Musically, “Back in the USSR,” the perfect McCartney jam-up of Chuck Berry and Brian Wilson, couldn’t have been better, thanks to his crack team of players — guitarists Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. and keyboard player Paul "Wix" Wickens.

Somewhat surprisingly, one of the highlights of the evening isn’t a Beatles song, or a Wings classic (we’re still pining for “Uncle Albert”) at all, but a song by The Quarrymen, featuring a pre-Beatles Lennon, McCartney, and George Harrison. “In Spite of All the Danger,” sung by McCartney (playing acoustic guitar) with his band harmonizing, is like a lost classic by Ricky Nelson or the Everly Brothers.

When the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, their music and Liverpudlian cheek was a welcome distraction to Americans still in shock from the murder of President Kennedy just three months earlier.

McCartney played a similar role Monday by simply being himself, taking an arena full of people out of the news cycle for a blissful three hours.

Susan Whitall is an author and longtime contributor to the Detroit News. Contact her at