Paul McCartney – Good Evening New York City (2009)

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What does Paul McCartney, after five decades in music and an astonishing seven previous concert recordings, still have to tell us in yet another multi-disc live offering?

Turns out, more than I thought.

“Good Evening New York City” (Hear Music/Concord Music Group), out today, commemorates McCartney’s three-night concert event to open New York’s new Citi Field, played in front of more than 120,000. Over two discs of music, and another DVD with the identical track listing, we find McCartney in fine voice — and willing to celebrate the familiar even while stirring in some memorable surprises.

Did I mention the familiar?

After a gap between live albums that spanned from 1976’s “Wings Over America” to 1990’s sprawling “Tripping the Live Fantastic,” McCartney has now issued a half dozen in less than 20 years. Unsurprisingly, that leads to some overlap, in particular since his shows focus so intently on signature work with the Beatles.

So there is much that we’ve heard before — including “Something,” a still-deeply moving tribute to George Harrison, which opens on ukelele (a favorite of George’s); and McCartney’s rousing “Sgt. Pepper’s/The End” finale — both of which were first included on 2002’s “Back in the U.S.”

“Paperback Writer” initially showed up on 1993’s “Paul Is Live.” “Got To Get You Into My Life” appeared on 1981’s “Concerts for the People of Kampuchea.” “Back in the U.S.S.R.” was on “Tripping the Live Fantastic,” as was “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Get Back.” “Lady Madonna,” “The Long and Winding Road,” and “Blackbird” first appeared on “Wings Over America.”

But it’s not like Paul can credibly perform a concert set without “Hey Jude,” or “Live and Let Die” for that matter. Forty-four years after McCartney and the Beatles first played Shea Stadium, where the new Citi Field now stands, he seems to understand his role as protector of that legacy.

These echoes from the past, unfortunately, don’t add to the marketability of “Good Evening New York City” for longtime fans — even if the spritely 60-something McCartney and a group of solid backing musicians including keyboardist Paul Wickens make an energetic go of things.

Luckily, this recording is bolstered by stronger material from more recent McCartney efforts — something, for instance, that “Paul Is Live” (one of his worst selling live sets) wasn’t blessed with.

He absolutely charges through a pair of stomping rockers, “Only Mama Knows” from 2007’s “Memory Almost Full” and “Flaming Pie,” the Lennon-inspired title track of a 1997 McCartney release. They fit right in with a searing new reading on “I’m Down,” one of McCartney’s more underrated uptempo Fab tracks, and embolden him into further exploring “Helter Skelter” — Paul’s heaviest offering from the Beatles period.

A soaring reading of “Sing the Changes” — which, along with “Highway,” first appeared on the terrific 2008 Fireman project “Electric Arguments” — might just be the catchiest thing McCartney has done in years.

“Calico Skies,” a collaboration with Beatles producer George Martin from “Flaming Pie,” remains this quietly relevant protest song (“may we never be called to handle/ all the weapons of war we despise”) tucked away inside one of McCartney’s little asides on love. That connects emotionally with Disc 2’s gripping John Lennon tribute: “A Day In the Life,” the closing tune from “Sgt. Pepper,” dissolves into John’s initial solo single “Give Peace A Chance.”

The setting, too, seems to reframe “Here Today,” a song written in the immediate aftermath of Lennon’s long-ago murder on a New York city steet. McCartney is nearly overcome at one point. Even “Dance Tonight,” a tune from “Memory Almost Full” that always seemed a bit too cute, finds a fluffy grace on stage for this one night.

And McCartney mines deeper into a catalog stuffed with great music, too — underscoring his easy command of the substantial (a grinding take on “I’ve Got A Feeling,” from 1970’s “Let It Be”), the surprising (“Day Tripper,” Lennon’s flipside of the 1965 single “We Can Work It Out”) and, of course, the silly (“Mrs. Vandebilt,” with its fun “Ho! Hey Ho!” call-and-response chorus from the 1973 Wings smash “Band on the Run”).

Paul McCartney has always been each of those things, sometimes all at once. We’re reminded of that again on this unexpectedly relevant new disc.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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