The Desert Trip mega-festival of rock greats is meant to be historic and Paul McCartney on Saturday served as a willing instructor, presenting a musical journey from pre-Beatles fare to hip-hop collaboration.
Tearing through a three-dozen song set that enraptured a 75,000-strong crowd in the California desert, McCartney welcomed to the stage fellow rock elder Neil Young — the day’s other performer — for a mash-up that built into the anthem “Give Peace a Chance.”
Desert Trip, forecast to be the most lucrative music festival in history, is bringing together six of the biggest names in rock over back-to-back weekends with identical lineups.
The festival opened Friday with the Rolling Stones who, in their signature blues rock style, played an unexpected cover of “Come Together” by The Beatles — the fellow British rock superstars often viewed as the Stones’ rivals.
The former Beatle returned the favor a day later by performing the early Stones single “I Wanna Be Your Man” — which was written by McCartney and John Lennon.
The still lissome 74-year-old turned his set into a retrospective, reaching back to 1958’s “In Spite of All the Danger,” an early and often forgotten song by The Beatles’ early incarnation, The Quarrymen.
McCartney — whose audience appeared younger than the Stones’ baby boomer-dominated crowd on Friday — quickly swung back to the present. He summoned his raspiest voice for “FourFiveSeconds,” his 2015 collaboration with rap and R&B mega-stars Kanye West and Rihanna.
The ex-Beatle also paid tribute to his late bandmates Lennon and George Harrison. For Harrison, he played the deceased songwriter’s “Something” off the “Abbey Road” album — on ukulele, with McCartney trying twice after finding the instrument out-of-tune.
“At least it proves we’re live, right?” he said.
McCartney said he still heard nervousness in his own voice in the recording of The Beatles’ first single, “Love Me Do,” and dedicated the song to producer George Martin, who died in March.
“It was George who signed us to a record contract, so without him there wouldn’t be any Beatle recordings,” McCartney said. “So we love him and we thank him.”
– Young serenades Earth, bashes Trump –
McCartney brought out a fireworks show and perilous-looking on-stage pyrotechnics for “Live and Let Die,” reinforcing the spirit of celebration at the festival.
Young, playing his own set before McCartney, put on a more politically engaging show as the folk rocker pressed his environmental activism.
A banner on an Indian teepee set up on stage read “Water Is Life” — a pertinent message for a festival taking place in a parched but populous desert — and Young played before a backdrop of an oversized bag of seeds labeled as local and organic.
Young, a staunch critic of genetic modification, brought environmental questions symbolically to stage, with actors planting seeds and later dressed in protective gear as if cleaning chemical or nuclear waste.
Casting the aura of a folk rock church service, Young performed triple duty on organ, harmonica and vocals for “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)” as he asks the planet in hs powerful yet warbling voice, “How long can you give and not receive?”
But Young showed that his appeal extends beyond political allies as he put on a musical tour de force, with marathon jamming alongside his band Promise of the Real and hard-driving guitar solos on his signature hits “Down by the River” and “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
Young, who earlier denounced Donald Trump for playing “Rockin’ in the Free World” at campaign events, said that the sex scandal-plagued Republican candidate had a new campaign theme in Young’s song “Welfare Mothers,” with its ironic refrain, “Welfare mothers make better lovers.”
But Young quipped that Trump may have another message from Sunday’s headliner Roger Waters, the force behind Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”
Trump, a staunch critic of immigration, has vowed to build his own wall on the Mexican border to “make America great again.”
Young said of Waters: “Roger’s gonna build a wall and we’re gonna make Mexico great again.”