Paul McCartney was never going to have an easy time topping that 2019 show at Dodger Stadium when his Beatle bandmate Ringo Starr joined him on stage for a rare live collaboration.
That’s the kind of thing you never even imagine, and when it happens, well, you don’t dream it will ever happen again.
But McCartney is never not wonderful to see live, and as his Got Back tour played SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Friday offered something almost as precious as a pair of Beatles on stage.
In his post-pandemic return to Southern California, McCartney gave fans what many of his songs have always provided: The idea that with love and peace and hopeful feelings the hard times will get better.
The Beatles’ “Getting Better” might have been written about a love relationship, but listen to a stadium full of people singing along to its chorus – “It’s getting better all the time! / Better better better!” – and you feel it.
“We Can Work It Out,” another Beatles favorite, landed in a similar fashion: “Life is very short, and there’s no time / For fussing and fighting, my friend.”
Even “Here Today,” the song he wrote for John Lennon after his death four decades ago, felt more powerful on Friday. Don’t wait to tell the people you care about most that you love them, McCartney said in his introduction to the song. And really, who among us hasn’t felt that in one way or another in the last few years?
So no, Ringo wasn’t there, at least on stage, and no other guests joined McCartney and his longtime band on stage. But with the softer, lovely kind of vibe that filled the air on Friday night, and 36 songs in a set that run two hours and 40 minutes, fans got the peace and love they needed anyway.
The show opened with “Can’t Buy Me Love,” an early Beatles classic, which had fans on their feet to loudly singalong for the first of many times. A pair of Wings songs, “Junior’s Farm” and “Letting Go,” followed, before dipping back into the Beatles catalog to race through the horn-fueled “Got To Get You Into My Life.”
And that, with the addition every so often of a solo McCartney song here and there, was more or less the way the night unfolded.
A month shy of his 80th birthday, McCartney is ever the ageless lad from Liverpool. His voice from him is clear and stronger than most any of his peers who still play live. That innate musical ability, that many marveled at in Peter Jackson’s recent docuseries “Get Back,” which gave this tour its name, is undimmed as McCartney effortlessly switched from bass to guitar, piano to mandolin and ukulele throughout the night.
Sweetly, he remains unabashedly sentimental at times, with songs such as the Wings’ “Let ‘Em In” still a gentle simple ditty, and the more recent “My Valentine” a sweet open-hearted song written for his wife Nancy.
That latter tune also perhaps points to a kind of naivete in McCartney’s worldview. The 2012 video featured actors Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman performing the lyrics in sign language. A sweet idea a decade ago, it was starting on Friday to see Depp on the massive video screens given the ongoing courtroom battle between Depp and ex-wife Amber Heart this month.
The first third of the show peaked with songs including “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “We Can Work It Out.” The middle of the show took a step back in time to the late ’50s when McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison formed their pre-Beatles band the Quarrymen with two other Liverpool teens.
Starting with that group’s “In Spite of All the Danger,” McCartney jumped through the early years of his career, stopping to play the Beatles’ “Love Me Do,” the more recent but nostalgic solo tune “Dance Tonight,” and finally “ Blackbird,” one of his loveliest songs performed here solo on acoustic guitar.
“Here Today” served as his tribute to Lennon. “Something,” a song written by George Harrison, did the same for him, and was particularly sweet, starting with McCartney on ukulele before the band joined in and McCartney switched to electric guitar. (Ringo, the only other living Beatle besides Paul, oddly didn’t get a mention.)
McCartney’s band has been together for about 20 years at this point, featuring keyboardist and musical director Wix Wickens, guitarist Rusty Anderson, bassist Brian Ray, and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. It’s a tight unit and it’s clear watching them how much they enjoy each other’s company on stage.
While most of the show stayed close to what he’d played at Dodger Stadium in 2019, a pair of older Beatles songs joined the setlist for the current tour. “You Never Give Me Your Money” appeared for the first time since 2003, while “ella She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” which immediately followed, is being performed for the first time since 2008.
The final run of the main set dropped one fan favorite after another: “Get Back,” for which scenes from the docuseries of the same name screened, “Band On The Run,” the chills-inducing beauty of “Let It Be,” then “Live And Let Die,” which included a massive amount of pyro.
“Hey Jude,” which always – always – ends with a moving crowd singalong wrapped up the show before the encore, which opened with one of the anticipated surprises on this tour.
Director Peter Jackson rang up McCartney and offered to isolate Lennon’s vocals on a song from the “Get Back series so that McCartney could perform a virtual duet with him.
“I’ve Got A Feeling” began with McCartney singing the first few voices before shifting to images of Lennon singing his parts in the film footage of the Beatles’ famous rooftop concert in London. As Lennon sang, McCartney stopped and watched the screen along with the crowd, and well he should, it was a beautiful and poignant highlight.
The rest of the raced to the finish: “Birthday” into “Helter Skelter,” “Golden Slumbers” into “Carry That Weight.”
With “The End,” the night closed. Its signature line – “The love you take is equal to the love you make” – is always powerful. On this night, when all we really needed was the comfort of a Beatle on stage, still making beautiful music, it felt ever more so.