It was 30 years ago Saturday (August 24th, 1989) that Paul McCartney returned to the U.S. concert stage for an afternoon press conference and performance announcing his first North American dates in 13 years — with an impromptu evening gig for industry heavies and lucky fans.
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. That afternoon, “Macca” played two warm-up numbers while the press was setting up — covering a couple of Carl Perkins nuggets — a revamped “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Matchbox” — before tearing into a pair from the new album — “Figure Of Eight,” with McCartney premiering his new Wal 5-string bass, and “This One,” featuring McCartney playing his famed Hofner “violin” bass on stage for the first time since the Beatles' 1969 final performance on the Apple Rooftop. The mini-set wrapped with a dance version of McCartney's 1980 Number One hit “Coming Up.”
McCartney was touring behind his recently released Flowers In The Dirt album, which despite stalling at Number 21 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, featured four tracks co-written with Elvis Costello, which scored McCartney his best reviews since his 1982 chart-topper, Tug Of War.
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.
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.
Hamish Stuart, who handled guitar and bass duties in the band, explained the day of the press conference that after months of wood-shedding the show, McCartney and the band were all itching to play in front of fans: “It's workin' really nicely. I'm really, I'm looking forward to it a lot. We've been rehearsin' quite a while now, we've been enjoyin' playin,' but now, we're getting close to gettin' out there on the road and really doin' it. The buildup is fun.”
Guitarist Robbie McIntosh amazed both casual and die-hard fans alike with his ability to handle every style McCartney threw at him over the course of the career-spanning show: “We're really having a good time, actually. These gigs are taking the edge off of the first gigs of the tour, which is nice. And when we go on tour, the first one of them isn't going to be our first gig. Y'know there are a nice little warm-up. It's nice and easy, we're not trying to prove anything. Y'know, we're just going to have a good time.”
After such a long time away from the concert stage, Paul McCartney explained to the crowd 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.”