Paul McCartney read aloud a sign down front in the crowd that summed up the situation nicely: “Macca-holics: There Is No Cure.” First, I will post Sarah Rodman’s exuberant Boston Globe review of Tuesday night’s concert at Fenway Park, and then will offer my thoughts.
Web photo by Barry Chin courtesy of boston.com
With my wife and two friends, I had the privilege of witnessing and being swept up by Paul McCartney in concert at Fenway Park, along with about 40,000 other people. We arrived just before 5 pm and were milling around Yawkey Way outside the brick-and-green steel coliseum when a sound boomed over the parapet: the man himself had swung into a revved-up take on “Matchbox,” the Carl Perkins’ rockabilly number that The Beatles started covering in 1961. We had walked onto the property in time for the sound check, which continued for an hour in mix-tape fashion, giving us everything from “Penny Lane” and a shortened “Yesterday” to “Honey Don’t,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “San Francisco Bay Blues,” and “Lady Madonna.” Then he took a break. The baseball gates opened at 6.05 pm.
McCartney’s audience runs from kids to grandparents, 10 years to 70+. The Beatles entered American air-space in early 1964, when I was ten, so it is no surprise to me to see kids in “War Is Over” tee-shirts and wearing Beatles’ wrist watches. When McCartney or Ringo Starr comes around these days, the convenings are not exactly reunions on the audience side because many people are attending one of their live shows for the first time. There are many show veterans, for sure, but we sat near a bunch of people who kept saying, “I can’t believe I am seeing this.” On Tuesday night, McCartney had the crowd with the first notes of “Eight Days a Week,” one of the bounciest tunes of Lennon and McCartney’s. In truth, he had them before he walked on stage, but the opening chords sealed the deal. He then soared for almost three hours. With references to Wings and “Blackbird” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” the soaring thing kind of fits.
People at work the next day asked, How was it? Epic. And I don’t usually talk like that. But how else to describe a peak artistic experience by a living legend? You have to put him at the top of the pop mountain in 2013. The Stones are touring. Bruce is vital and productive. And lots of younger artists and groups can fill a stadium, but none of those are historic figures in the mold of McCartney. The combination of total creative material, broad cultural impact, and excellent performing ability is unique in this moment. Bob Dylan, as much as I enjoy and respect his art, cannot fill the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell. Paul gives you one helluva show. And everybody knows the words. The concert turns into a massive karaoke bar with the best Beatles cover-band in the world. And the lead singer is the actual guy on the records. Most of the songs he played were pre-1980, heavily tilted toward Beatles’ and Wings’ hits. From the “Maybe I’m Amazed” guy, it is an amazing experience as he keeps throwing monuments out for the crowd to catch: “Back in the USSR,” “Hey Jude,” “Paperback Writer,” “Live and Let Die,” Eleanor Rigby,” “Helter Skelter,” “Band on the Run”—you get the picture. Here’s the set list.
I have to say something about transcendence. Here’s Wikipedia on that: “…a state of being that has overcome the limitations of physical existence and by some definitions has also become independent of it.” Not to get too cosmic about it, but when Paul McCartney is on stage with only a ukelele, looking small from the grandstand but big on the video towers, and strumming the melody of George Harrison’s “Something,” and he gets to the words “You’re asking me, Will my love grow?,” and 40,000 people together join in right there with the words, “I don’t know . . . I . . . don’t know”—then “something” happens, which I can only describe as a transcendent moment. You have to be there. People get carried away. Everyone is standing. People cry. People fling their arms up. People hold their heads in their hands. And then he downshifts to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” to let everyone off the emotional hook. The classic opening notes of “Band on the Run” follow, and so forth.
From 5 pm to 11 pm, the man who must be a freak of physical nature (a good ad for vegetarians) played and sang for four hours in high gear. He gave us two encores, including another monument, the Abbey Road medley that closes with “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” It’s almost too much to absorb. This is not a golden oldies show. The songs are as fresh as can be. On “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” McCartney’s voice is as good as the first time anyone heard that perky song in 1965. I don’t know how many times he will do this again. If you have a chance to see and hear him and his band, go—and take your kids and friends. He is an artist for the ages who is here with us now. Roll over, Beethoven, indeed. And tell Mozart the news. Two hundred years from now, people will be playing and singing his compositions.
Here’s a picture from the sound check: