ORLANDO – If you need any evidence that Orlando can deliver some of the best entertainment possible, look no further than this past weekend at The Amway Center, when history was made as Beatles legend Paul McCartney kicked off his Out There Tour in our city.
Before a crowd of more than 18,000 – the largest turnout in Amway’s history – the singer and songwriter who has been entertaining audiences since the early 1960s proved he still had the ability to charm and electrify audiences.
“I love a bit of adulation,” McCartney said toward the end of Saturday night’s concert, as the crowd roared with approval.
McCartney performed at the Amway on Saturday and Sunday, opening his new tour at the popular venue in downtown Orlando.
“He could have started his tour anywhere, but he chose right here in Orlando,” said Allen Johnson, executive director of Orlando Venues, which oversees the Amway Center.
McCartney arrived at the Amway earlier in the day on Saturday, and was inside the arena long before his fans were let into the building. McCartney and his band spent late afternoons rehearsing some of the songs he would perform before a sold-out crowd later that evening. During the sound check rehearsal, about 150 people paid $1,500 each to see the rock & roll legend before the general audience did.
The crowds started filling into their seats around 7 p.m., and an hour later two large screens on either side of the stage began showing video clips of yesteryear – photos of the Beatles in their heyday. Then at 8:30 p.m., McCartney walked onto the stage, to a thunderous applause. Followed by his band, they started with the Beatles’ classic “Eight Days a Week” – the first song performed in a concert that would last for three hours, including two encores.
Born on June 18, 1942 in Liverpool, James Paul McCartney looked trim, fit, energetic and ebullient at age 70 – the perfect image of a man who had successfully managed to stop time or even ignore it. As the band moved to its second number, “Junior’s Farm” from his days with his post-Beatles band Wings, it was clear McCartney still knows how to rock an arena.
“Hey Orlando – all right, thank you,” McCartney said as he finished the song. “Hey listen, this is our first tour back in America. It’s great to be back in America – so great, I think I’ll take my jacket off.”
As the crowd cheered wildly, McCartney looked directly out at the sold-out audience, smiled, and added, “This is so great – I think I’ll take a second to take it in for myself.”
Over the course of the next three hours, McCartney performed a long list of songs from a playbook that started with the Beatles in the 1960s, moved on to Wings in the 1970s, and then continued with a solo career that hasn’t stopped. His latest album, “Kisses on the Bottom,” was released in February 2012.
Most of the songs that he played on Saturday night, though, were from his glory days with the Beatles. That included some tunes that McCartney didn’t provide the original lead vocals for on the original recordings. At one point, McCartney talked about the talent of his late colleague George Harrison, and noted that Harrison loved the ukulele and had a large collection of them. McCartney then brought out his own ukulele and performed Harrison’s signature song “Something” on it.
He also performed “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” a song from the Beatle’s 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which was written by John Lennon.
“It’s been a long time since that one came out of the box,” McCartney said as the band finished the song.
There was quite a bit of extravaganza brought to the performance, including a fireworks display as McCartney sang the Wings hit “Live And Let Die.” But much of the focus was on those legendary Beatles hits. After performing “Hey Jude,” McCartney exited the stage – only to return for an encore of three more Beatles hits, followed by another exit – and another return, this time for three more Beatles hits, ranging from the gentle sounds of “Yesterday,” which he performed on acoustic guitar, to the hard-charging rocker “Helter Skelter.”
McCartney also had fun talking with the audience, telling them about a recent concert he gave in Brazil, where the stage got infested with three-inch long crickets that began climbing up his arms and shoulders.
“How many people in the crowd came from Orlando?” he asked. “How many people don’t come from Orlando? Okay. I’m with that crowd.”
It was abundantly clear during the show, however, that McCartney had been made to feel at home in the City Beautiful.
The Amway has a series of concerts coming up this year, with more legendary rock performers bringing their hits and talent to the arena.
Michael Freeman in an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..