July 24, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Beatlemania is alive and well in Omaha. Former Beatle Paul McCartney proved as much on Sunday night. His iconic songs brought the CenturyLink Center’s sold-out crowd to their feet.

Longtime fans (myself included) came to experience musical history. We were not disappointed during a three-hour concert featuring 39 songs.

The stage featured two rotating cylinders showing black-and-white images of Paul and the Beatles in the 1960s, which transitioned to blue-red with pictures from the British Invasion, which changed to modern-looking graphics, which turned to an image of McCartney’s left-handed violin-shaped bass guitar.

And there was the guitar in real life, with McCartney in front of it, performing “A Hard’s Day’s Night.” The Beatles first visited the Midwest in 1964. They played the song at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City during their first U.S. tour; however, neither the Beatles nor McCartney would play in Omaha until the new millennium.

The first (and last) time McCartney played in Omaha itself was on Oct. 30, 2005, following fellow Beatle Ringo Starr’s performance by less than a month. Previous to 2005, fans traveled to major cities and college towns to see this member of the world’s top-grossing band. His 1990 “The Paul McCartney World Tour” made stops in Chicago and Ames, Iowa. His 1993 “The New World Tour” made stops in Kansas City and Boulder, Colorado.

Omaha received the “flyover country” treatment…until recently. Many residents now fondly recall local news coverage of McCartney and friend Warren Buffet stopping for ice cream at eCreamery on July 13, 2014 (the day before he played at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln).

On his latest Omaha performance, McCartney brought it all—songs from the Quarrymen (his band before the Beatles), songs from the Beatles, songs from Wings (his band after the Beatles), and his solo work. The show itself was something of a lesson in rock ’n’ roll history that spanned the days preceding Beatlemania to last year’s hit “FourFiveSeconds,” which McCartney co-wrote with Kanye West and Rhianna.

McCartney’s band (which has been with him since 2002) appeared to have fun onstage. Particularly animated was Abe Laboriel Jr. on vocals and percussion, who plays with intensity while bopping along to the music. Another standout was Paul “Wix” Wickens on keyboards, synthesizers, and other electronic instruments. Wickens produced a compellingly corny late-1970s sound for “Temporary Secretary” along with a mock orchestra for a version of “Eleanor Rigby” that nearly brought me to tears.

The show’s visual effects included a rising stage, projected images, and fireworks. An expert showman and musician, the 75-year-old McCartney played the bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, a Yamaha grand piano, a psychedellic-looking upright piano, and a Gibson ukulele that he told the audience George Harrison had given him.

McCartney knows he didn’t make it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on his own, and he gave props to—and told stories of—his bandmates throughout the night. The aforementioned story about the ukulele was followed by “Let’s hear it for Georgie!” along with applause for former bandmate John Lennon and the song “Here Today.”

He also played the guitar rift from “Foxy Lady,” in a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. McCartney told the audience that Hendrix opened a show of his own with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band two days after the song’s release 50 years ago.

And, of course, he gave fans plenty of chances to sing along. Part of the way through “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” the band stopped singing the chorus for audience participation. Approximately 15,000 voices created music that resonated throughout the arena.

After going through everything from “Back in the USSR” to his James Bond theme “Live and Let Die,” he ended with the longest song released as a single in 1968, the seven-plus-minute long “Hey, Jude.”

McCartney wasn’t done. Following lengthy applause, the band came back on waving large flags that included those of the United States, the United Kingdom, and gay pride for an encore that acted more as a mini-set with seven career-spanning songs that ranged from “Yesterday” to “The End.”

Suddenly, the man and legend was gone. McCartney disappeared in a magical poof that brought down a shower of red, white, and blue confetti and streamers.

This article is a web exclusive for Omaha Publications.