Paul McCartney Rawks Piedmont Park

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.

Other observations:

  • 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)

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  1. Stephen

    Thanks for the concert review, I also have never seen a Beatle in concert and would love to remedy that if I had the chance – particularly Paul. I too am still a huge fan and am wowed by how many people think they are overrated now/then – whatever. I just read a ‘Spinner’ article about how the band is still the most popular band in America (amongst those age 15 or older). I also don’t get why people don’t stick around for the encore, do they not want to hear the possibly best song(s) of the night? Well, anyway, thanks for the post.

  2. jb

    “Oh my God, that’s a Beatle” went through my mind too, when I saw Paul in 1990. And although I fancied myself a sophisticated fan not swayed much by special effects, I went crazy over the flashpots and lasers on “Live and Let Die.”

    Enjoyed your review. Wish I’d been there.

  3. AMD

    “Oh my God. That’s a Beatle” is what I thought when I was getting jealous. I saw Macca for ten minutes at Live Aid, but that was nothing compared to a proper gig. Sounds like a great show.

  4. Brian

    I loved the article, Peter, and am so glad that you got to be there. Nobody deserved that more than you. Even though I’m not a huge Beatles fan (I know, I suck), I’m going if Sir Paul returns to Atlanta.

  5. Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas

    Very cool (and nicely reviewed).

    I have yet to see a Beatle in concert and I’m thinking that it’s unlikely I will get the opportunity.

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  7. Rob

    I was at that concert, too! I’m an 18 year old Beatles fan, so I must agree that this was an amazing performance. Watching an idol live is an unparalleled experience.

    I would never trade this experience for anything else in the world. I loved it!

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