For someone who dim and distantly mused chirpily about “doing the garden, digging the weeds” when turning 64, Paul McCartney still packs a pretty fab punch just weeks away from entering his 74th year.
For almost three hours solid on Saturday night he rocked the O2, not even pausing for a single sip of water - although at least a few stints in the piano gifted him the occasional useful sit-down.
And for all those still haunted/mocking his false start at the London Olympics’ ceremony, his voice remains surprisingly strong - any occasional hoarseness only adding gravitas and resonance if anything.
Why, one of the encores - just after allowing eagerly-bopping guest guitarist Dave Grohl to join him for “I Saw Her Standing There” and harmonising on a single-mike like early Beatle George if looking like late Beatle George - Macca then larynx-shreddingly hollered out “Helter Skelter”.
“When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide...”
Why, and some folk will insist a strict vegetarian diet must leave you feeling flakey, eh...
The man just keeps going. Long may he keep doing so. For all his continual vigour - hairdye and cragginess around the eyes and all, of course - a McCartney concert on these shores can feel like an occasion, not simply for the occasion, the show, itself, but also wondering just how much longer he can go?
His current “Out There” tour has been colonising the Americas for the past year or so, his last fully-fledged British gigs falling almost four years ago.
The intervening period has not only brought a couple of new albums, but the obligatory addition of a few “new” old curios to the set.
Saturday night’s surprises included the 35-year-old hipster-rediscovered electronica of “Temporary Secretary”, Yellow Submarine’s “for the kids” “All Together Now” and jaunty if slightly spiteful 1965 film filler “Another Girl”.
McCartney also took unaccustomed lead vocals on show opener “Eight Days A Week” and, later on, joyously-nightmarishly-swirling “Being For The Benefit Of Mister Kite”.
That latter did come after tender tributes to the two too late and lamented Beatles, the fragile “Here Today” for John and a perky uke-y before turning-soaring “Something” for George.
Macca’s patter can be cheesy, his anecdotes far more well-worn than his natty dressing, and his dedications “to Nance” (“My Valentine”) and “for Linda” (“Maybe I’m Amazed”) notably if understandably neglecting someone in between (what, no “Your Loving Flame” or, er, “Heather” for Heather?)
But if his bonhomie is merely put-on, then he is a far finer actor than his too-try-hard displays back in “A Hard Day’s Night” or “Help!” suggested.
All is warmth, the crammed arena audience crossed several generations, and every song - even the occasional new’uns such as “Save Us”, video-gamey “Hope For The Future” and, er, “New” - coursed crowd-pleasingly along.
Especially strong patches included a run starting with a glistening yet propulsive tour de force performance of Wings’ “Let Me Roll It”, a track Lennon loved and which could have adorned any Beatles LP.
Hot on its heels followed an exhilarating “Paperback Writer”, McCartney firing out the lead riff himself before hoisting aloft his guitar, the very one he used in Abbey Road’s Studio 2 for it 50 years ago.
The guitar technicians were certainly kept on their toes, collecting and handing over an incessant selection of axes - well, as Macca himself confessed/boasted: “Well, we’ve got a lot of guitars - so we’re gonna show ‘em off...”
His acoustic odes included a few many present will have tried to master - okay, simply slowly play - when growing up and first finding to pluck to pluck: “Blackbird”, “We Can Work It Out”, “I’ve Just Seen A Face”.
That last one was an album track on the “Help!” soundtrack, song number 12 nudging into a very lucky 13th: some little ditty originally called “Scrambled Eggs”, later and for eternity to come known as “Yesterday”.
Pre-announcements for this British tour made much of this month supposedly being precisely 50 years since McCartney wrote that ballad, based on a tune he dreamt and needed repeated persuasion he had not simply knocked it off from someone else.
Sure enough, a delicate version opened up his second encore, provoking many mobile phones held high across the venue as had, earlier, a reliable singalonga “Hey Jude” and a heartachingly plangent “Let It Be”. In all hours of darkness, these songs are always lights that shine on ... we.
The most beauteous perhaps was left ‘til last, however - the end being, of course, “The End”, that closing Abbey Road medley, perhaps the most sumptuously gorgeous music suite set to record, and whose closing lines encapsulate how The Beatles’ best essence should best feel:
“And in the end ... the love you take ... is equal to the love ... you make.”
Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight, carry that weight a long time...
(“And in the middle of the celebrations, I break down...”)
Perhaps only the queen and the pope, of anyone living today, can rival Sir Paul McCartney for global fame and recognition? Can anyone claim, however, to have provided more people with more pleasure, solace, empathy and enjoyment than his vast and prolific (sometimes too easily, instinctively so?) and astonishingly-eclectic repertoire?
A showman rather than a shaman, but a touchstone for so much.
“I wake up to the sound of music...” The Eurovision this Saturday in Vienna? Ah, it means nothing etc. No contest. The O2 was where the show was.
McCartney’s closing words? “Tell you what - we’ll see you next time...”
Any time, any day.
Ah, listen to what the man said.
Some people want to fill the world with “silly” love songs...
... and what’s wrong with that?