August 1, 2011; 8:02 p.m. I’m sitting here at my computer and about 300 miles from here Sir Paul McCartney is getting ready to take the stage for his second night at Wrigley Field. I should be there. But in the latest addition to my list of really goddamn poor decisions, I decided to come back. Twenty-four hours ago I was at Wrigley on a sweltering summer night getting ready to see Sir Paul perform live for the first time. Tonight I’m trying to make up for my absence by listening to Macca’s Good Evening New York City. About last night’s show …
Something I’ll never forget: Paul McCartney taking the stage. Dressed in a powder blue jacket and black slacks, Macca strolls out, waves to a sell-out crowd going ape-shit, and launches into “Hello, Goodbye.”
Side note No. 1: For what may be the first time in my life, I’m starstruck. As a simple midwestern boy, there haven’t been many opportunities for brushes with greatness … or even with mediocrity that happens to be famous. I’ve been to hundreds of concerts, but standing there listing to Sir Paul tell me I say “goodbye” but he says “hello,” all I’m thinking is that’s a fucking Beatle up on stage. There’s no schoolgirl squealing coming from me, though I might have actually blushed.
McCartney and his excellent band blow through several more songs, including the Beatles’ numbers “All My Loving” and “The Night Before.” Around this point I start regretting that third pre-concert beer as I become acutely aware of my need to piss. Then the band launches into “Let Me Roll It”–one of my favorite Wings songs–and I’m determined that I’m just going to have to hold it. No way I’m missing one minute of this set. At the end of the song, McCartney & Co. tack on the guitar riff and solo from “Foxy Lady.” If you think Macca can’t get any cooler, after the song wraps up he talks about hanging out with Jimmy Hendrix when he was just starting out. Then after rocking through “Paperback Writer,” Sir Paul bounces (yes, bounces) over the piano for “The Long and Winding Road.”
This is shaping up to be a phenomenal show. And it occurs to me that it’s really not fair to compare other artist’s concerts to a Paul McCartney show. Not when he’s got the Beatles catalog to pull from and they are his songs! Seriously — what competes with that? The Beatles are the first band I can remember listening to–courtesy of parents who were fans and listened to them often. On 8-track, no less! (Google that, kids)
Side note No. 2: People often categorize themselves as either “Beatles” people or “Stones” people. I don’t have a problem with that, since it makes some sort of statement about your musical preferences. What I don’t get at all is the occasional comment from “Stones people” about how they don’t like the Beatles. Sometimes they even say the Beatles are overrated. If you believe that, even just a bit, then I don’t understand you. Is sunshine overrated? Is sex overrated? Do you think there is anything good in life? Maybe you think dissing the Beatles makes you sound like and edgy and cool critic. Sorry–it makes you sound like the village idiot.
We’re about a third of the way through the show, and things are about to go up another notch. Macca does a couple more Wings songs at the piano, and I’m trying not to get my hopes up because if I hear the opening notes to “Maybe I’m Amazed” I’m going to lose my shit. Then I hear the opening notes. Fuck me! At that moment, if Sir Paul told me to live under the bleachers of Wrigley Field and clean the bathrooms after a double-header with a toothbrush–with my toothbrush–I might do it. If he told me to become a Cubs fan, I might … okay, that’s not true. I’m worshiping the guy, but there are limits.
After a couple more songs, we get to something else I’ll never forget: Paul McCartney, standing alone on stage, an image of a full moon projected behind him, playing an acoustic guitar and singing “Blackbird” while thousands of people sing along with him. It’s one of those moments where there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than right there, right then. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it now.
Then things get intense.
Macca, still alone on stage, introduces the next song by talking about how important it is to tell people how you feel about them when you have the chance. Yes, it’s corny and cliché–until Macca adds that he wrote the song after John Lennon died and the inspiration is a conversation he never got to have with him. The song is “Here Today,” and it simply slays the entire crowd. Over forty thousand people and–to break out another cliché–you could hear a fucking pin drop on the infield grass of Wrigley Field. If you didn’t know the real subject of the song, you might think it’s about a long-lost love and it would still carry a certain amount of emotion. But when you know it’s one half of the greatest songwriting team in rock history singing to the other half, it’s simply amazing. For those not familiar with the song:And if I said I really knew you well what would your answer be If you were here today Well knowing you, you’d probably laugh and say that we were worlds apart If you were here today But as for me, I still remember how it was before And I am holding back the tears no more No, no, no I love you What about the time we met Well I suppose that you could say that we were playing hard to get We didn’t understand a thing, but we could always sing What about the night we cried Because there wasn’t any reason left to keep it all inside Never understood a word, but you were always there with a smile And if I say, I really loved you and was glad you came along And you were here today For you were in my song Here today
Aaannnd … I’m crying. As the band comes back on stage, I briefly worry about getting composed. Then I experience a quick reality check and remember we’re at a Paul McCartney concert and no one give a shit about me and my stupid tears. That, and I suspect quite a few others were doing the same thing I was doing.
