Some experiences in life are almost too overwhelming to do justice through words. Maybe it is meant to be that way, as though having the audacity to even attempt it is a transgression in itself – an act of dilution, detracting from the moment of majesty and turning it instantly into something more prosaic.
Paul McCartney’s performance on The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury will go down as one of those events commentators will forever be wrestling with their thesauruses in how to plant the listener or reader to this moment in time. No matter what comes out, it will be a fool’s errand (and one undertaken here). This was a set for the ages.
Originally booked for Glastonbury’s 50th anniversary in 2020, the scheduling became a casualty of the pandemic that placed the whole world on hold. The delay meant the former Beatle became the oldest headliner in the festival’s history. Turning 80 only a week earlier, his Saturday night slot succeeded Billie Eilish securing her ‘youngest ever headliner’ status the night before.
Emerging in a blue buttoned-up “Beatles jacket” and trademark Hofner bass hanging from his shoulder, grey hair aside, anyone squinting could be forgiven for thinking it was prime-era Macca. In fact, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to fret whether a Dorian Gray-style portrait lies decaying in his attic. This headline show, which already needed no greater significance, had even more pinned to it: it was the last night of McCartney’s ‘Got Back’ tour and his backing band’s 500th gig.
‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ kicked down the doors and the effect was immediate. The crowd rendered delirious – an ocean of moving limbs. Over the course of nearly three hours that followed, the octogenarian led the crowd on a long and winding road through his celebrated songbook. It was a feat of stamina that anyone more than half his age would have struggled to muster.
Wisely, material exhumed from his post-Beatles days were judiciously selected. Most were frontloaded. But they were all good. The sultry swagger of ‘Letting Go’ and the rolling piano of ‘Nineteen-Hundred and Eighty-Five’ were timely reminders of lesser-known gems, and McCartney flitted between several instruments, subtly reminding us of the multi-instrumentalism that fuelled his entirely solo-crafted McCartney albums. In the case of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, it showcased how the lower end of the former Beatle’s vocal range is showing its age more than his higher end, which has defied visible signs of wear and tear.
A sparkling rendition of Beatles’ White Album classic ‘Blackbird’ saw McCartney singing “blackbird fly” to the enormous crowd from high above, as a block of the stage rose from the ground. The Motown strut of ‘Got to Get You into My Life’, ‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window’, and the ‘duet’ with (a virtual) John Lennon on ‘I Got a Feeling’ were sublime.
Some might question why ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ was deemed a must-play, yet even the most miserly surely couldn’t deny the crowd-pleasing cache its insistent chorus had for a Worthy Farm moment, later replicated, and then some, by ‘Hey Jude’. And the flames and fireworks that accompanied a thrilling ‘Live and Let Die’ provided a greater sensory overload than a high-voltage electric shock.
In between ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ & ‘Band On The Run’ Dave Grohl told the Glastonbury crowd how his appearance almost didn’t happen: pic.twitter.com/y0NwsHHoN3
— Foo Fighters Archive (@FooArchive) June 25, 2022
As if being in the presence of a Beatle wasn’t enough, McCartney had surprises up his sleeve. Dave Grohl – in his first onstage appearance since the loss of Foo Fighters’ drummer Taylor Hawkins – joined, so too Bruce Springsteen. The sight of the two of them trading guitar licks at the culmination of the Abbey Road closing medley was a sight to behold. Two huge stars in their own right playing second fiddle to an even greater one. These things don’t happen every day.
The Beatles songs are so ingrained in the fabric of our collective DNA that many in the crowd were in tears. Each had their personal trigger. For this writer, it was ‘Something’ and the final strains of ‘The End’. For others, it will have been different. But resistance was futile. This is the power of music, memory, and the magic dust of these perfect compositions. If this is gushing, so be it. Paul McCartney at Glastonbury was that good.