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Looking ahead to Paul McCartney's Sunday gig, and remembering a past tour

Paul McCartney’s upcoming show at the Wells-Fargo Center proves he still matters, and brings to mind his first post-Beatles road trip.

LET'S FACE it: No one 50 years ago could have envisioned that Paul McCartney - the "cute Beatle" - would, in 2015, reign as one of the world's most famous and successful entertainers. After all, the mid-'60s was a time when teen-oriented pop acts were seen as here today, gone tomorrow commodities. (Come to think of it, some things don't change.) And it was a time when even the biggest names of that era - Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Jack Benny and the like - hadn't put in anywhere near 50 years, much less at the pinnacle of show business.

But here we are, just a few days away from Sir Paul's Friday performance at the Firefly Festival, in Dover, Del., and his Sunday concert at the Wells Fargo Center - both sold-out gigs, where tens of thousands of people will enjoy a three-hour performance by the 73-year-old musical titan.

However, for all his fame, fortune and universal reverence as, arguably, the most important (with John Lennon) musician of the past half-century, McCartney hasn't come close to having a smash hit record in the digital-download era on the level of, say, Taylor Swift or Beyonce.

So, what's the attraction? Will Sunday's gig, especially, be just another baby boomer nostalgia-fest? (At Firefly, he's sharing the bill with several generations' worth of talent.) Or does "Macca" still have relevance as a musician?

The former would seem more likely. Of the 43 songs in the set list at his most recent gig in France, according to, only five - "My Valentine," "Save Us," "Hope For the Future," "Queenie Eye" and "New" - began life in this century. The rest of the tunes were from the Beatles catalog and McCartney's 45-year solo career.

But at least one local Beatlemaniac begs to differ. As WMGK (102.9-FM) afternoon host Andre Gardner sees it, McCartney's monumental career has not been all about ancestor worship.

"He has evolved," said Gardner, who also serves as emcee of the station's long-running "Breakfast with the Beatles" Sunday morning Fab Fourcast. "Artists evolve, and Paul has certainly done that, I think, by visiting all the other areas of music that's what he's done. He's done techno, classical, standards. The guy can do it all. So he can seemingly endlessly pick from those influences and create wonderful new music."

Gardner specifically name-checked "Queenie Eye," from McCartney's most recent CD, "New," as an example of Paul's continued ability to turn out superior material. "Is it different from 'Penny Lane'? It most certainly is. But [it illustrates] Paul's continued development as a songwriter, and the fact that he's able to write such quality songs, as he's done for over 50 years.

"He continues to keep me in awe and excite me and inspire me."

Gardner also cited McCartney's physical condition as something to celebrate. "This is a guy who's gonna be 73 years old when we see him this weekend [his birthday is tomorrow]. He's the only one who stays on the stage the entire show - we're talking three hours.

"His energy level is astounding. I personally feel he hasn't lost a step" since his first post-Beatles tour in 1976.

Yesterday . . .

Anticipated though it is, McCartney's upcoming visit to our region doesn't come close in terms of hype and expectation to the epic "Wings Over America" tour that played the old Spectrum for two nights in May 1976.

It wasn't the first excursion by a former Beatle. The late George Harrison had played the Spectrum in November 1974. But that was a relatively low-key affair, short on production values and long on the music of Indian sitar wizard Ravi Shankar, a hero of Harrison's.

But 18 months later, Paul McCartney & Wings, the band McCartney formed with his late wife, Linda, and Moody Blues co-founder Denny Laine, went on tour. It was the biggest music-business news of the year, rivaled only by the sudden and unprecedented (and still hard to fathom) success of Peter Frampton's "Frampton Comes Alive" double LP.

By all accounts, the "Wings Over America" tour, immortalized in the live album of the same name and a film documentary, "Rockshow," was a rousing success. Every date on the tour was a sellout, and the tour introduced the use of laser lighting to the live-music realm. Multicolored rays were synchronized to the fast part of the song "Live And Let Die," which also featured an extensive pyrotechnic-and-smoke display.

If there was any disappointment to be had in '76, it was the repertoire: McCartney obviously felt a need to establish his independence from his previous band. As such, the only Mop Top selections on that set list were "Lady Madonna," "Blackbird," "Yesterday" and "The Long and Winding Road."