It would be too easy and simple to say a long and winding road brought Paul McCartney back to the Ed Sullivan Theater Wednesday, where like Mr. Kite, he literally topped the bill with his rocking performance on the marquee.
As with many things Beatle-related, the “Late Show With David Letterman” appearance marked a loopy, whimsical symmetry - a serpentine “Figure of Eight,” to quote a McCartney solo song. The performance recalled - but didn’t quite mirror - the iconic bookends of Beatlemania: the Beatles’ 1964 American debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and their final public performance five years later on a London rooftop.
Most of all, the show was vintage McCartney - confronting and embracing the Beatles’ legacy, but on his own terms. He also proved, once again, that’s he far more than a nostalgia act: at 67, Paul McCartney can still rock.
He fired up the crowd with something old - "Get Back," the centerpiece of the legendary 1969 rooftop concert - and something new - "Sing the Changes."
After the credits rolled on Letterman's show, McCartney put on a mini-concert for those of us lucky enough to find a spot along Broadway, ripping through "Band on the Run," "Helter Skelter" and "Back in the USSR," among other hits.
The return to the Ed Sullivan Theater marked a kickoff of sorts to McCartney’s latest tour, which starts Friday with the first rock show at Citi Field -- just a long fly ball from where the Fab Four began the stadium concert era at Shea in 1965.
McCartney doesn’t need the money. And you would think at this point he has nothing to prove to anyone, except, perhaps, to himself.
Since he picked up the guitar as a teenager, McCartney has been a relentless performer, going from Liverpool and Hamburg dives to the biggest stages in the world. He still cares desperately about putting on a great show, which he demonstrated by stepping out onto the 82-year-old theater's marquee, which was shored up with steel beams that jutted into the sidewalk.
"I've played some strange places in my time," McCartney told the crowd.
John Lennon was the first major 1960s era star to show that you can still create relevant rock-and-roll once the calendar hits 40. He never made it past that milestone, sadly. But his creative partner McCartney, who has produced some of his best solo work this decade - most notably “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard” and “Electric Arguments” - is proving the rock spirit lives on for someone an album or two away from 70.
Evidence that McCartney maintains a hold on the past and future of rock could be seen and heard Wednesday on Broadway, where he played for his Beatle bandmates, played for himself, and most of all, played for us.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.