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It is a question all artists must learn to resolve: can their art survive the vicissitudes of their daily lives? Or must domestic disturbance always sap their creative powers? Paul McCartney gives every impression that the traumas of his well-publicised divorce can be subsumed – temporarily at least – by taking to the stage of an evening and zipping effortlessly through his peerless back catalogue.
I wonder. He didn’t exactly put a foot wrong in Thursday’s BBC Electric Prom at the Roundhouse, he is too professional for that, but there was something distinctly careworn in his demeanour. He swapped jokes with the rowdier elements in his audience, but they lacked sparkle. His set was almost wilfully perverse in its pacing.
Even allowing for some revisionism over his much-maligned work with Wings, the anodyne “C Moon” surely had no place here; to follow it with “The Long and Winding Road”, taken a little too quickly to convey sincerity, bordered on the criminal.
“That Was Me” from the new album Memory Almost Full was shockingly facile, even for a late McCartney song – and then the band trooped off and he performed his John Lennon tribute “Here Today” with a simplicity and depth that was magisterial. It was that sort of evening. “House of Wax” was the only contemporary song to show any dynamic range. For the most part, McCartney was happier indulging in a mid-tempo groove that made few demands on his occasionally hoarse voice.
The retro pyrotechnics of “Live and Let Die” were strangely effective, McCartney bringing an adoring crowd with him with consummate showmanship, before letting them down again with a casually slung verse from the Art Mooney standard “Baby Face”.
And then up we went again, with “Hey Jude”: it is almost as if McCartney constantly feels the need to lighten the load of his classic material with these moments of spontaneous stagecraft, but it all feels a little contrived, and we are left wishing for a more measured treatment of pop music’s greatest songbook.
The finale was assured: “Hey Jude” turned into the obligatory sing-along, and then it was classics all the way: “Lady Madonna”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Get Back”. On the way out, we bumped into George Martin with a broad smile on his face, which was probably the most touching moment of the evening. If even he can’t get enough of his erstwhile protégé, then we shouldn’t complain too loudly.