Don’t make it bad

What once was the music of rebellious youth and the scapegoat for societal decay now has become the inner-life soundtrack for corporatized, cubicle-hunching nostalgists. Paul McCartney had come to Sacramento, bringing with him a minimum ticket price of $90 and the promise of a night of true rock ’n’ roll. An hour beyond the official 8 p.m. showtime, after a couple of forgettable false-start opening acts, the music erupted, and McCartney took the stage with a rousing rendition of “Magical Mystery Tour.” Finally, the moment we’d waited for was here, and worth every ounce of anticipation. Or, well, at least the opening song was worth it.

The show’s first two-thirds were rocky at best, largely focused on McCartney’s lesser-known works and tracks from his new album, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. While not unpleasant on the ears, this playlist did want for more Beatles hits. What helped was the incredible staging, which made inventive use of roughly 600 video screens. Among them, and flanked by his two younger, more active guitar players, McCartney himself seemed to be the only fixed element onstage. A distinction between modern performance and a classic style was all too apparent as the two young bandmates roamed the length of the stage while McCartney solidly strummed away and rarely strayed from his microphone. The audience, remaining almost static itself, seemed to take its cue from the headliner.

But a literal explosion brought everyone to life. A truly impressive pyrotechnical display did not overshadow the contrasting styles of “Live and Let Die,” instead emphasizing what makes the song so powerful: its delicately haunting lyrics alternated with an explosion of rock ’n’ roll. Now the off-rhythm head bobbing spread to the entire body as fans of all ages jerked and jived with pure enjoyment. From here through the mandatory two encore sets, the inner fire stayed lit, and most of us seemed to forget the disappointing opening. Easily the concert’s highlight was a truly powerful performance of “Hey Jude” in which the audience unanimously and triumphantly joined McCartney in singing the chorus. This moment, at least, was delicious.

McCartney had faced a tough obstacle that night: audience expectations. No one was promised a Beatles concert, but perhaps we’d secretly wished for one anyway. While fans of the older generation gallantly relived their youth, the youngsters, for the most part, could only thrive on their parents’ blissful remembrances. (Which is fine. How else but with my parents’ help could I have afforded a $90 nosebleed seat?) What faltered was not the legendary performer or his music; it was the construction of the concert. Or maybe the magic was tainted when it became a Lexus-sponsored tour. In any case, while this gig wasn’t The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, it was Arco Arena in 2005, and that longevity still counts for something.