What Happened When Paul McCartney Came To Sydney For The First Time In 25 Years

It was one for the history books.

Paul McCartney

This month, Paul McCartney touched down for his first Australian tour in 24 years, putting an end to one of the longest dry spells our touring circuit has seen. ADAM LEWIS was there to see him play last night in Sydney and is happy to report it was one for the history books.

He’s the world’s most recognisable musician, with an influence on pop music that’ll probably never be matched, and a songbook that’s reaching sixty years deep. And with it, the attention of millions, many of whom come to shows with their own deep expectations and experiences. It’d be an incredible position to be in, but also a strange one.

And it’d make writing a setlist really, really hard.

Thank God, then, that Paul McCartney came to Sydney with the biggest, most generous approach possible — a three-hour, forty-song marathon of a show that left almost no career milestone unturned — all the way from his first single with The Quarrymen to 2015’s unexpected Kanye/Rihanna collaboration ‘FourFiveSeconds’.

Of course, those bookends are outliers compared to the bulk of his career. Whether in The Beatles, Wings, or his solo work, McCartney’s songs have been a rite of passage for almost every generation, and you can see it in the foyers beforehand. There’s adults bringing their parents. There’s kids at their first shows. There’s music geeks, lovesick teens, comfortable babyboomers, and everything in between. And for everyone, it’s a seemingly one-off chance to see a formative musician after an almost twenty-five year wait.

That range is noticeable in the crowd too, and it takes a few moments for things to get going. Dancers and spectators are sitting side by side, making the floor that patchy sea of uncertain posture that seated shows often are, and McCartney’s voice needs a few songs to warm up. But pretty soon it’s on, the crowd are on their feet, and Paul McCartney is leading a packed arena through the world’s greatest songbook.

And what a songbook it is. From the set’s first chord (that iconic one, that opens ‘A Hard Day’s Night’), it never lets up. McCartney’s long-running band not only know how to play to McCartney’s strengths, but how to adapt to the different phases of his career — so arena-fillers like ‘Band On The Run’ and ‘Hey Jude’ sit comfortably next to the simple pleasures of ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’, and the orchestral explorations of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘A Day In The Life’.

Other times, the production is the star. While it’s mostly used in subtle ways, keeping the focus on McCartney and his band, it transforms the room when it kicks into gear, as it does for the psychedelic explosions of ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!’, and the literal explosions of a pyrotechnic-heavy ‘Live And Let Die’.

But the most affecting moments are the most intimate. A mid-set ‘Blackbird’ brings the room to a reverent silence, and the only thing that can match that moment is the encore-opening ‘Yesterday’. These are songs that’ve soundtracked the most vulnerable moments of people decades apart, and the atmosphere that creates as a shared experience is hard to describe.

And that’s what made it so special. McCartney knows how unique, and strange, and wonderful his position in our popular culture is, and he does more with it than simply playing great shows — he uses some of our most-loved songs to create amazing, shared experiences.

Adam Lewis is a music booker and enthusiast from Sydney. Follow him on Twitter.

Paul McCartney article image by MPL Communications