Beatles fans received an early Christmas present last night as the two surviving Beatles, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, played together onstage for the first time since Ringo’s 2015 inauguration into the Rock n Roll Hall Of Fame, for the first time since 2002’s Concert For George in the U.K., and for only the tenth time onstage (and only second time before a paying audience in the U.K.) since the Beatles split in 1970*
The O2 Arena is no stranger to a reunion, with Led Zeppelin and members of Pink Floyd having chosen the venue in previous years, but this was nevertheless hugely unexpected.
The first clue came just before McCartney took the stage for the final U.K. date on his Freshen Up tour in support of this year’s Egypt Station album. Just before the lights dimmed, there was a commotion to the right of the stage, as Starr walked a third of the way along the arena to take his seat in the crowd, surrounded by well wishers, camera phones and palpable warmth.
Starr flashed his obligatory peace sign, took a few selfies, and the odd photo of the crowd before settling down to watch McCartney begin his show with “A Hard Day’s Night”. At that point it was just fun to see Ringo at the show – and that was all it was assumed to be.
It’s difficult to review a McCartney show, because you either love the Beatles and their oeuvre or you have wool in your ears and there’s nothing that can be done for you.
However, here are a few highlights of the set:
For those who overlook McCartney’s seventies output it may surprise them to know how well the Wings songs have aged. “Letting Go”, From Venus and Mars was an early treat, and “Let Em In”, was superb: a song that might be accused of being insubstantial, but is rather wonderful, understated and ridiculously catchy.
“Let Em In” benefitted substantially from a three piece horn section which first appeared in the crowd during “Junior’s Farm”, and which also breathed life into Beatles classic “Got To Get You Into My Life”.
Newer songs held their own, with later-period solo material such as Queenie Eye, Fuh You and Dance Tonight all represented.
For Beatles fans, McCartney shows never fail to deliver. Of the forty (that’s right, forty) songs McCartney played in a three-hour-plus show, three quarters were by the Fabs, including their first recording, “In Spite of All the Danger”, White Album classics “Birthday” and “Blackbird”, and even the Lennon-composed “Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite”.
And then there are the big guns. No other performer can boast as strong a home straight as McCartney, with stone cold classics such as “Lady Madonna” and “Eleanor Rigby” consigned to mid-set to make room for songs that make the audience collectively breathe “aww” as they begin.
This phenomenon happened early, with “Maybe I’m Amazed”, and continued in earnest with the one-two-three of “Let it Be”, “Live and Let Die” (with customary pyro-overload) and “Hey Jude”.
How do you follow that? Well, if you are Paul McCartney, you introduce Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, and your old friend Ringo Starr onstage thus bringing together two Beatles and a Rolling Stone.
You can imagine the crowd’s reaction.
They played “Get Back”, and it was every bit as good as you would expect – I don’t normally post video footage, but in this case it would be criminal not to – here’s the final minute and a half of the song.
*According to Wikipedia, and including the weddings of Eric Clapton/Patti Boyd and Ringo Starr/Barbara Bach