24 July 2009

Paul McCartney - July 21, 2009

I was one of the thousands - but few - lucky enough to see Paul McCartney perform earlier this week at the new Citi Field/old Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens, the same place The Beatles made their US stadium debut practically half a century ago, and I'm still not sure what to say.

I know this sounds trite but seeing a Beatle perform so many songs from the classic Beatles catalog was mesmerizing. This was on top of witnessing the greatest stage personality I've ever seen. Paul McCartney is the definition of a consummate performer, a person who transforms an empty stage into a spectacle. It was so genuinely thrilling to see a man who has been singing some of the same songs for 50 years make them sound incredibly fresh and to add to it, seem really excited to be singing for the crowd. At one point he even stopped to "take it all in" while the audience roared with happiness at the sight of a musical giant appreciating their presence.

And you know, this could sound a little over dramatic if not for the fact that this concert was supremely dramatic on its own. I am not embarrassed to say that I cried about three separate times. Of course I didn't tear up for the same reasons the young girls did back in '65 but I cried because of the overwhelming nature of it all. The thousands upon thousands of fans that paid hundreds of dollars to see their idol, the huge stadium with larger than life flat screens displaying one of the only remaining music legends, and the sound of the music that has filled billions of ears for decades with music that will never go out of style. How does someone create that kind of music? It is so untouchable. I can't get my mind around it.

In my own life, The Beatles' music never really trumped other bands of that era and occasionally I resented how much praise they would receive when other bands seemed to be just as impressive and innovative. In the end it was George Harrison who helped me to appreciate The Beatles the way they rightfully deserved. Through Harrison's songs, I saw the epitome of what a musician should be. Songs like "Something", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Here Comes the Sun", etc. were clearly not just 'songs', they were little stories set to these eerie, dream-like sounds that were inescapable. I still don't know what Beatles song is on what album (for the most part) but they are always a solid part of a playlist and I can listen to them for hours on end without even realizing it. They're not a favorite band for me because they become part of the atmosphere - like they were always there and always belonged there.

Upon seeing McCartney, I knew this was one of those unforgettable musical moments but I didn't know how it would reach me on a personal level. His solo songs had always been hit or miss for me. I'm now a little ashamed to admit that. Every single song within the set list Tuesday night was just as good - if not better - than the next. Whether it was a Fireman song, Wings song, or Beatles song, the sound was so good and McCartney's voice was impeccable. This was not a 67 year old man rocking out for one last time, this was a musician doing his job to perfection and ready to go do 500 more shows afterwards. Not once did this man take a sip of water or falter throughout a 2 1/2 hour, 33 song set.

Some of the highlights came in the form of tributes to the fallen Beatles. "Here Today", a song written after the death of John Lennon, was not only a beautiful moment dedicated to the musical master but a standout performance that spoke of the pain that is clearly still there years later. In this and several other songs it seemed like he would get quite a bit choked up which was unbelievably touching. McCartney's solo performance of "Something" in honor of Harrison started with just a ukulele and ended with a full blown rendition of one of the most beautiful songs ever written. All along the way, McCartney would sprinkle little anecdotes about the Beatles or make facial expressions to show his disbelief at the crowd's immense enthusiasm. The guy was so humble in the face of so much acclaim that it was impossible not to fall in love with him a little.

One of my favorite moments came early in the set when he dedicated "My Love" to his late wife Linda, a New York native. Once again, the emotions were high and I couldn't believe the coziness he could bring to a 42,000 seat stadium. My other favorite - contrasting- moment had to be the flames on stage during "Live and Let Die" and the random fireworks display that shot up seemingly from nowhere. In any other concert that would've been overkill, at a Paul McCartney concert it seemed appropriate.

From the moving piano performance of "The Long and Winding Road" to the uptempo "Band on the Run" to the Beatles-only encore of audience favorites, this concert could not have been better orchestrated. It would also be unfair to not mention the incredible band that sounded fresh and natural, not at all imposter-ish.

Just look at this crazy set list:

01. Drive my Car
02. Jet
03. Only Mama Knows
04. Flaming Pie
05. Got to Get You into My Life
06. Let me Roll It/Foxy Lady
07. Highway
08. The Long and Winding Road
09. My Love
10. Blackbird
11. Here Today
12. Dance Tonight
13. Calico Skies
14. Mrs Vanderbilt
15. Eleanor Rigby
16. Sing the Changes
17. Band on the run
18. Back in the USSR
19. I'm Down
20. Something
21. I've got a Feeling
22. Paperback Writer
23. A day in the Life/Give Peace a Chance
24. Let it be
25. Live and Let Die
26. Hey Jude

1st encore
27. Day Tripper
28. Lady Madonna
29. I Saw Her Standing There

2nd encore
30. Yesterday
31. Helter Skelter
32. Get Back
33. Sgt Pepper's reprise/ The end

Very little could top that, whether you're the biggest fan or just a bystander.

All Photos courtesy of WWW.EXAMINER.COM

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