As Paul McCartney was a significant participant in one of the world's most incredible and historically relevant concerts of all time, it's natural, and appropriate, to list the Beatles 1966 Dodgers Stadium concert among his best. Then classification gets a little tricky. Pretty much every other appearance is tied for an excellent and well-deserved second.
There's a relevant line from one of Quentin Tarantino over-rated movies, "If you're gonna compare a Hanzo sword, you compare it to every other sword ever made..that wasn't made by Hattori Hanzo." The same applies to Paul McCartney concerts. It's difficult, even silly to compare them. To compile a limited list of an artist's top three public contributions, you have to choose something specific about the venue, setlist or it's impact on contemporary society. That's what we've tried to do:
The Beatles, Dodgers Stadium, Los Angeles, CA, 1966
As far as musical performances go, this concert is widely regarded as, wait for it, a disappointment. 45,000 fans were in attendance, and tape of the show adorns every Beatles documentary, tribute video and shoe commercial though the level of feedback from the screaming crowd put a taint on the evening. Those present for the appreciation of the band's talents rather than their stardom was grossly outnumbered. The bandmates themselves couldn't hear the performance. Ringo Starr goes so far as to admit they had begun to mail it in onstage, because no one was listening.
So, how is the Beatles penultimate live American concert, which you couldn't hear, and where the band was attacked, one of Paul McCartney's best? Rumors of the Beatles splitting up had been circling. According to intimate friend and writer, Tony Barrow, this is where they definitively chose to give up touring together. What? That's terrible! True, but if this night saved the Beatles legacy, saved them from a fate of disinterest and years of watered down appearances, and if this is what secured what has now been five additional decades of masterful Paul McCartney melodies, music and memories, then this was his best concert ever.
Wings Over the World tour, Empire Theatre, Liverpool, England, 1975
In 1957, Liverpool native Paul McCartney first appeared at the Empire Theatre as part of a local group called the Quarrymen. They later went on to be known as the Beatles and did indeed play the Empire several times in their heyday. No stranger to sentiment, McCartney's Wings Over the World tour made a poignant stop at, arguably, the place that started it all. On September 15, 1975, twenty-three hundred exceedingly fortunate McCartney fans became part of living musical history. The setlist included a few Beatles tunes, written by McCartney of course, and paid tribute to Paul's roots and was expectantly long on the man's indescribable talent. A few fans screamed though most basked in the glow of that rare, incredible confluence of beauty, art and sentiment.
Freedom Concert for New York City, Madison Square Garden, 2001
Organized by Sir Paul McCartney, if he weren't knighted already, he could be for this fantastic gesture alone. Arranged in honor of first responders and families of the victims of the 9/11 tragedy, the concert featured many of New York's and the world's finest people and performers; i.e., Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Jay Z. As he humbly occupied rather little of the stage, this may not qualify as one of McCartney's best musical performances, but it tops every list in terms of significance. The courage and dignity displayed by those who came together publicly in New York City, just a couple weeks after the horror inflicted upon not just New York, or America, but a peace and freedom loving world stands as an example to all to this day.