Despite a two-hour parade of musical tributes featuring the biggest names from every genre of modern popular music, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney effortlessly stole the show at ‘The Beatles: The Night That Changed America.’
Starr’s three-song set served as a reminder of just how charming and charismatic a live frontman the Fab Four’s drummer has become. He followed the night’s theme of celebrating the 50th anniversary of his former group’s first appearance on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ by performing two songs — ‘Matchbox’ and ‘Boys’ — that could have been in their set lists at that time. Then he traveled ahead a couple of years to lead the crowd in a massive ‘Yelllow Submarine’ singalong.
McCartney and his crack / fantastic / awesome / however you want to say it solo band kicked off their set with the totally appropriate ‘Birthday.’ After an energetic reading of ‘Get Back,’ he launched into the theme song from ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ which of course led into… ‘With a Little Help From My Friends,’ with Starr (err, sorry, Billy Shears) returning to take over lead vocals.
The duo then invited everyone who had performed earlier in the night — including Joe Walsh, Jeff Lynne, Kenny Aronoff, Steve Lukather of Toto and Peter Frampton — for a big ‘Hey Jude’ finale. The latter three musicians, together with Don Was, served as part of the backing band for much of the night, providing support for performances by Brad Paisley, Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry and others.
In between the performances — which were highlighted by Walsh and Gary Clark Jr.’s guitar duel on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ Dave Grohl‘s heartfelt ‘Hey Bullldog’ and a pleasantly lively and creative acoustic rendition of ‘Revolution’ by Imagine Dragons — McCartney and Starr were shown being interviewed by Dave Letterman. These talks were particularly poignant since they were conducted at the Ed Sullivan Theater, where Letterman currently films his ‘Late Show’ program.
McCartney told a particularly funny story about the backstage scene just moments before the group’s legendary Feb. 9, 1964 performance. Apparently Paul was “standing there, all prepared, with my guitar, ready to go on,” when a Teamster in charge of pulling back the curtain decided to get more involved. “He says, ‘are you nervous?’ I said, ‘no, not really’.. lying.” To which the man responded, “Well you should be, there’s 73 million people watching!”