Side note No. 3: Another way people categorize themselves is via Lennon/McCartney. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, too. I’ve always been a Lennon-guy. Lennon was the thoughtful, slightly brooding Beatle. The smart one to Paul’s cute one. At some point this notion became kind of ridiculous to me. Why do I have to like one at the expense of the other? Maybe Macca’s song catalog is not your favorite stuff, but how can anyone deny that he wrote some pretty goddamned catchy tunes? It’s time to let such things go. After all, John has been gone for 30 years. For the time being, we still have Paul. Lighten up, sit back, and enjoy him already.
We’re about two-thirds of the way through the show now, and I’m no longer conscious of my need to piss. Paul McCartney puts on such a great concert that urination is no longer necessary. I wonder if that idea has been expressed before by anyone writing about one of his concerts. Do you think he’d be proud to add that to his legacy? Sure he would, right??? I feel so proud.
A stagehand gives Macca a ukulele, and Macca talks about how great George Harrison was at playing that instrument. He adds that this particular ukulele was given to him by Harrison. I have a thought I had earlier in the show when Sir Paul told us that the guitar he was playing during “Paperback Writer” was the one used when that song was recorded. How much money do you think his traveling guitar/ukulele/whatever-else-is-backstage collection is worth? And is it really a good idea to lug that kind of stuff around where something could happen to it? Yes, I actually had that thought during the show–the curse of being trained as a lawyer. God I suck.
Macca then does a tribute to George by playing “Something,” starting with just the ukulele in a sweet little rendition of the song before the band roars to life and once again we’re in a full-on rock show. Next is “Band On The Run,” then a string of Beatles tunes: “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “Back In The U.S.S.R.,” “I’ve Got A Feeling,” “A Day In The Life” (with “Give Peace A Chance” added at the end). Goddamn I’m in rock heaven.
The pace slows a bit, as Sir Paul takes up the ivories again with “Let It Be.” Then we find out why it’s an outdoor show, because what the band does with “Live And Let Die” would’ve blown the roof off of any fucking venue that had one, even without the fireworks an other pyrotechnics. As rockets shoot into the air and fire blasts from the front of the stage, I start laughing uncontrollably. Not because of the spectacle of it all, but due to a moment of pure, unadulterated joy that can’t be contained and must be expressed. Then the song ends and the crowd is in such a frenzy that the cheering is even louder than the last song. It’s like the crowd at a Cubs game. Okay, I’m fucking with you. No way Wrigley Field has even been that loud at a Cubs game.
Paul takes it all in, and then a wildly painted piano is wheeled out to the front of the stage and he closes the show proper with “Hey Jude.” Then two encores of all Beatles, including a blistering “Helter Skelter.”
Side note No. 5: Another pretty well know act has toured stadiums for a while now, too. You might have heard of them. Years ago U2 put out a record called “Rattle and Hum” that included a live version of “Helter Skelter” where Bono introduced it by saying Charles Manson stole that song from the Beatles and U2 was stealing it back. Well, I like U2 and all, but the song ain’t theirs to keep. Macca made that clear as he belted out the chorus with a fervor that would be hard for someone half his age to match. Macca also gave U2 a little dig during the encore. After acknowledging his great band, he guaranteed the audience that there weren’t any musicians hidden under the stage. Most of the crowd didn’t get it. Macca said it was an inside joke, but I got it. A little secret of U2’s tour is that there are musicians hidden under their stage that play along with them to fill out the band’s sound on some numbers. This allows the songs to have their full sound but maintains the illusion that it’s just the four U2 members playing the song (three members, really, since Bono rarely plays an instrument). It might be a joke, but I think Macca’s subtle little jab was a reminder to U2 that you boys may be big in the music world, but you’re not a Beatle.
Finally, after almost three hours, Macca tells the crowd that the next number would be the last song of the night and it was time to go home. This elicits the first negative reaction from the crowd, a crowd that would have stayed for another hour or two if Macca kept playing. Looking around Wrigley, there were no empty seats. No one leaving to beat the traffic or any bullshit like that–anyone cutting out of this show early just to get home a few minutes early deserved a good bitch-slapping. Just forty-some thousand people united for three hours by an extraordinary set from a youthful-looking 69-year-old legend singing his heart out like it was the British Invasion all over again.
Wonderfully, even if predictable, the show wraps with Macca reminding us that the love we take is equal to the love we make. The perfect ending to a perfect show.
To Sir Paul … thank you.