Paul McCartney Delights In His First Ever Nashville Show

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.

* * * *

Check out the set list here.

32 Comments

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  1. Evan, I think your journaling of the Macca show was spot-on, but for A.S. readers you could have dug deeper on the “unknown” songs. Here Today has been around since Tug Of War in the 1980’s. Wix has played keys in the band since the early 1990’s. I’m not quite sure what to make of your Silver Fox comment…over on stage left the Steven Tyler/Willem DaFoe lookalike is scary and actually looked OLDER than Paul! If, as you say, you were 9 rows back in section one, tell me something I didn’t see from section 208!

    I hope to read more from you in the future at AS online. To conclude, I feel you could have held off on using the oft-repeated f-bomb between Paul’s first and last name to conclude your piece.

  2. Great review. It was a pleasure to read. And I kinda think we should all start referring to Macca as Paul Motherfucking McCartney. It has a nice ring to it.

  3. Fantastic review! Including the f word!
    Just one missed item… At least give a name to the drummer other than Buddah.. Abe laboriel, Jr is one of the finest drummers of his generation and his father Abe laboriel, Sr is one of the best bass players of his generation..
    But still a great review.
    Yosh

  4. Two words: Spot. on.

    Great show, great comments, and I for one, thought the “Blind Willie McTell” reference (as a fellow Dylan nut) was quite on point.

    Joe

  5. Sounds like the exact same show I saw 3 plus years ago, even the patter, but you know what? It was the best concert I’d ever been to in my life and I’ve been to a ton of them and seen everyone just about out there worth seeing. Paul blew my doors off in Sacramento. If I could have gotten tickets to the show here I’d have been. I regret not pushing this and taking the kids. Oh well, as long as he’s living, there may be another chance, even if I have to drive or fly to do it.

  6. just wondered why Paul didn’t introduce his band–or did I miss that? they were all fantastic and I loved every minute of this concert!

  7. Great article Evan. Clearly, you done your homework. I stayed over the next day in Nashville, bought two copies of the paper and then hit the road for Memphis.

  8. Considering Let It Be is a tribute to his mother (written a few years before Lennon’s “Mother”), it seems inappropriate to use the cliche and overused m-f verbage. But we must be a society of tail waggers and lemmings. Both Lennon and McCartney lost their moms at an early age. But instead of blaming the world and creating more grief, violence and heartache – they chose to make some great music. Paul’s still creating some great music – the passion is evident.

    Go to a McCartney show. It’s a great experience. You will see people of all ages. And you’ll see a GREAT band. I’ve seen him six times in (technically) six different cities. And I’d see him again this summer if I could.

  9. Great review! However, the author seems to have turned off his record player in 1970 – when The Beatles broke up.
    Songs like “Letting Go” and “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” are well-known songs, to put it mildly! They’re from the height of Wings-mania in the mid-Seventies. Surely, there must have been a LOT of people in the audience recognizing these and other great songs! They’re well-documented on “Wings Over America” – the live 1976 album.
    There is a tendency to downplay much of Paul’s Wings/solo output. Who knows why, as there’s SO much good music from his vast catalog. In fact, the only “complain” from long-time fans is that they wish Paul would play MORE of his solo stuff!
    But hey, he plays close to 40(!) songs, and he keeps it going for almost three(!) hours – so who can complain at all?
    Mr. Evans: Check out Paul’s solo stuff! You’ll be surprised! A pity you didn’t do it BEFORE you went to the concert…

  10. Evan –

    Solid review, but it seems like you need to do some catching up on the work McCartney has done since the Beatles era.

    As a journalist you should have done your homework on the band. If you are going to list one name, you need to get them all. Rusty Anderson has been with Paul since 2001. Abe Laboriel, Jr. and Brian Ray have been playing with Paul since 2002. Paul “Wix” Wickens goes back to Paul’s world tour in 1989. They are the best band he has had since he left the Beatles.

  11. Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens (keyboards), Brian Ray (guitar/bass guitar), Rusty Anderson (guitar) and Abe Laboriel Jr. (drums) THAT’s Paul McCartney’s band. I would think that you would do enough research to be respectful to the sidemen and find out their names and perhaps a little history of their work, however briefly you might mention it. What kind of reviewer refers to the players by their looks alone? Is this High School or an actual review of a live music show and the performers? I know it is a fantastic show but even Sir Paul would admit that his bandmates help make it so.

  12. While the writer’s enthusiasm is vividly demonstrated, I am compelled to comment on a few points that illustrate some lack of substance:

    1. “I’ve Got a Feeling” – “perhaps the hardest rocking Beatles song on record when you really get down to it”? Well at least he gives nod to Helter Skelter at the end, but for unadulterated rock, he’d do well to listen to Lennon’s vocal performance on Twist & Shout.

    2. In this day when grammar seems to be a casualty of the war on journalism, this type of sentence really irks: “A child of the Sixties, the Beatles are one of of the few bands he still likes.” I presume he’s referring to his father as a child of the 60s, but we can only guess from the dangling modifier. Credibility starts with good command of writing. Excuse me for sounding like a school marm in a rock & roll “journal”. But where are the editors?

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