A Paul McCartney show these days is a music history lesson wrapped in a plea for understanding with a side order of “Remember when they made music and you actually cared about knowing the words…?”
Sir Paul gets a bad rap.
Part of this I attribute to the influence of a certain generation of music critics, those for whom the term “snark” might have been invented, and many of whom resent anything and everything Beatle related. They have long crusaded against all things Beatle and especially against Macca, because he’s not John and because he’s not George, and because – Wings (which had its terrific moments and some damned silly ones, too).
Then, too, Sir Paul made that unforgivable decision, the one either Dave Marsh or Greil Marcus (I forget which – and that says something about the importance of critics vis a vis artists, kids) called “the decision for pop.” He’s focused on writing songs that get denominated pop no matter how hard they rock or how brilliantly they incorporate his many musical influences. The Cute Beatle he is the The Cute Beatle he shall remain. I have a response – and I know I don’t speak for Paul – but I wish I did, because I’d say…
Ah, to hell with you haters.
No one in popular music had made a contribution as wide ranging, as influential, as consistent as Sir Paul McCartney.
Yes, he made “Say, Say, Say.”
To quote another badly misunderstood guy, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
I saw Paul for the second time Thursday night. It was a spectacular show – and probably the equal of the best rock show I ever saw. (That would be The Who in 1976.) The opening act was a 20 minute video that used mash-ups, covers by a range of artists, and even some actual Beatles/Wings/Paul music as sound track for a series of images that covered the man’s entire life. He pulled no punches (well, he sort of ignored Heather Mills, but he gave her $60 million to go away, so if he wants to ignore her, that’s his prerogative).
What made this show special was that Paul has come to terms with his age. Even though he’s not the singer he once was (no one is the singer at 72 that he was at 22 or 32 or 42 or…you get my drift), he sings more bravely now than he did when I saw him for the first time in 2002. There’s also a plaintive quality in his singing that he used to gloss over. He’s learned to use that – and nowhere was it used to better effect than in one of his solo spots when he talked about his love for John Lennon and sang the tribute “Here Today.” The jumbo screens that showed McCartney in close up also showed a guy who still cries a little when he sings about his friend. As I have written before, Paul is a brave guy who takes chances and sometimes falls on his face. Isn’t that what we want from our artists?
The show also offered a couple of surprises. He covered more Wings material: “Listen to What the Man Said,”Let Me Roll It” (with a drop in from Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” and an after song anecdote about Hendrix and Clapton), “1985,” “Live and Let Die,” and, of course, the alma mater “Band on the Run.” Here he is doing that one:
It’s also nice to go to a concert where everyone knows the words. As we have become more and more siloed both by the distributed culture and by our manipulation at the hands of those whose interests are best served by dividing us, one of the few possibilities for drawing us together might be music. That won’t happen, of course – the music made available to the masses is music that has become completely commodified and is produced in assembly line fashion using – hell, probably an algorithm if my ears are working correctly. Its sameness is such that even those who are fans mix songs up.
That is not the case with McCartney’s work with and after the Beatles. The set list took us from early Fabs’ work (“All My Loving”) to his most recent album NEW which has a plea for us to find our humanity, “Everybody Out There“:
There, but for the Grace of God go you and I
We’re the brightest objects in the sky
There, but for the Grace of God go you and I
Do some good before you say goodbye
As is always the case, McCartney was humble and lovable. It’s part of his shtick as I’ve mentioned. But it seemed much less of a shtick this time. McCartney seems a genuinely humbler guy. The loss of dear ones (Linda, John, George), the discovery that even Paul McCartney can be suckered by a gold digger, his recent health scare – all this has made Macca realize his mortality and appreciate his happiness. And it showed in his performance. He sang “Maybe I’m Amazed” with a freedom that told the audience that he would always love Linda. And he sang “My Valentine,” his song for his current wife Nancy, with a tenderness and appreciation that clearly came of knowing he was lucky to find someone who might actually love him for something besides that he is Macca, Sir Paul, a Beatle.
The show closed (well, the second and final encore) with “The End” from Abbey Road. And Paul sang those closing words with the conviction of an evangelist:
And in the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make
Maybe that’s how Sir Paul sees himself now – as an evangelist for the power of music and love to unite us – a role he picks up from fallen comrades.
If he does, the role suits him. With his charm, looks, and talent, he could be big….