You feel a sense of melancholy while watching Paul McCartney these days, because he can’t last forever. Someday there will be no more Paul McCartney shows. At some point his remarkable, even if sometimes mercurial, career as one of contemporary music’s most gifted and prolific artists will have to end. He will simply have to cede the stage, finally, to a new order of singers, songwriters and musicians.
But tonight wasn’t that night. Not by a long shot.
Sir Paul, nearly 67 years old and today’s Grandfather of Rock ’n’ Roll, spent 2½ hours whipping through music spanning more than 45 years, songs about teenage love and adult loss, orchestral ballads mixing seamlessly with straight-out rockers, to culminate the weekend’s opening of the new Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel. The show drew a standing, rollicking crowd of 4,000 to the new concert hall and the hotel -- also celebrating the opening of the pool party Rehab, hosted by Snoop Dogg -- was overwhelmed by revelers in all shapes, sizes, ethnicity, ages and attire (Example: a guy entering the hotel wearing a blue satin Sgt. Pepper’s uniform was trailed by a woman in a pink bikini top and a floral-patterned sarong tied to her waist).
Early in the show, McCartney gave the crowd a once-over and said, “I remember the ’60s. I was there. Some of you were not. But some of you were, and you know who you are.” The audience’s demographics were diverse enough to cover every area of McCartney’s career. About all that was missing were grungy stoners, who were probably priced out of the event anyway as tickets went for $200. I expect there were many former grungy stoners, though.
Relying hardly at all on stage craft -- McCartney’s band performed amid stacks of amps, and in front of The Joint’s big screen behind the stage -- McCartney warmed to the task after some vocal croaks early on. “Got to Get You Into My Life” is a number he once carried effortlessly; today, you feel the effort. But, man, you have to give the guy some rope -- at least he’s singing in his own voice. And, as has been the case in previous McCartney concerts, his vocals seemed to loosen up as the show progressed. By the time he soared through “Helter Skelter,” part of a seven-song encore, he was in prime form. His band, too, is a fast-and-loose bunch -- the lineup of guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, burly drummer Abe Laboriel and keyboardist/sometimes guitarist Wix Wickens has been together for seven years now, nearly as long as The Beatles themselves. It’s a tight band that makes no one yearn for the days of Wings.
More highlights from McCartney’s joyous performance at The Joint, which was brimming with energy all night:
*McCartney caught even devout fans unexpected with two selections from 1997’s “Flaming Pie,” one of his best solo releases. He played the title song, copped from John Lennon’s explanation that the name “Beatles” came to him “from a man on a flaming pie.” He also performed the heart-tugging “Calico Skies.” But in keeping with tradition, McCartney played nothing from 1986’s “Press to Play,” not even “Pretty Little Head.”
*He broke out two instruments he’s not famous for playing (at least not famous for playing except for the past few years), the ukulele and mandolin. In an arrangement that has been a concert staple since George Harrison died, McCartney started “Something” on the ukulele (one of Harrison’s favorite instruments) as the song built to a five-piece force. He strummed the mandolin for “Dance Tonight,” off “Memory Almost Full,” and I remembered him playing that instrument while walking through The Mirage on his way to the first-anniversary celebration of “Love.” (The great Cirque PR rep Karin Tomcik was accompanying him on that walk and can vouch for this.)
*During “Got to Get You Into My Life,” the screens flashed with graphic images of The Beatles that will be released when the band’s new Rock Band video game hits the market in September. “Its debut is in Las Vegas!” McCartney said after the video -- and song -- played out. This is the reason the entire Beatles’ catalog has been digitally remastered and will be ready for purchase when the game is released Sept. 9.
*After a sizzling version of “Let Me Roll It,” played on a red Gibson speckled with colors, McCartney and the band took a spin through a few moments of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady.” That led to one of McCartney’s favorite stories, about how “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released on a Friday and Hendrix, playing at a club in London, opened his show the following Sunday with a version of the title song. “How cool is that?” he asked. Very is the answer. That’s how great Hendrix was.
*He played a wild version of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” and I believe that was the first live performance of that song since the rooftop concert in 1969 (at least, I can’t find any other evidence of a live version, though I’m sure Dennis Mitchell, among other Beatlemaniac friends, might correct me).
*He cut loose with longtime favorites from the Wings days, “Jet” and “Band on the Run,” the latter accompanied by footage from The Beatles days.
*Get this stretch: “Paperback Writer,” “Day in the Life,” “Give Peace a Chance” (breathtaking, that one), “Let It Be” and “Live and Let Die.” After the customary pyrotechnic blasts in that last song, thick smoke still hung in the air, nearly rendering McCartney’s image behind the piano indecipherable as he started “Hey Jude.” I was not the only one thinking that the entire weekend of the opening of The Joint might well be marred by the blaring of a smoke alarm as McCartney sang “don’t make it bad …” but nothing untoward happened.
*For “Yesterday,” he again played the same acoustic guitar he performed with on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1965. He also told the now-decades-old story of how the tune came to him in a dream. But he had a new spin, talking proudly of how more than 3,000 composers had recorded versions of the song. “Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles -- give me a break!” he said. He has pulled some of his favorite versions and noticed that the lyric has been changed from “I said something wrong” to “I must have said something wrong.” He laughed, “They are hedging a little there.”
*He gave a boost to “Love,” saying, “A lot of this music is featured in a show up the street,” before kicking into “I Saw Her Standing There.”
*The show ended with the final jam on “Abbey Road,” and, fittingly, “The End.” As AEG Live/Concerts West VP John Nelson, his face moist with sweat, said after the show, “Our only concern is, ‘How are we going to top this?’ ” Hey, mon, that’s not our problem. Invite this guy back sometime is our only advice.
Yet more notes …
A guy standing next to me in the Studio 3 suite -- or was it Studio 4? -- asked why I was jotting into a notepad. I explained that I owned the hotel. No, I mean, I explained that I was covering the show, blah, blah, and as I talked to this guy, he seemed terrifically familiar. A few songs later, during “Back in the USSR,” it hit me: It was driving star Robby Gordon. I remembered interviewing him the week that Las Vegas Motor Speedway opened, back in 1996. He didn’t remember that, but that’s how life works sometimes -- one moment you’re taking notes, the next you are singing the chorus of “Hey Jude” with Robby Gordon. … A great give-and-take with colleague Richard Abowitz, who kept asking if McCartney was going to cover Lennon’s biting “How Do You Sleep?” a 1971 tear-it-up effort (with Harrison playing slide guitar) on McCartney’s career. I thought it was a remote possibility, with Paul changing the lyrics to “How Do I Sleep?” but sadly, it never happened. McCartney did play a great version of “A Day in the Life,” a primarily Lennon composition (aside from the “Woke up, fell out of bed” stretch). … At this writing, which is being conducted at the Starbucks at the Hard Rock, a guy wearing a red Ferrari shirt saw McCartney and came out blown away. He just asked me, “How can anyone be as talented as that man?” No idea, fella. … If I’d set the over/under line at 50 on the number of encounters with drunken visitors to the Hard Rock Hotel this weekend, it came in way over. … On the way out of the show, I ran into Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority President Rossi Ralenkotter and his wife, Mary Jo. They were all charged up, and it wasn’t their first go-round with McCartney. In a story worth retelling: The two saw The Beatles at the Las Vegas Convention Center in 1964. It was their first date, and that night was the first time Mary Jo ever screamed at a show. She looked spent, again, tonight, but in a happy sort of way. As Ralenkotter said, “This is another example of why Las Vegas is the most exciting city in the world.” On a night, and weekend, like this, it is hard to argue.