From the moment he walked onstage at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, Paul McCartney was a consummate professional. He had 45,000 people waiting for him; he could have taken his time and kept them waiting for as long as he wanted.
Instead, to everyone’s surprise, he began playing 15 minutes early.
At 67, the former Beatle played for two and a half hours, wowing the crowd with favorites from each of the five decades in which he has recorded and performed. It was all there: Standards such as “Hey Jude,” “Let it Be” and “Yesterday”; Wings classics (“Jet,” “Band on the Run”) and a smattering of material from his new resurgence in the past 15 years.
This was my first McCartney concert; I wanted to go simply to say that I had seen a Beatle in concert. I was expecting a good, not great show, but I was floored by the energy of the performance. His voice sounded as it did 45 years ago; the rawness of the early Fab Four hit “I’m Down,” or the smooth, matter-of-fact melodies of “Paperback Writer” – it was all there, and I never heard an off-key note or crack in his voice.
Paul McCartney has performed these songs countless times, heard the same cheers, and probably said the same things in between songs. But that night, it looked as if he were performing them for the first time. The performance was amazing, but every once in a while I would stop and think, “Oh my God. That’s a Beatle.” And the experience would reach a new level, almost surreal. Not even a 20-minute thundershower could dampen my enthusiasm.
What was the highlight? Hard to say. Aside from hearing monumental classics such as “Let it Be,” it could have been Paul’s heartfelt salute to George, playing “Something” on George’s ukulele. It could have been “Live and Let Die,” an apocalyptic performance accented with flames and fireworks shooting from the stage. But for some reason, his last song struck me the most: “The End,” the epitaph to Abbey Road, which to me always sounded like the band taking a final bow. The mostly instrumental song features each member with a solo; as they played, I pictured the Fab Four taking turns bowing out, knowing this was the last song they would play. And of course, “The End” ends with a single piano chord played repeatedly, marked by one more beautiful McCartney melody and the words: “And in the end/ the love you take / is equal to the love you make.”
I called my old roommate, who appreciates good music, and left a message on his voice mail with Paul’s music playing on it; in the pouring rain, I called my daughters out of bed so they could hear “Blackbird” and “Dance Tonight”; and I called my parents and let them hear “Eleanor Rigby.” I live blogged on Facebook, much to the annoyance of some friends, simply because I wanted to share the moment with others.
I know I’m bordering on worship here. But it was, for me, the evening of a lifetime: My idol, playing music that no one has ever come close to matching.
Paul’s backing band was respectable, but drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. almost stole the show. The large, bald man’s manic expressions on the 50-foot JumboTron were priceless, and his playing at times sounded Ringo-esque. Watching him was almost as fun as watching Sir Paul himself.
I was struck, after Paul’s last song of the set, to see hundreds heading for the exits. What? Had these people never heard of an encore? They missed not one, but two encores featuring “Get Back,” “Lady Madonna,” “Helter Skelter” and “Yesterday.” Jeez, people.
Recently a commenter to my post “20 Reasons the Beatles are the Greatest Band Ever” stated that “The Beatles are not that great of a band (dubious at best) and you fans are scared of their demise.” I disagreed, of course, but I the next generation supported me Saturday night. There were a surprising number of kids and teens there; a pack of high-school students beside me (not to mention my 15-year-old niece) knew the words to every song and danced the entire time.
The Script, the opening act? Meh. Sounded like U2 meets Coldplay. Wait, that’s redundant.
Paul McCartney, “I’m Down,” Piedmont Park, 8/15/09 (Courtesy of YouTube)