I have seen Paul McCartney in concert four times, but have never been able to express the power, magic and mystery of this experience. I spoke with a co-worker a decade back about what it was like for her seeing him at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1990. She became intense and told me that she couldn’t believe she was watching a performer who “changed the world”. I’ll never forget that conversation because it perfectly sums up the impact Paul McCartney and the Beatles had on the world.
The buzz inside Amoeba was electric. To my great amazement Ringo Starr, Olivia Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Barbara Orbison and Joe Walsh emerged from the back room to watch the impending show. A surreal evening was about to be made even more extraordinary; can you imagine a Beatle watching another Beatle? I was there to see it happen. The coolest aspect about Ringo being there is he made his way through the crowd, about half way back on the floor, to be with the fans. With Ringo firmly in place with a prime vantage point, Paul McCartney and his band quickly emerged from behind a curtain to the glee of the crowd and kicked-off their ninety-minute set with the enlivening “Drive My Car”, from 1965’s Rubber Soul (the UK version). The song sounded immediate, fresh and was surreal to see the happy cheery genuineness on McCartney’s face as he sung, “Beep beep-m beep beep yeah!”
The concert found a fine balance between the nostalgic hits of yesterday and the invigorating new songs from the tremendous Memory Almost Full, the most captivating Paul McCartney album since the evocative Flaming Pie. I know what you’re thinking, would I say this if I had not been at Amoeba? The answer is “yes”. I have been listening to this album for weeks and despite what certain cynics say, it is full of euphoric melodies and some of the most reflective lyrics of his career. The golden harmonies of “Only Mama Knows” and “Dance Tonight” provided the audience with authentic enthusiasm not so much because they were new songs but because of their wistful delivery. In the case of the latter, McCartney had a merry look on his face as he performed his mandolin, which he strummed, sawed and plucked pristinely. Anyone who feels McCartney’s best days are behind him are sorely mistaken, “Dance Tonight” is a refreshing pop single that is a perfect song for a summer drive and will make you stomp your feat in sync with the back beat. The best Beatles songs exude joy and “Dance Tonight” is no different. “That Was Me” was captivating distinctively because of the magnetism of the backing band. On the album version, the understated bass grooves lead the melody, but in concert, the band is fluid and free and justified their paychecks by taking an already “good” song and elevating it to “great” status with an organic performance. This current backing band, which has largely supported McCartney since 2002, is the best post-Beatles band Sir Paul has ever assembled. The band members blast off from the stage anytime they are with McCartney. He elevates their talents and they take his songs to new heights. “Nod Your Head” is the one song that truly revealed itself to me in concert. It struck me as a potential new metal anthem with the audience slowly nodding their heads back and forth, just like a head banger. Someone get Ronnie James Dio’s phone number and play it for him, this is a metal anthem waiting in the wings. Each of these recent songs attest to the endearing determined optimism Paul McCartney brings to us. From the Beatles first album, Please Please Me, to his most recent, Memory Almost Full, he enlightens us with songs of love, hope and redemption.
The rest of the show consisted of a pair of solo songs and a large dose of Beatles classics including “I’ll Follow The Sun”, an alluring melodic gem and one of the most simplistic songs ever committed to tape. In under two-minutes, a powerful wave of emotions gripped me more than any food, drug or liquor ever could, as I marveled at the greatness of such simplicity. Ditto “Calico Skies”, a sublime track from 1997’s nostalgic Flaming Pie, one of his best post-Beatles releases. Even though my wife was over 2,000 miles away in Chicago, the song made me feel as if she was there holding my hand. There has always been underlying resilience in all of McCartney’s work. We live in a very pessimistic world and it is essential for us to find endearing people to share our life with. The power of music, demonstrated so gleefully by McCartney, is to give us lasting memories throughout each chapter of our lives. When was the last time you heard a song that overwhelmed your emotional senses? At Amoeba Music, I was inundated with songs that are so forthright and sincere I had to pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming.
The acoustic set, performed solely by McCartney, was far more compelling and riveting than I could have imagined. During “Blackbird”, the audience was transfixed and stood in such awe that you could hear a pin drop. “Here Today”, written after the death of John Lennon, found Paul giving an emotionally wrecking performance. Without the intensity of a live performance, I never would have known this song existed. It is a prime example of how even a Beatle can continue to have music that was initially overlooked be brought back to life through the power of a live performance. I saw McCartney perform this song in 2002, but tonight was a completely different experience, as I could see the emotional reactions on his face and a slight creak in his voice made me realize that he too finds solace in music. There is a lot of darkness in the world, but music consoles all of us and helps us deal with life obstacles.
