Long, winding road to Arco

Every touring artist has an agenda. Whether it’s Willie Nelson working to pay off the IRS or Axl Rose trying to prove that he alone is Guns N’ Roses, there’s usually some reason superstar artists take to the road.

Tickets for Paul McCartney’s show at Arco Arena, scalped for more than $1,000 a pair for floor seats, kept the audience confined to roughly age 40 and older.

Why was the former Beatle doing a national tour? McCartney doesn’t need the money. The royalties and mechanicals from his back catalog would be enough to sustain a small country for at least a decade. Now past age 60, one would imagine he’d hang up his bass for a “normal” domestic life.

Instead, McCartney has Back in the U.S. Live 2002, a two-CD set featuring 35 songs played on his current tour. The Capitol release will be in stores two days before Thanksgiving, around the time McCartney’s tour ends.

His show at Arco last Monday, which could have been another case of an aging rocker ambling through a sweet Geritol set list, was anything but. Backed by a small but talented group of musicians—Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson on guitars, Paul “Wix” Wickens on keyboards and Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums—McCartney delivered an energized set of solo, Wings and Beatles material.

Aside from the opening festivities—a Cirque du Soleil-meets-Shanghai Ballet disaster featuring dancers; acrobats; and lame, pre-recorded, new-age slop—the show was exceptional. McCartney opened with the chorus of “Hello, Goodbye” only to hit hard with a driving rendition of “Jet.” From there, he launched into a lovely solo set highlighted by the politically challenging “Blackbird” and a gorgeous, acoustic, harmony-enhanced “We Can Work It Out.”

Even McCartney’s between-song banter, which ranged from stories about drives along the Pacific Coast Highway to George Harrison’s strange fascination with ukuleles, was top-notch. By personalizing his Sacramento show and remembering his lost loved ones—half the Beatles and his former wife, Linda—McCartney unveiled a kind and caring side that many didn’t realize he still had.

By the time McCartney launched into the chorus-laden “Hey Jude,” it was hard to believe the end was near. Two encores later and a rendition of “Yesterday,” and it was over.

Yes, McCartney still likes playing music. What’s more, he’s more than able to reproduce all eras of his legacy. Agenda or not, it was a damned fine night to be in Sacramento.