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July 25, 2013

MARK BENNETT: At 71, Paul McCartney still rocking it eight days a week

TERRE HAUTE — I’ll admit, I worried about Paul McCartney during the blistering intro to “Helter Skelter.”

My cause for concern seemed legitimate.

• His band’s electric guitars pulsed like police sirens on that “White Album” classic, only louder.

• Though Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse stayed comfortably air-conditioned for the sold-out audience, McCartney and his four bandmates had to feel hints of the oppressive Indiana humidity outside.

• They’d rocked powerfully for almost three hours already, and “Helter Skelter” was their 36th song of the night in the middle of their second encore.

n McCartney is 71 years old.

“Is this prudent physical behavior for a septuagenarian?” I wondered. “Shouldn’t he be sitting down?” “Doesn’t he realize it’s almost midnight?”

Forgive my youthful naiveté; my moment of doubt passed quickly. Once McCartney wailed the line, “I’m comin’ down fast but I’m miles above you,” I realized rock ’n’ roll comes as naturally to him as walking, fishing or driving for most other humans.

Enlightened and at peace again, I joined my wife and 20,000 other smiling folks singing and clapping to the fitting final three songs from the coda to The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album — “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End.” McCartney matched younger cohorts Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray riff for riff on the iconic, three-way guitar solo competition in “The End” and then crooned the angelic closing words, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

McCartney didn’t just survive “Helter Skelter” and the performance 11 days ago at Indy. He owned it, as Dr. Phil says.

For longtime fans who’ve memorized even the most obscure songs from McCartney’s five-decade repertoire of Beatles, Wings and solo material, the concert let them show off their knowledge and chant the lyrics to overlooked gems like “Your Mother Should Know,” “All Together Now,” “Lovely Rita,” “Mrs. Vanderbilt” and “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” For the casual observer, reminders of the timeless quality of McCartney’s music came in bunches — “Eight Days a Week” (the opening song), “Listen to What the Man Says,” “Paperback Writer,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “We Can Work It Out,” “And I Love Her,” “Lady Madonna,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Band on the Run,” “Let It Be,” “Hey Jude,” “Day Tripper” and “Yesterday.”

And “Obladi Oblada,” “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “I Saw Her Standing There.”

McCartney’s vocal range is less elastic than in the 1960s and ’70s, but carried out some of the world’s most well-known melodies almost flawlessly. The high points overwhelmed the couple rough spots. The emotional peak unfolded on “Maybe I’m Amazed” as he dedicated the FM-radio power ballad to his late wife, Linda, and delivered it in soaring, tour-de-force fashion in voice and piano. Musical pinnacles came as McCartney reeled off Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” shared harmonies with expressive drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. and versatile keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens, and polled the audience on how many folks had tried to learn the intricate acoustic guitar part on “Blackbird.”

I raised my hand along with hundreds of other folks. Then the song’s author quipped, “Well, you’ve all got it wrong.” Then he played it, just right.

Though McCartney has nothing to prove, he nonetheless debunked one chronic cultural circumstance — the mental barriers that most of us place at life’s age milestones mean nothing. Music enthuses McCartney, so he plays it, even at 71 years old.

And what’s wrong with that? I’d like to know.

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

As he and the band locked arms, bowed and waved goodbye, McCartney vowed to see us all next time in Indianapolis. His performance left no reason to doubt that.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com

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