The jet screaming “Back in the USSR” found the band rejoining him on stage full of raging enthusiasm which carried over into the performance. If all of this wasn’t enough, “The Long & Winding Road” and “I’ve Got a Feeling” were redefined as the band performed these numbers as if they were the world’s greatest garage band. Just like on Let It Be…Naked, the four backing performers gave a true and raw intensity to the performance that was beyond invigorating. A live concert allows you to FEEL the music like it is a primal force. The final seven songs of the evening were all Beatles classics jolting the audience into an orgasmic state of mind. The only cover in this set was the wonderfully nostalgic b-side “Matchbox”, originally made famous by Carl Perkins in 1957, and sung coincidentally by Ringo Starr. We were so captivated that nothing could have taken our eyes off the stage. Find me any movies or book from the last thirty-years that is as powerful as a handful of Beatles tunes. You won’t, these songs don’t just live in the here and now, but will continue to inspire future generations of music lovers.
The opening chords of “Get Back” yielded a hurricane like reaction from the crowd. Every one of the six-hundred people could be seen lip-synching “Jojo was a man who thought he was a loner”. The sight of this was nothing short of pure bliss. Throughout the performance, McCartney was wildly charismatic; he joked with the audience, heckled the hecklers and flat out made us all giddy. It reminded me of the Beatles first American press conference where the world fell in love with them because of their charming magnetism. That same allure was on display for everyone at Amoeba to enjoy. The entire evening’s performance brought the audience elation through a physical and emotional release that we look for in modern music but all too often do not find. When the chorus of “Hey Jude” was sung, some people were singing for the pain they felt from their parents divorce, others for the lost of a loved one, others let go of the vulnerability they hold within and others sung at the top of their lungs for no other reason than it feels damn good. Hearing this music is powerful but seeing and experiencing it this close is cathartic. It is a rare scene to see grown men embracing each other as tears roll down their faces. This is something that occurs only at funerals and Paul McCartney concerts because the music is the key that unlocks our emotional pathways.
There is an aura surrounding McCartney that cannot be touched by any other entertainer in the world. When you see him in concert, we sit in awe because this is someone who truly changed the world for the better. While watching him deliver his best at Amoeba, I became a sentimental fool on the hill. He would have turned a cynic into a believer. The Beatles were at the forefront of the 60’s revolution and while politicians have come and gone…the Beatles still live within each of us and will continue to do so for decades and hopefully centuries. Seeing Paul McCartney in concert is a reminder that the world is full of beauty; it’s the equivalent of standing in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, looking at the stones at Stonehenge and seeing a child take their first steps in their journey of life. We all encounter hurt but songs like “Hey Jude” have the power to enlighten us and trounce torment.
The encores of “Let It Be”, “Lady Madonna” and the rousing finale of “I Saw Her Standing There” were nothing short of magnificent. We danced, sang and smiled as if we were flash-frozen in time. We danced through the night, we held each other tight and we fell in love with rock n’ roll all over again. He smiled and charmed us the same way he and three mates changed each of our lives and our world forever. McCartney brought the in-store concert at Amoeba full circle with an avalanche of emotion as we screamed and cheered, just as we did forty-five years ago for the Beatles. From the current single “Dance Tonight” to the finale of “I Saw Her Standing There” (the first track on the Beatles debut album from 1962 Please Please Me), Paul McCartney proved to us that he and his music is classic, timeless, immediate and will always be…forever young.
Drive My Car
Only Mama Knows
The Long and Winding Road
I'll Follow The Sun
That Was Me
Back In The USSR
Nod Your Head
House Of Wax
I've Got A Feeling
Matchbox - (Carl Perkins cover)
Let It Be
I Saw Her Standing There
All pictures courtesy of the AP Newswire and taken by Chris Pizzello.
Paul McCartney website
Amoeba Record Store Website
"Dance Tonight" video on Youtube
Footage of Amoeba show from Youtube
All official Paul McCartney Youtube videos