It was 33 years ago tonight (November 23rd, 1989) that after a 13-year-stretch, Paul McCartney returned to the North American concert stage for the first of a five-night stand at the L.A. Forum. McCartney's band featured wife Linda McCartney on keyboards, Average White Band co-founder Hamish Stuart on guitar and bass, Former Pretenders lead guitarist Robbie McIntosh, keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens, and drummer Chris Whitten.
McCartney's last North American trek had been the blockbuster 1976 Wings Over America tour, and Wings' 1979/1980 tour was canceled after only 20 UK shows following his infamous January 1980 pot bust in Tokyo. Following the Japan debacle and John Lennon's murder the following December, McCartney continued to record and wrote and starred in the big budget, big screen flop Give My Regards To Broad Street, which was universally panned.
By the time of the 1989 tour, McCartney had released four studio albums — Pipes Of Peace (1983, #15); Give My Regards To Broad Street (1984, #21); Press To Play (1986, #30); and Flowers In The Dirt (1989, #21) — which, to that date, marked his worst charting releases. McCartney also hadn't racked up a Top 20 single hit since 1985's “Spies Like Us” scored him his last Top Ten hit to date. His 1987 double-album solo retrospective All The Best! only rose as high as a dismal Number 62.
For the 1989/1990 world tour — which kicked off with a 28-date European leg on September 26th, 1989 in Oslo, Norway — McCartney, in response to his dwindling chart appearances — packed the comeback show with 50 percent Beatles classics — most of which the “Fab Four,” who retired from the road in 1966, never got the chance to play live.
After such a long time away from the concert stage, McCartney explained how he came about figuring out the 1989 setlist: “What I did was I just sat down and kind of asked myself what I would like to see 'him' play, y'know, if I was just somebody just coming to the show, what I thought I'd like to see the band play. The interesting thing about some of the Beatles stuff was I've never actually performed it onstage before — and we never got to do it with the Beatles, 'cause we stopped touring at that time. I got up on stage and said 'I've never done this one before.' So that's nice, 'cause they're fresh.”
Among the Beatles classics getting their first-ever live airings on the 1989/1990 world tour were “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Birthday,” “Back In The U.S.S.R.,” “Hey Jude” and the Abbey Road closing medley — “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End.”
The shows also featured McCartney's first-ever solo performances of “Can't Buy Me Love,” “Things We Said Today,” and a short-lived dance medley of “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” — as well as “McCartney's first-ever North American performances of “The Fool On The Hill,” “Got To Get You Into My Life,” and “Let It Be.”
Paul McCartney's setlists since returning to the stage in 1989 have been dominated with Beatles hits and rarities. We asked him if playing the songs ever brings back tough memories for him: “No, I don't really feel that. I used to — just after the Beatles had broken up — I think all of us thought, y'know 'Is there life after the Beatles?' And, 'It's a tough act to follow.' As time's gone by, I've rediscovered the songs. And instead of the sort of anger and the pain that we all felt when we were breaking up, I just like the songs now and they're a pleasure to do.”
McCartney also world premiered songs from that spring's Flowers In The Dirt collection along with assorted Wings hits — and his 1982 Number One hit “Ebony And Ivory.” Guitarist Hamish Stuart usually took over Stevie Wonder's part during the tour, but on the third night of the L.A. stand — November 27th, 1989 — Stevie Wonder came out to reprise the duet with McCartney.
Multi-instrumentalist Hamish Stuart performed with McCartney from 1987 until the end of 1993. Both fans and Stuart alike were acutely aware of the vocal chemistry between him and McCartney: “Paul did something and I sang with him, and it worked right from the first time that we sang together. I know that Paul did enjoy singing with me. 'And I Love Her,' when we did the acoustic thing that was a blast to do that, and 'Here, There And Everywhere,' and things like that.”
Stuart says that Linda was always an integral part of Paul's music: “Ah, Linda was great. She got a lot of bad press. She wasn't there because she was a great musician, she was there because she was Paul's partner. I remember there was one day early on when she didn't turn up for rehearsals, and it didn't feel right. She was lovely.”
McCartney's 1989/1990 world tour remains his most extensive to date, taking in a total of 108 concerts across Europe, North America, Japan, and South America.
McCartney's full setlist was represented on double-disc live set Tripping The Live Fantastic, which was released on October 29th, 1990. The album's single CD releases featured bonus live and soundcheck tracks from the tour.
Paul McCartney's opening night setlist – Great Western Forum, Inglewood, CA – November 23rd, 1989:
“Figure Of Eight” – bass
“Jet” – bass
“Rough Ride” – bass
“Got To Get You Into My Life” – bass
“Band On The Run” – bass
“Ebony And Ivory” – bass
“We Got Married” – bass
“Maybe I'm Amazed” – piano
“The Long And Winding Road” – piano
“The Fool On The Hill” – piano
“Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” – electric guitar
“Good Day Sunshine” – electric guitar
“Can't Buy Me Love” – electric guitar
“Put It There” – acoustic guitar
“Things We Said Today” – acoustic guitar
“Eleanor Rigby” – acoustic guitar
“This One” – bass
“My Brave Face” – bass
“Back In The U.S.S.R.” – bass
“I Saw Her Standing There” – bass
“Twenty Flight Rock” – bass
“Coming Up” – bass
“Let It Be” – piano
“Ain't That A Shame” – piano
“Live And Let Die” – piano
“Hey Jude” – piano
“Yesterday” – acoustic guitar
“Get Back” – bass
“Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” – keyboards & electric guitar