PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Paul McCartney, arguably the biggest pop star on the planet, gave one of his most intimate concerts for a largely locals-only crowd Thursday, providing the kind of energy that was probably reminiscent of his old days of playing of the Cavern in Liverpool with the Beatles.
McCartney, who has been playing unusual dates since opening his One on One tour in Fresno in April, might have played his most unusual date for 300 people at Pappy & Harriet’s saloon, a small Western-themed bar off a dark desert highway in Pioneertown. It was a well-kept secret, providing him with a concert between his two high-profile Desert Trip appearances at the famed Empire Polo Club in Indio.
“Welcome to Pappy & Harriet’s,” said McCartney, wearing a white long-sleeve shirt and suspenders with no jacket. “This is the biggest gig we ever played.
“We thought it would be a good idea to come out to a little roadhouse like this.”
McCartney opened with a solo number, “Save Us,” and then went into a selection of Beatles and Wings songs, including “A Hard Day's Night,” “Junior’s Farm” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Fans screamed and sang along, especially to his Beatles songs. When he tried to end his set with “Hey Jude” after an hour and 15 minutes, he got shrieks before most everyone began singing along. “I can’t stop this thing,” McCartney said. Then he came back for an encore of three more songs.
Singer Victoria Williams said with a big smile on her face, “I think it’s great. Fantastic.”
She was one of a handful of desert musicians invited to the special show.
The bar was so packed, most people were only able to catch glimpses of McCartney’s head bopping back and forth. Many watched on a video monitor. But the sensation of being within 20 yards of a Beatle and hearing him sing and speak close up and personal created a sense of history, not to mention joy.
McCartney seemed to be having as much fun as the crowd, saying, “This is fantastic here in Pioneertown.”
Actually, the gig was a long time in the making.
Pappy’s co-owner Robyn Celia said a friend who also is a friend of McCartney had been telling the former Beatle about the saloon for years. The place has been the site of many legendary performances by McCartney contemporaries such as Eric Burdon of the Animals and Leon Russell. Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin has dropped in to sing some songs.
When McCartney agreed to play Desert Trip, he reportedly said he also wanted to play a “real desert” gig.
Celia said she got an email about a month ago from someone she didn’t know who was making inquiries about her performance venue. Soon, people started coming around to scout Pappy’s. She discovered it was McCartney’s people about two weeks ago.
Celia quickly agreed to the date McCartney wanted.
“I’m a huge fan of the Beatles,” she said. “I’m a huge fan of Wings. I was really happy. He’s brought so much joy to everybody’s life.”
More than 1,000 people were turned away after co-presenter KCRW public radio announced the concert at 9 a.m. Thursday.
McCartney asked the crowd how many people were actually from Pioneertown and got a large cheer.
McCartney played a significantly different set than he played Saturday at Desert Trip. He added the Wings songs “Band on the Run” and “Feel Like Letting Go,” and Beatles songs such as “Yer Birthday” and “I Saw Her Standing There," which was the final encore of the 90-minute show. He didn't do his tributes to his late Beatles colleagues John Lennon and George Harrison or big production numbers such as "Live and Let Die," "A Day in the Life" and the "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight" medley that ended his Saturday Desert Trip set.
This gig didn’t include a guest appearance by Neil Young, as his show at Desert Trip did. But his wife, Nancy, was in the audience at Pappy’s with the great British artist, David Hockney, adding to the family feel of the evening.