Nearly 60 years after the Beatles became an international phenomenon and toured North America for the first time, Paul McCartney returned to Baltimore Sunday night. At one point, he asked the crowd at Oriole Park to scream just as adoring fans had in the 1960s, and the concertgoers, of course, obliged.
“You’ve still got it,” McCartney told the audience.
The same could be said of McCartney, who turns 80 this week and performed for 2 hours and 40 minutes as part of his “Got Back” tour. Fans repeatedly wished him a happy birthday as, with his charm and a catalog of beloved songs from his days with the Beatles, Wings and as a solo artist, he wowed and entertained dozens of thousands of eager fans. An official attendance figure has not yet been provided.
“This whole thing is so cool,” McCartney told the crowd early in the set. “I’m gonna take a second to myself to drink it all in.”
McCartney last performed in Baltimore in Sept. 1964 with two shows at the Civic Center, now the Baltimore Arena, when Beatlemania — and its long-haired, endearing star — first invaded Charm City.
Though 58 years had passed, at least three fans in attendance Sunday witnessed that performance when they were kids.
Gail Brook, 71, was 13 years old and had a band with a neighbor in 1964. They attended one of those first Civic Center shows, though Sunday was arguably the first time Brook actually heard McCartney perform; it was so chaotic in 1964 that it was nearly impossible to hear the Beatles actually play music over the screams and exclamations from obsessed fans.
“We all dreamed of packing our bags and getting on an airplane and hiding out on the airplane and going back with them,” said Brook, a retired educator who has lived her whole life in Maryland, of the English rockers. “That was our dream.”
Although that experience was about the “phenomenon” of the Beatles, she said that Sunday was more about “the music.” She and her son, Ryan, were part of a small group that heard McCartney play 11 songs during a sound check earlier in the day — and this time, Brook could hear McCartney, always her favorite Beatle.
Sunday’s event marked the second-ever major concert at Oriole Park after Billy Joel played a sold-out show in 2019.
“Seeing a legend in Oriole Park — you can’t beat it,” Ryan Brook said. “It’s something I’m gonna tell my kids about.”
Ray Lehr, 70, was also 13 at the time of the Beatles’ only performances in Baltimore, and he, too, remembers the din of the matinee back in 1964, when the Beatles played two back-to-back sold out shows on a Sunday.
“Between the flashbulbs flashing and the screaming going on, you had no idea what was actually happening — what songs they were singing or anything,” he said.
Sunday, attending the show with his wife and friends, he wore a shirt with lyrics to the Beatles’ “When I’m 64.” When he witnessed the show in 1964, he paid $2.50 to enter; it cost a bit more Sunday.
“A couple of decimal points have changed since ‘64,” he said.
Both Lehr and Brook described the show’s opportunity as “once in a lifetime,” and McCartney received a hero’s welcome.
Accompanied by two guitarists, a drummer, a keyboardist and a jazz trio, McCartney was cheered anytime he moved a muscle — including taking a sip of water — and was booed only once, when, after 11 p.m., he hinted that the concert might need to conclude soon.
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The music icon entertained with nearly 40 songs, as well as quips and anecdotes from over the years.
He made a touching tribute to John Lennon, sharing a virtual duet with the late former Beatle, and also honored George Harrison.
McCartney shared a story from a Jimi Hendrix show in the 1960s, when Hendrix’s guitar was out of tune, and he peered into the audience, requesting that Eric Clapton tune it for him.
It was easy to forget McCartney’s age, given his lively performance. The show was complete with fireworks and, toward the end of the set, McCartney and others marched around on stage with flags supporting Ukraine, the U.S., England, Maryland and gay pride.
McCartney sang primarily Beatles songs, among them: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Love Me Do,” “Blackbird,” “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” and ”Hey Jude.” As he played “Let It Be,” a bulk of the stadium illuminated their phones.
Bob Matarozza was at the Beatles’ show in 1964 and attended Sunday’s concert, too. He wore an Orioles jersey with “McCartney” inscribed on the back and the number “64″ — while a different concertgoer wore an Orioles jersey with “McCartney” and the number 22.
“It’s been way too long,” Matarozza said. “I am glad he got back.”