Thursday, June 04, 2009

Paul McCartney still enjoys the thrill of performing

Playing the Beatles card trumps everything: trendiness, chart position, even senior citizenship. That's why Paul McCartney jumped at invitations to open the new Citi Field stadium next month and headline April's indie-rock mecca at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

He overcame any jitters about facing down cutting-edge bands and jaded audiences after his appearance at England's Glastonbury Festival in 2004.

"What had held me up from doing Glastonbury before was that idea that it was so young and so hip," he says, lounging backstage with his girlfriend, Nancy Shevell, before his sold-out concert in April at another youth-centric venue, the Hard Rock Hotel's newly opened The Joint. "But somebody told me about being at Glastonbury one year, wandering around at night and hearing everyone singing Beatles songs around the campfires.

"I said, well, I can do that. If it isn't everyone sitting around campfires singing massively obscure indie songs, then I get it. It's just another show."

For fans, a McCartney performance is never just another show, says Billboard touring editor Ray Waddell.

"Any time Paul McCartney hits the stage, it's an event, and the world takes notice," Waddell says. "Very few artists command the kind of global respect as does McCartney. He continues to push his own creative boundaries. It also helps more than a little that he comes off as a genuine person. This combination of music and charisma translates into serious box office."

McCartney's hit-packed set was hailed as the highlight of Coachella's smorgasbord of brand names and rising stars. "I like festivals. I like the vibe. I like the idea of people coming together as a culture."

Though fans can expect a parade of Fab Four hits at his summer shows, there will be no coming together of McCartney and ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, despite rumors of a reunion sparked by their matchup April 4 at the benefit for the David Lynch Foundation.

"I played and sang on (Ringo's) album, new stuff he's putting together, because he asked me," McCartney says. "It was fun. David Lynch asked me to do (the benefit), then somehow asked Ringo, and immediately: Beatles reunion concert! Ay-yi-yi."

His Beatles status has been both a career boost and burden.

"You get fed up being him," he says. "You're always that guy. If I was Bruce Springsteen, I might get fed up being Bruce Springsteen. I might want to be the kid I was growing up, when I didn't have that image to live up to."

His set list indulges fans with Beatles classic Let It Be, Wings hit Band on the Run and solo standout Flaming Pie, but it also has selections from his Electric Arguments album last year with electronica producer Youth under the pseudonym The Fireman.

"If I buy a ticket to a show, I know what I want to hear the band play," he says. "So I start with that: What would I want to hear me play if I was in the audience? Then we start rehearsing stuff I'd like to play or that we haven't done for a while, or never done. That creeps in. We just learned a couple Fireman songs. That's interesting, because they're improvisational and you've almost got to rewrite them into a shape we can all understand. I fancy playing electric guitar, so I work in a couple of excuses for that."

The Fireman allowed McCartney to abandon conventional songwriting structures and "throw it all open." Anonymity freed him from expectations.

"I would shout about, pretend to be a DJ," he says. "It's different, energizing and freeing."

And yet McCartney takes great pride that, at 66, he sold out The Joint in seven seconds, a world record.

"When my name is on the marquee, I'm very happy about it," he says, adding that a quirky sideline "recharges your battery. If you do this all the time, you'd get bored and jaded. I'm not jaded. I still love what I do."

He's scouting for producers, but not a label, as he prepares to record a solo album. His last solo effort, 2007's Memory Almost Full, was released on Starbucks' Hear Music label.

"People like me are just looking for a distributor, and there are so many options," he says. "I've written a bunch of new songs over the last couple of months. I've got a guitar concerto that's cooking in the background, some classical pieces I'm writing."

And he'll make his debut Sept. 9 as "an android" in The Beatles: Rock Band video game. "It's another way to present The Beatles' music," McCartney says. "People don't want to let it go. For me, it's good fun."

McCartney has had some hard times in recent years, starting with first wife Linda's death in 1998. He was shattered when ex-Beatle George Harrison died in 2001, and he weathered a fractious split from Heather Mills. They divorced in 2008.

Such ups and downs are hardly unusual, he insists.

"I'm in the public eye, so you notice my trials and tribulations," he says. "Most people my age have been through similar things. They've lost loved ones. Lots of people have been divorced. You have to try to understand it and move on. It's never easy.

"How do I do it? I remember the good times."

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