“Last Beatle alive!” shouted one security guard gleefully at a herd of Paul McCartney fans barreling toward the main stage (What Stage) for that legendary rocker’s impending headlining performance Friday night at the 12th annual Bonnaroo festival.
Yeah … not quite. Ringo Starr is also very much alive and active. But the guy was halfway right given that it’s undeniably Sir Paul who has cemented himself as the primary torchbearer of the Fab Four’s legacy. If any of the countless thousands watching harbored any lingering doubts, McCartney and his razor-sharp backing band assuredly erased them with a behemoth 3-hour set comprising 25 galvanizing Beatles tunes.
No matter what era he pulled from – whether early-era pop gems like “Eight Days a Week,” soaring late 60’s hits like “Hey Jude” and “Get Back,” or the trippy, laser-accented psychedelia of “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” which, along with “Love Rita,” were Sgt. Pepper’s tunes never played live before this tour – his ease of unifying so many generations into thundering, heartfelt sing-alongs was staggering.
And by evoking nearly equal delight with eight Wings songs plus a handful of more recent solo tracks – including “My Valentine,” from last year’s full-length album, Kisses on the Bottom – to fill in the gaps, McCartney proved the worth of his material far beyond his early days.
Throughout all that, he demonstrated his capacity for making every moment feel like it really mattered, as if every song – even if the selections haven’t varied much from city to city – were handpicked for this humongous outdoor rock show.
Take, for example, his reminiscing about Jimi Hendrix after just ripping through a searing solo during a “Foxy Lady” coda tagged onto the end of “Let Me Roll It”; or his dedications to John Lennon and George Harrison before a solo acoustic “Here Today” and ukulele-led “Something,” respectively; and his charming humility exuded as he paused to read a few homemade signs much to the delight of ecstatic fans.
One of those (that he didn’t recite aloud) read “MACCAROO” – quite fitting given that any other main stage headliner this weekend will be hard-pressed to trump the communal bliss felt as McCartney’s coup concluded with Abbey Road’s final three, “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and the “End.”
Yet it’s arguable that two other Friday acts, Wilco and ZZ Top, turned in comparably mighty performances.
The former didn’t draw as many as Macca to the What Stage, but nevertheless impressed with blistering runs through recent material – most notably the smooth-to-insanely-distorted jams of “Art of Almost” and “I Might” at the start – mixed with tasty older cuts like “California Stars” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” the latter two aided by personnel from Calexico.
Whereas that performance was somewhat overshadowed by McCartney’s following set, ZZ Top – among this Roo’s top legacy acts – had the better part of two hours afterward (starting at about midnight) in the much more intimate This Tent to help fans temporarily forget all about the long string of Beatles sing-alongs in favor of the Texas trio’s rowdier, blues inspired hits.
“Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Cheap Sunglasses,” “La Grange” plus a raucous cover of rap song “25 Lighters” re-worked and renamed (for their latest studio album, 2012’s La Futura) as “I Gotsta Get Paid” – all that and more played on matching bright-purple guitars and perhaps the largest, most demonic drum kit ever wheeled onto a Bonnaroo stage. It was a set destined to be touted as one of the fest’s grandest late-night highlights.
Photos: David Brendan Hall
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