Paul McCartney, Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tennessee, July 26th, 2010
A Paul McCartney concert makes up for every bad show you’ve ever seen in your life. Seriously.
Before it starts, a McCartney megamix with “Say, Say, Say,” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” plays on the house speakers, as a Beatles montage scrolls down the screen — kind of weird, but then, McCartney is music. Why play anything else? The thought crosses my mind: What if Paul McCartney played only Paul McCartney and Wings songs, then said “All right, goodnight!” What a let down that would be.
But that wasn’t the case.
McCartney starts out the concert like it’s an encore; he comes out and soaks up the cheers for a good 30 seconds, then launches into an acoustic number, which quickly becomes electric.
The song he’s playing turns out to be Wings’ “Rock Show”:
They’ve got long hair at the Madison Square
You’ve got rock and roll at the Hollywood Bowl,
We’ll be there . . . Ooh yeah . . . .
From where I sit, (section one, row 9) the sound is pretty, pretty good. Up close, Paul looks to be about 40 years old (he’s 68) – all those veggie burgers must be working out for him – and he’s got “playful” written all over his face.
Then there’s his band: the drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr., who resembles Buddha with his big belly, bald head, and twin hoop earrings; Rusty Anderson, the long time McCartney guitarist who just put out his own solo album, Born On Earth. The keyboard player, Paul “Wix” Wickens, who’s in charge of providing the horns and string sections as well (you know he must be rocking some pretty sweet gear). And then there’s Brian Ray, the guy I dub the Silver Fox, who plays bass, rhythm and lead guitar, and can rock a smile all throughout a song like “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”
“It’s great to be back,” McCartney says, cryptically (while he lived here for six weeks on Curly Putman’s farm in the 70’s, this is his first ever Nashville show, if you can believe that). “It’s such a cool scene, I’m going to take a second here just to take it all in, for myself.”
Then he slams into “All My Loving,” while vintage images of screaming girls in the throes of Beatlemania are projected behind him. He takes time during the song to nod and wink to a fan in the front row holding up a sign for that very song. “Why do I get the feeling we’re going to have some fun here tonight?” he asks afterwards.
During the next song, a Wings tune I’m not familiar with, I glance behind me to see a little rocker kid in his father’s arms, who’s singing along earnestly to the chorus: “oh, I feel like letting go.” (Hopefully not in his pants.)
Weird indication we’re in 2010 – images of Beatles Rock Band Paul appear behind McCartney during “Got To Get You Into My Life,” a performance which is both blistering and ecstatic. Macca flubs a lyric, which he later explains is because he was busy reading the handmade signs in the crowd. Even though he tries not to, he says, there’s a little voice in his head telling him “go on, read them.”
Then there’s Paul McCartney, historical figure. At the tail end of “Let Me Roll It,” the band starts riffing on “Foxy Lady,” which prompts McCartney to tell a story about how he watched Jimi Hendrix cover “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in a club, a mere two days after the record came out. Except he took a big whammy bar solo, which caused his guitar to go out of tune. “Where’s Eric,” Hendrix asked when it was over; Eric Clapton was also there, cringing down. “Can you tune my guitar for me?”
After “I’m Looking Through You,” the band launches into a goofy, almost discordant Latin jazz riff, later revealed to be not some obscure Wings song, but a cover of the Champs’ “Tequila.” “I don’t know why we’re doing this,” laughs Paul as they bring it to a merciful close.
Fourteen songs in, and things are pretty amazing, and the stage hasn’t even exploded yet (that’ll come later). Standing at the front with an acoustic guitar, he starts a rap about how he wrote this next song for people in in places where they didn’t have hope, so that they’d know what freedom was about. For a second, I get nervous, thinking he’s about to bust out “Freedom,” his post- 9/11 summer camp sing-along (I’m not a fan). Maybe he’s pulling it out special just for patriotic Nashville? But it turns out he’s actually introducing “Blackbird,” and you can’t go wrong with that. Any student guitar player’s greatest challenge, “Blackbird” doesn’t look so difficult when it’s Paul McCartney playing it. “All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free.”
Next, he starts talking about how sometimes you want to tell somebody something, but you end up waiting, and then it’s too late. This song, he says, is for my friend John, and gives the crowd ample time to cheer for John Lennon, as the house lights go up. It’s an extremely powerful moment, and McCartney’s falsetto-laden performance of “Here Today,” another song I’ve never heard before, is easily one of the night’s highlights.
Speaking of highlights, McCartney whips out a ukulele for “Something” (“let’s hear it for Georgie!”), and sings a few verses solo, before the whole band kicks in, and the song morphs into the full-on, stereophonic version. It’s thrilling. You almost forget that Paul didn’t sing it originally, it sounds so perfect.
You can play all the Wings songs you want after that; concert nirvana has been reached. Instead, he busts out “Sing The Changes,” which turns out to be a thoroughly enjoyable number from his latest solo album, Electric Arguments. By this point, we’re twenty-two songs in, and McCartney is becoming more animated as the night goes on. How many 68-year-olds can do anything for three hours straight, let alone give an epic rock concert for an arena full of fans? He fires off a tasty guitar solo in “I’ve Got A Feeling,” perhaps the hardest rocking Beatles song on record when you really get down to it. Oh yeah, he’s not just the greatest songwriter of his generation and a brilliant bassist; he plays a mean guitar as well.
Encore time (or at least it would be, if he ever left the stage). “If you wonder why we’re switching up these guitars all the time….it’s because we’re showing off,” he jokes, before pulling out the original guitar he used to record “Paperback Writer” on, in order to better play “Paperback Writer.” “A Day In The Life” is a sublime song choice, but the transition into Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance” is jarring. This is 2010; nobody’s giving peace a chance. But we probably should. One more time… “Let It Be,” which can come off as hokey, can still make a grown man cry. And to paraphrase Bob Dylan (“nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell”), nobody can sing “Hey Jude” like Paul motherfucking McCartney.
I start to deeply wish my own Dad was here to see this. A child of the Sixties, the Beatles are one of of the few bands he still likes; I learned to enjoy rock and roll from listening to his Fab Four records. He always preferred George, but I’m pretty sure by the end of the night, he’d have a new favorite Beatle.
And then it’s time for Paul McCartney and his exploding stage. “Live And Let Die,” his most bombastic tune, comes complete with fireworks and pyro shooting from the stage. That’ll get your heart going again, should it have somehow stopped.
The strange thing about seeing a Paul McCartney concert is, after three hours, you actually feel lighter, your feet hurt less — buoyed on by Paul’s constant smiles and some of the greatest music ever committed to tape. “You little rockers, you,” he says coyly, before busting out an amped-up rendition of “Lady Madonna.” “You really love your music in this town.”
I could go on. Like how he pulled up a young teenage boy from Mexico onstage with him to boogie during “Get Back,” and it was somehow, magically, not cheesy at all, but the most heartwarming thing ever (“Glenn Beck would have had a field day with that!” I overhear one skeptic remark as we’re leaving the arena). Or how he invited a trembling woman onstage to sign the Hofner bass she’d had tattooed on her back, before melting the arena with “Helter Skelter” (the other hardest rocking song in the Beatles catalog).
I’ll just say this: in the end, Paul McCartney is now my favorite Beatle too.
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Check out the set list here.