Energized by the desert air and memory of his late wife, a playful and passionate Paul McCartney riffed on “Foxy Lady,” led an after-midnight “Hey Jude” singalong and dedicated songs to his former bandmates at the Coachella music festival that kicked off Friday.
McCartney took off his black jacket five songs in and didn’t put it back on for the next 29, strutting the stage in boots, black pants, a white shirt and suspenders that he tugged at wryly.
“It’s going to be a good weekend, dear,” he told the crowd of thousands gathered for the three-day festival, which erupted in cheers with the first chords of Beatles tunes like “Eleanor Rigby.” It was McCartney’s first appearance at a U.S. festival as a solo artist.
In the 2½-hour set, including two encores, McCartney dedicated “Long and Winding Road” and “My Love Does It Good” to his late wife Linda, who died at the couple’s ranch at Tucson, Ariz., 11 years earlier to the day.
“It’s an emotional day for me. That’s good, that’s OK,” he said, pounding his chest. “Lot of heart, lot of emotion.”
Before a moving performance of “Blackbird,” he noted that it had been written in response to the 60s civil rights movement. “Now you’ve got President Obama. Yeah, you know we’ve come a long way.”
Switching from serious to cheerily self-aware, he led call-and-response chants only to wave them off quickly as “messing around,” and dismissed signs held by front-row fans — including one that asked for his guitar pick.
“No! It’s mine!” McCartney said. “Anyway, if I make a mistake, I can blame the signs.”
There were mistakes. McCartney was proficient but sometimes out-of-sync with the four-man band backing him. But he clearly enjoyed himself, plowing through songs from his “Fireman” album, “Band on the Run” from the Wings, and Fab Four favorites like “Back in the USSR,” “Paperback Writer” and, for the finale, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
McCartney launched brightly into “Something” with only his voice and a ukulele he said was given to him by George Harrison, before his band mates and the crowd joined in.
The first day of the festival also featured Morrissey, Leonard Cohen, the Hold Steady, Franz Ferdinand and the Ting Tings. It drew a number of young Hollywood stars to this desert city southeast of Palm Springs.
Anne Hathaway was spotted in the VIP area wearing patterned harem pants and a cardigan, while Morrissey’s set drew the attention of “Twilight” actor Robert Pattinson, wearing skinny cut-off jeans, and Kirsten Dunst in a short-sleeve mini-dress. Kate Bosworth, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Chloe Sevigny and Zoe Kravitz were also spotted in the VIP area.
Police reported 18 arrests for drug- and alcohol-related crimes, and fire officials took three patrons to hospitals.
Las Vegas-based The Killers and M.I.A., a replacement for Amy Winehouse, headline a more youthful Saturday lineup. My Bloody Valentine and The Cure cap off Sunday night.
The recession has forced music festivals nationwide to lower prices or downsize, and three-day, $269 tickets to Coachella were available on a layaway plan. Single-day tickets were $120 at the door. Organizers have not yet announced attendance or ticket sales.