McCartney's concert rests on his laurels
By Greg Kot
Tribune music critic
Published October 19, 2005 http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/mmx-gi1226jec.7oct18,1,3448217.story?coll=chi-news-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true
On his trip to the United Center in 2002, Paul McCartney let his audience have it right between the eyes. He had a young band and a terrific drummer in Abe Laboriel kicking his tail, and one sensed that McCartney was responding to them as much as to his fabled past. It was a thrilling concert.
But the songwriter's return to the same arena for the first of two sold-out shows Tuesday was a different story.
This time, it was a more self-satisfied McCartney who ambled onstage after 30 minutes of puffery: a deejay blasted remixed versions of the former Beatles bassist's hits, then a self-important video biography played on the big screens. Even when McCartney took the stage, the preening continued.
In '02, it was the music that spoke loudest, and the cheers were earned. On this night, the sense of urgency wasn't there. McCartney and his four-piece backing band played some wonderful music, but their performances were lackluster. Laboriel, the band's linchpin, played behind the beat instead of pushing it as he had in the past. This worked well on the mid-tempo soul numbers, especially "Let Me Roll It," but rockers such as "Jet" and "Back in the U.S.S.R." lagged.
McCartney was at his casual best when he played solo. His banter, though similar to previous tour stops, was ingratiating and conversational, his acoustic fingerpicking graceful. He described and then demonstrated how a classical Bach chord progression inspired the riff in "Blackbird." He dug back for an early pre-Beatles rockabilly number called "In Spite of All the Danger." From the elegant concision of the Beatles' "I Will" to the lovely meditation "Jenny Wren," he played the genial genius, the understated troubadour. Unexpected choices such as "Flaming Pie," a surging "Too Many People" and a shambling garage-rocker, "I've Got a Feeling," spackled the 37-song, 21/2 hour set. But "The Long and Winding Road" still sounded mawkish, particularly with the keyboard-triggered string arrangement. Why didn't McCartney perform the less ornate version he supposedly preferred, as heard on the recent "Let it Be