We take people like Paul McCartney for granted. He has been around forever, even before I was even born, and he will be there forever, right? I am not even sure there is such a thing as an ex-Beatle since Paul will always be a Beatle in our collective memory, but the ex-Beatle is 79 this year, 80 soon and this is certainly a milestone in life. So, you have to wonder, how long is he going to do these mega tours selling out huge stadiums and playing for almost three hours in front of an ecstatic crowd? I can’t imagine Paul McCartney retiring, and last night, he didn’t give us any sign this might be happening any time soon. He played 36 songs, with barely any interruption, and told us “See you next time” at the end of the show.
Even though the magnificent stadium – this place looks like an outdoor/indoor mall cathedral – seemed only half full when I took my seat, it filled up very quickly at 8:30 pm. I was there very early and observed the crowd for almost two hours: if most people were probably over 50-60, there were plenty of young people and even little kids. As I was looking at the people taking their seats in the first rows with envy, I was telling myself: either these people have connections that I don’t have or they have accepted to buy tickets worth a month of their rent/mortgage. It’s certainly their choice, but I am not the only one complaining about the outrageous prices. Will I ever be able to afford a seat closer to the stage?
Like Mick Jagger, whom I saw at the exact same place in October, Paul McCartney defies death and old age. There are obviously big differences. Unlike Jagger, McCartney was not constantly running the stage, jumping, or doing some knee drops, unlike Jagger, he didn’t change his outfit a hundred times: ”This will be the only wardrobe change during the entire show,” he joked when removing his jacket after a few songs. Unlike Jagger, he didn’t spend fifty percent of his time walking on a long stage extension running inside the crowd, so he naturally felt physically more distant than Mick Jagger. But this is mostly a problem for photographers like me. If there was nothing too physical during the entire concert, if he probably looked like a microscopic ant for people in the 500 sections, his performance was nevertheless remarkable. As usual, he managed to captivate the 70,000 people inside the venue at each song, as he was effortlessly switching between his iconic Höfner bass, several pianos, acoustic and electric guitars, and even a ukulele. His voice sounded the same, as I didn’t detect any weakness in his vocals, something that would be understandable for someone approaching 80. Paul looked strong and loveable as always, gently joking between songs, making faces like a young kid, and telling stories.
For almost three hours, he browsed his immense catalog with ease and grace. When I was in line in front of the stadium, looking at all the people wearing Beatles/Macca t-shirts, I was wondering: what do you play when you have had this head-spinning career? When you have written as many songs as Paul McCartney? It’s simple, you include 21 songs from the Beatles, some very well-known, and some less familiar (“She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” for example), then you add one pre-Beatles song (the Quarrymen’s “In Spite of All the Danger,” something he has repeatedly done for years), plus seven songs from your second band, Wings, and seven other cuts from your solo albums. It’s a copious recipe that you can refine from city to city without altering its success.
McCartney launched the show with a Beatles song (“Can’t Buy Me Love”) played with juvenile energy and it was followed later by plenty of these beloved oldies: “We know the songs you like,” Paul joked half-show. “When we play a Beatles song, the room lights up like a galaxy, but when we play a new song, it’s like a black hole… but we don’t care.” This is a sentence he must have said at each show for a few years, it’s a bit self-deprecating and only half true. However, it’s certain that nothing will ever supplant the Beatles in the public’s heart and soul.
Paul knows this and he didn’t forget his youth, encouraging the girls to scream loud after “Love Me Do,” and taking several moments to honor The Beatles who are not with us anymore. He mentioned George Harrison’s ukulele great skills when he played the same instrument during “Something,” and he sang a virtual duet with John Lennon during “I’ve Got a Feeling,” thanks to Peter Jackson who provided the video; one excerpt of Jackson’s movie was also projected during “Get Back.” It’s the closest I will ever be seeing the Beatles live except for the time when Ringo (in person this time) came on stage to drum for a few songs at the Dodger Stadium.
