Paul McCartney At Madison Square Garden, Friday, September 15th, 2017, Reviewed
In Elvis Costello’s autobiography he asks Bob Dylan if he ever gets nervous before a performance, Dylan looked at him ruefully and admitted that he didn’t any more. One gets the sense that when Dylan meets Jesus he will have the same wide sombrero over his ‘fro and the same scowl on his face and the same lack of nerves. If that’s true of Dylan, it is equally true of Paul McCartney. In 2012, Paul performed at the Opening Ceremonies of the London Olympics to an estimated audience of 42 Million, why would Friday night’s concert at Madison Square Garden, at a mere 17K, give him pause? How could it really matter in the slightest? It is one of eight area concerts Paul is playing over two weeks in September, a far from sold out run. A friend of mine received an email looking for seat placers (so an auditorium doesn’t look empty, an outside agency will be hired to put asses in seats) at the Prudential.
McCartney has performed in the city quite a bit over the past coupla years, I caught him at Barclay Center in 2013 and Metlife in 2016; I guess he ran out of fans capable of paying exorbitant prices for a show they’ve already seen (except for me, I blew off Guns N Roses to see him in 2013 and Jay Z to see him last night). My point is, so what does Paulie care if he is playing MSG? Dedicating “My Valentine” to his wife Nancy Shevell, Paul mentions that she is in the audience, and before one of my favorite Wings songs, “1985,” he calls tonight a special night because he has so many friends and family members here. Yeah, been there done that. But then he proceeds to knock MSG off its feet in a forty song set that reached its apex when Steve Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen joined the band for “I Saw Her Standing There” -TWICE… I wasn’t going to write this review at all, I write about Macca quite often, simply as a live act this is my fifth time. And anyway, Ken Davis wrote so well about his Prudential Center concert earlier this week (here), I didn’t have much to add. But the length of the show, and the inclusion of an icon with a biker… what the hell right? “It’s great to be here, we have so many memories, we’ve played here many times over the year. This is a special night with friends and family in New York… A night to remember for me”. Some notes, then:
1 – It took forever for his voice to warm up, his upper register was scratchy and strained for the first half hour and only began to get right during “Maybe I’m Amazed,” ten songs in.
2 – We got a new story (to me). Recording “Love Me Do,” their first ever professional recording, at Abbey Road, the Beatles themselves had arranged it so that Lennon sang the the hook then played the harp.George Martin rearranged it because he wanted the harp to segue into the “love me do bit,” so Martin asked Paul if he could handle the singing. He was so nervous that when he listens to it today, Paul can still hear his voice quiver.
3- It’s not that Paul never performs “A Day In The Life” live on stage, he has done so 102 times, but he hasn’t played it since Oldchella, and its segue into “Give Peace A Chance” was very moving and performing it in the middle, as opposed to the end, of the set was different.
4 – In the 80s Rubber Soul (UK) was my favorite Beatles album, and in the 90s and 00s it was Revolver UK, but it is currently A Hard Day’s Night (UK). Last night’s version of “You Won’t See Me” has resurrected Rubber Soul.
5 – I would love to refresh his setlist, here are some suggestions: Tomorrow, Hold Me Tight/Lazy Dynamite/Hands of Love/Power Cut, Lonely Town (no he didn’t write it, he perfected it), Dance Tonight, Jenny Wren, Run Devil Run, Calico Skies, Take It Away…
6 – I see no record of Paul performing “Oh! Darling” live. Perhaps his greatest vocal workout (or maybe that’s “Long Tall Sally”?), it’s a toughie but I bet he could pull it off.
7 – Low lights? “My Valentine” was not very good… it never is. “Here Today” is an embarrassment.
8 – Personal Best: I mentioned “You Won’t See Me” but the surprise was a speeded up “Let It Be”. I’ve been unable to listen to “Let It Be” for decades, but by not being so precious with it he breathed new life in the moribund bummer.
9 – New songs? “Queenie Eye” was excellent, “New” was excellent, “4 5 Seconds” -Paul’s song with Kanye West and Rihanna, was better than in 2016, he has got it right and it sparkles as his best song since 2005. The chorus, which Paulie shared with us so we could singalong, goes:
“Yeah, ’bout FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ‘til Friday
I’m tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would try me
Ooh, that’s all I want”
9 – Give It A Rest: Both “Something” and “Here Today” should be put out to pasture, especially “Something”. Why not “I Want To Tell You” or if you must go with Abbey Road, “Here Come The Sun” or, god knows, “My Sweet Lord”? Or “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”? Or if you wanna get really cute, “Crackerbox Palace? Or “Any Road”?
10 – Stamina? his 35th song of the evening was “Helter Skelter”.
11 – Vegan? They were selling hotdogs… I thought that was a no no. Even Morrissey managed to stop MSG from selling meat and McCartney planned to be doing so on this tour. At the end of the evening volunteers handed out Peta Vegan Starter Kits. rock nyc editor Helen Bach represents Compassion Over Killing, tabling for local events, so she will get my copy though she certainly doesn’t need it.
12 – Politics? Not as such
13 – That Abbey Road encore is magical.
14 – And then there was the Boss. At Hyde Park in 2012, Sir Paul joined Bruce to share a stage for the first time ever. The cops pulled the plug eleven minutes after curfew after Bruce and Paulie had performed “Twist And Shout” and “I Saw Her Standing There”. It riled Little Stevie so much at the time he tweeted “English cops may be the only individuals left on earth that wouldn’t want to hear one more from Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney!” In New York we are much more reasonable: like the Goodfellas we are, you all wanna run past curfew? “Fuck you, pay me,” we say. Little Stevie joined McCartney Band guitarist Brian Ray on one mic, Bruce and Paul switched verses and joined in on the chorus, to “I Saw Her Standing There”. Then, I guess because they hadn’t rehearsed “Twist And Shout,” McCartney, ever the showman, stopped Bruce from leaving the stage and played it again. Some film is below.
Paul is 75 years old, and he performed for three hours without an intermission. I’ve seen Sir Paul many times and this was possibly the best. Not vocally, and I wish he hadn’t dumped “Listen To What The Man Said,” and he gave short shrift to all those great mid-60s singles like “Ticket To Ride,” and “Eight Days A Week”. And otherwise, you don’t need anything more for a McCartney gig to be special, it is special because it is McCartney. So consider last night the icing on the cake. Don’t know about you, but I love icing on my cake.