‘When we do a Beatles song, all your phones light up and it’s like a galaxy of stars,” says Paul McCartney as he seats himself at his piano. “When we do a new song, it’s like a black hole. We don’t mind, we’re going to do them anyway.”
There’s certainly a degree of bullishness about McCartney’s second Glastonbury headlining performance, which draws an immense Saturday night crowd – some of whom have, according to one news report, been camped out at the front of the stage since the morning awaiting his arrival, and who launch into an impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday when he appears: the fact he turned 80 last week means the night after the Pyramid stage greeted its youngest-ever headliner, McCartney is now the oldest. Initially, at least, you get a lot more tracks taken from the oeuvre of Wings and indeed from his recent solo albums than you might expect, given the plethora of nailed-on Beatles classics at his disposal: the announcement precedes a performance of New, from his 2013 album of the same name, which joins Let ‘Em In, Junior’s Farm, Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five and My Valentine in the setlist. Sometimes you understand the point he’s making: Letting Go, a flop 1975 single, is a genuinely great song that deserves to be salvaged from relative obscurity. Sometimes, it’s a little more puzzling. He plays Fuh You, a collaboration with pop songwriter-for-hire Ryan Tedder that even he seemed curiously equivocal about when it was released four years ago, comparing it unfavourably with Eleanor Rigby.
But he’s on far safer ground when he turns his attention to the Beatles’ back catalogue: a lovely collective sigh greets the opening notes of Blackbird; In Spite of All the Danger – the first original song the Beatles ever recorded, and a mainstay in McCartney’s live sets in recent decades, more, one suspects, for historical reasons than because of its quality – provokes an audience singalong. In fact, the occasional lulls in the first part of the set rather potentiates what happens afterwards, when McCartney starts to pull out all the stops. He plays a medley of You Never Give Me Your Money and She Came in Through the Bathroom Window – apparently for the first time live – pays tribute to John Lennon with a version of Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite! and George Harrison with a ukulele cover of Something. He brings out first Dave Grohl – who duets with him on both a thrillingly ragged take on I Saw Her Standing There and Band on the Run – then Bruce Springsteen. There’s something incredibly charming about seeing the puppyish delight on the face of Springsteen – a man who paid fulsome tribute to the Beatles and their life-changing effect on him during his acclaimed Broadway shows – as he and McCartney trade lines, first on Glory Days, then I Wanna Be Your Man. Then he lets fly with the failsafe stuff: Let It Be, Live and Let Die, Hey Jude, an impressively fierce Helter Skelter and the final three songs from the Abbey Road medley, and euphoria reigns. A version of I Got a Feeling, sung as a duet with John Lennon’s isolated vocal from the Get Back series is authentically moving: you hear McCartney’s voice at 80 – thinner and raspier than it once was – set against Lennon’s, frozen in time. The audience are still singing the refrain from Hey Jude as they trudge away from the Pyramid stage into the night.