Paul McCartney: Carrying the Weight (Live Review)
Wrigley Field – Chicago, IL
July 31/ August 1
By Anthony Kuzminski
Wrigley Field is a place of beauty but also a place of heartache. For close to a century the park has witnessed many magical moments in sports history including Pete Rose’s tying Ty Cobb’s record, Babw Ruth’s infamous called shot and Ernie Banks 500th home run. It’s also been sight to some of the most gut wrenching experiences for Chicago sports fans; so many in fact I won’t even dare to discuss them. 2011 has been a taxing year for the Cubs and Wrigley has seen more bad days than good as of late, but all of that changed earlier this week when Paul McCartney made his way onstage with no fanfare, took center stage with his four backing members and launched into “Hello, Goodbye”. The Beatles cut from Magical Mystery Tour immediately struck a chord and elicited smiles across the board the same way an out of the park home run would on a summer day however this time around, there were no obstacles in front of McCartney except himself. Over nearly three hours and thirty-seven songs (both nights) McCartney didn’t just provide a snapshot of his illustrious career but proved that despite recently turning 69, he delivers a show that in many ways is untouchable. McCartney is part of an illustrious group of musicians (who include U2 and the Rolling Stones) whose music stretches generations. There were those in the audience in the autumn of their life but right next to them was a grandchild belting out every lyric to every song. Perhaps this is one thing Mr. McCartney has an edge over U2 and the Rolling Stones with. His music doesn’t just resonate; it’s tattooed on their inner psyche. They aren’t merely familiar with the music, but know it inside and out.
Making his first stop in Chicago in six years, he took no time in taking the sold out crowd through the corridors of their lives. “Junior’s Farm” returned to the set list after a three decade absence with drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. sweeping the crowd away with his backbeat groove followed immediately by “All My Loving”, the first song the band performed on their inaugural Ed Sullivan television broadcast in 1964. When McCartney spoke to the crowd for the first time and uttered, “Tonight we’re all going to be a part of history” and despite the fact that most of the set comprise of songs more than three decades old, it never once felt like a show without purpose. “The Night Before” was performed for the first time since the Beatles released Help! in 1965 yet it felt fresh. “Paperback Writer” found the band barreling through the song like a lost garage rock classic. Usual staples “Lady Madonna” “Eleanor Rigby” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.” were strident with the crowd singing along to every word. The set was largely an amalgamation of his 2002 and 2005 tours with a few changes thrown in to add balance to those who had seen those tours, but provided enough depth to cover his entire career.
McCartney’s most successful solo work from 1973, Band on the Run was represented at each show by five of the album’s ten cuts. “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” has been dusted off for the first time in three decades and his four backing musicians provided a hypnotizing focus. “Mrs. Vandebilt” was a song you couldn’t help but be swept away by with the band gleefully kicking along to its stomping beats. “Jet” and “Let Me Roll It” were unyielding but it was the album’s title cut that was downright dynamic in arrangement and especially in performance. This current band performs the song better than anyone has previously with Brian Ray’s acoustic guitar painting pictures of the past and present at the song’s midway point as the fist-pumping chorus takes over.
The midsection of the concert found Paul McCartney on an acoustic guitar playing some of the Beatles most delicate songs and offering a tribute to two of his friends. “I’ve Just Seen A Face” is a fierce yet sweet love song, “Blackbird” is still politically potent and powerful and “I Will” has the ability to transform a heart of stone into tenderness in under two minutes. During the second show, McCartney changed the set by adding the wonderful Rubber Soul track “I’m Looking Through You” and “And I Love Her” from A Hard Day’s Night. Quiet and contemplative songs usually bring about beer runs, but the conscientious audience sat in wonderment as they whispered every last lyric. The two tributes consisted of “Here Today” for John Lennon and “Something” for George Harrison. “Something” which began by McCartney solo on ukulele only to have the full band segue into a full band version midway through the song was nothing short of stunning. John and George may both be gone but as long as their music (and their band mate continues to play) they will never be forgotten.
There were pyrotechnics galore in “Live and Let Die”, the celebratory chorus of “Hey Jude” and the ferocious guitars of “Day Tripper”, “Birthday”, “I Saw Her Standing There” (the latter two performed at the second show) and “Get Back” pushed the shows into overdrive. Each song evoked a different memory pulled from our minds and yet, you couldn’t help but feel that these songs weren’t so much about our collective pasts but who we are now. Many artists we go to see in concert o remind us of who we once were. In McCartney’s case, it’s not simply a reminder of where we came from, but our overall journey and the experiences that have brought us to where we are today. It’s a testament to the body of work left by the Beatles and McCartney. Despite the crowd’s loving reaction to the songs that defined their formative years, it was two more recent songs that struck a chord with this writer; “Dance Tonight” and “Sing the Changes”, both less than four years old. After fifty years of creating music that will be listened to centuries from now, McCartney showcased two new songs that stand among his best. “Sing the Changes” is an anthem deserving of a large audience and is as potent and vital as anything in his catalog. Released on Electric Arguments under the pseudonym of “The Fireman” it’s a startling reminder of his artistry. “Dance Tonight” is a driving pop number led by his mandolin. With the current rage of Mumford & Sons and Train’s “Hey Soul Sister” you can’t help but feel McCartney was a tad ahead of the curve. Most impressive about these songs in concert were the spirited reaction the crowd gave both numbers. People didn’t sit, they didn’t text but stood in rapt attention as they watched the world’s most successful musician to ever live prove his legacy and talent is boundless and not confined to the past. When I hear “Sing the Changes” I’m filled with the same sense of awe that the Abbey Road and show ending finale “Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End” provides. The world stands in awe of artists because they outlay their emotions allowing us to feel so alive yet we conceal our emotions in real life for fear of being hurt. We watch artists like McCartney perform on stage in a carefree manner and we all yearn to be able to convey our thoughts as freely as they do. Paul McCartney has often been derided over the years for simply never putting up a fake front and ultimately, it’s not anger we feel, but jealousy from his ability to express his love without hesitation. For nearly three hours, the sold out crowd at Wrigley Field experienced the closet form of love one can attain from another human they don’t personally know. From “I Saw Her Standing There” to “Sing the Changes” Paul McCartney gave the Wrigley Field concertgoers more than mere entertainment but road maps where the final destination is love and happiness. The only question is whether or not we’re brave enough to make that journey.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter