I am usually pretty jaded when it comes to concerts. I see about a dozen or more shows a month and have been lucky enough to witness most of music’s legends in one form or another. Sir Paul McCartney, however, has escaped me.
You see, I am not much of a Beatles fan. Sure, I appreciate the groundbreaking songs and the songwriting and wholeheartedly acknowledge their importance in the history of the world, both culturally and musically. But the Beatles were always a bit too “clean” for me. I was a Rolling Stones guy. I prefer a grungier, rawer rock and roll sound. McCartney’s solo stuff, especially later, always struck me as a bit too silly. So with that in mind, I shouldn’t be that excited to see this performance. And yet I was. Very excited. So, it seems, was everyone around me.
From the opening notes of “A Hard Day’s Night” to the last ringing note of “The End” we all sang along to every word of every song – even the new ones. Beatles, Wings, solo tunes – it didn’t matter. It was a 2 ½ hour sing-along party with smiles for miles.
McCartney is 76 but he looks much younger. And It’s true that he struggles to hit the notes like he used to. But no one seemed to care. He sounded good! He played his signature bass riffs on the Hofner, performed seated at the grand piano and organ, and he wailed on some bluesy leads on the Les Paul. He was everywhere and everything, giving his all without phoning in a single note.
His band was amazing. Guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, and keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Paul Wickens filled out the sound perfectly, replicating the recorded sounds while imbibing them with enough looseness and energy to give them life. Drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. was a joy to watch, with his constantly changing facial expressions and expressive playing.
Even though it was a festival crowd, McCartney treated it as if it were an intimate venue. Somehow the magic of the evening had this massive crowd operating as one living, breathing organism. When someone way back in the audience shouts “I love you!” Paul responds “I love you too!” How the hell did he hear that?
While there was no way he could play everyone’s favorite, I sincerely doubt that anyone left unhappy. he played early Beatles, late Beatles, solo tunes, Wings and even three new tunes. He covered all of the bases. There were even a few surprises, including the first recording by The Quarrymen – a doo-wop number called “In Spite of All the Danger” – and a ukulele version of “Something” – a George Harrison tune.
He finished the main set with a one-two punch. “Live and Let Die” had the audience going wild with enough bombast and pyrotechnics to serve as a proper crescendo. He followed it up with an otherworldly version of “Hey Jude” which left the audience drained and satisfied.
Returning to the stage for an encore, I was happy to see that McCartney corrected his mistake from the previous week by waving the actual flag of Texas (he had brandished Chile’s similar looking flag during weekend one). Launching into the reprise of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” he moved on to a scorching version of “Helter Skelter” before closing with the last half of the Abbey Road medley “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight /The End.”
I left the show much more of a fan of Sir Paul than when I came. One thing that gets me is authenticity. McCartney could easily rest on his laurels and phone it in, and yet he does the opposite. He is humble. He is real. And most of all he truly enjoys what he is doing and wants the audience to enjoy it too.