After going my entire life without seeing Paul McCartney in concert I’ve been lucky enough to attend his shows in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. in the last month. It’s a bucket-list item, and I don’t know what I really was waiting for – maybe for him to turn 80, you know — but I still needed a push from my son to get off the dime and buy the Philly tickets. He saw him at U.Va. more than a year ago and, to my surprise, raved so long about how good the show was it convinced me to make the effort.
We bought. We went. My impressions? Watching McCartney is like watching Mozart or somebody, if you get me. It’s like breathing in an interactive museum piece. The history spills from the stage the second you get within sight of it with videos, photos and pre-show music highlighting the span of McCartney’s career. Finally, the last chord to “A Day in the Life” sounds and everyone knows McCartney is next up, bouncing onto the stage the 74-year-old won’t leave for 2 ½ hours, having had not one sip of water.
I am obsessed with that fact: neither McCartney nor his four band members – I don’t know their names, which is something I’ll touch on in a second – drinks a thing during the show, at least in view of the audience. The band leaves during McCartney’s acoustic set, so maybe they’re chugging water in the wings. McCartney doesn’t touch a drop of anything. Is that not weird, or am I making too much of not being thirsty?
He also doesn’t introduce his players. At both shows, he thanked everybody involved with moving the huge set all across the country and world and only glossed over his band’s actual names. In Philly, as fans cheered, I think he hastily mentioned their first names, which you couldn’t hear or understand. But in D.C. he only said “those boys can play,” and moved along. I haven’t Googled the names. I guess I will at some point. They really can play. I shouldn’t have to work to figure out who’s who, though. (I saw Lyle Lovett the next night after D.C. He calls out his players multiple times per show. I liked that better.) So I don’t get that at all, although it fits my long-held sense that McCartney is overall just kind of odd. But what genius do you know who’s not odd, right?
OK, so he doesn’t drink water, and hogs the glory. What other pithy observations do I have, you ask?
- It is impressive, to me at least, the McCartney hasn’t changed the keys in which he sings his songs, even the ones that strain his dry vocal cords. He doesn’t hit ‘em all, but he knows how to gently reach for them, and he still screams, as only he can, when the performance calls for it. No backing down.
- Unlike, say, Springsteen, who likes to run song after song together to build or maintain the momentum, McCartney stands and theatrically accepts applause for every song. It actually gets old, and the show would be even more powerful if he mixed up that pattern. He does a great “Back in the USSR,” but then it all sits there till he slides over to the piano to do “Let It Be.” The energy would crackle and pop if he sandwiched “USSR” between “Can’t Buy Me Love” and, say, “Revolution,” (which he doesn’t perform, btw.) But what do I know?
- He does plenty of Beatles’ tunes, though, starting with “Hard Day’s Night.” That’s where McCartney does play on the sense of excitement. The opening, clashing chord, seconds after he arrives on stage, is goosebump-worthy, and his performance of the song is strong.
- Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think McCartney mails anything in by any means. I think he thoroughly enjoys himself on stage; at his age, why do it if not, right? But the show is completely scripted, like a Broadway play, and by all appearances leaves zero room for spontaneity, most likely because of the intricate light/video accompaniment. If you’ve seen the show more than once, it puts off an antiseptic vibe, that’s all. Don’t like that, but oh well.
- “Temporary Secretary,” a piece of pure, techno-pap from 1980? No thank you. Ditch it, Macca! Oops, you can’t. The set is chiseled into stone. Oy.
- OK, I Googled. Band members Brian Ray (bass and guitars), Rusty Anderson (guitars), Abe Laboriel Jr., a hulking presence on drums, and keyboardist Wix Wickens. There, was that so hard?