McCartney also seemed to ignore the threat of cancel culture… who still wants to mention Eric Clapton these days? He nevertheless told us about the night when Jimi Hendrix opened a concert with the brand new Beatles song “Sgt. Peppers,” and then asked “Is Eric here?” after playing the song. He wanted Clapton to tune up his guitar after some wild sonic experimentations. Earlier in the show, he played “My Valentine,” a song dedicated to his wife Nancy who was attending the show, sitting at his grand piano with video projections of Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman on the giant screens. Of all the love songs he has written, he picked this one coming with a video starring Depp, and he has played the song at each one of his recent concerts. As everyone knows Johnny Depp is in the middle of a ferocious defamation lawsuit trial against his ex-wife, and McCartney doesn’t need to make long discourse to send a message.
The visuals for the songs were beautiful and elaborated, showing old footage mixed with colorful cartoons but my favorite ones had to be the ones featured during “Blackbird” and his tribute to John Lennon, “Here Today,” as McCartney seemed to be in a forest under a blue moon, or float in space, surrounded by planets, stars and milky ways.
Whether he was playing alone with minimal effects or backed up by his great band with the use of fire and pyrotechnics (like during Wings’ “Live and Let Die”), there was barely any difference in the enthusiasm of people around me. Sure, people love fireworks and explosions, but it was not the only thing that triggered an outpouring expression of joy… But think about it, can you imagine yourself playing ukulele alone with your only voice in front of 70,000 people and getting the attention of everyone? Only Macca can accomplish that, even at 79.
Still, what pushes all these people to pay a copious amount of money to hear songs they have probably heard a million times before? It’s just a fact that these many songs mean so much to many people, and I still get emotional when I hear him play “Blackbird” or “Something” on guitar, or “Let it Be” or “Hey Jude” on piano. These are songs we have played over and over but they are magical entities living in our subconscious, they hit our amygdala and hippocampus, and they overload our brain with dopamine and other neuropeptides. it’s some explosive and addictive chemistry for happiness.
After “Hey Jude,” McCartney came back for an encore of six songs, no less, and he could have played all night long, as he was not showing any sign of weariness… At 79, McCartney has certainly nothing to prove with these marathon shows, so we can only assume he is just having a lot of fun with life? Existence usually doesn’t allow octogenarians to experience the pleasure of stadium energy. “We’ll see you next time,” he said after adding two songs that were not on the setlist and introducing his band at the end of the show. And he definitively meant it.
Can’t Buy Me Love (The Beatles)
Junior’s Farm (Wings)
Letting Go (Wings)
Got to Get You Into My Life (The Beatles)
Come On to Me (Egypt Station)
Let Me Roll It (Wings) (with Foxy Lady jam)
Getting Better (The Beatles)
Let ‘Em In (Wings)
My Valentine (Kisses on the Bottom)
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five (Wings)
Maybe I’m Amazed (McCartney)
We Can Work It Out (The Beatles)
In Spite of All the Danger (The Quarrymen)
Love Me Do (The Beatles)
Dance Tonight (Memory Almost Full)
Blackbird (The Beatles)
Here Today (Tug of War, tribute to John Lennon)
Lady Madonna (The Beatles)
Fuh You (Egypt Station)
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! (The Beatles)
Something (The Beatles)
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (The Beatles)
You Never Give Me Your Money (The Beatles)
She Came in Through the Bathroom Window (The Beatles)
Get Back (The Beatles)
Band on the Run (Wings)
Let It Be (The Beatles)
Live and Let Die (Wings)
Hey Jude (The Beatles)
I’ve Got a Feeling (The Beatles)
Birthday (The Beatles)
Helter Skelter (The Beatles)
Golden Slumbers (The Beatles)
Carry That Weight (The Beatles)
The End (The Beatles)
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – June 1975 (Volume 7, Number 1)
Smith’s final freelance contribution to Creem.
putting Nigeria on the map
back at # 1 for a third non consecutive week
not a dreamer but a steely eyed businessman and pop musician
Willie Nelson will play at the Palomino fest on Saturday
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – May 1975 (Volume 6, Number 12
Elton John came across as completely engaging
by episode nine, season four, the bastards finally got me sick of Kate!
some hooky and wildly inspired tune
Harry has the summer of his career!