Paul McCartney: What Becomes a Legend Most?
Photos by Jim Bricker
Somewhere outside London, or perhaps Liverpool, must be a warehouse that stores all the raw materials used to create the collage that scrolled down the two giant vertical video screens flanking the Minute Maid Park stage Wednesday. This thing had photographs, newspaper clippings, postcards from Liverpool, tour paraphrenalia (Wings lapel buttons) and, in a nifty bit of multimedia gimmickry, vintage newsreel footage spliced in.
Wherever all that stuff is, physically, it all exists, and is all related to one man. One of four men who, while they are/were alive, could honestly say that the music they created changed the course of human civilization. Very much still alive, Sir Paul McCartney told the MMP crowd that when he became the first rocker to play Moscow's Red Square, the Russian Defense Minister told him he learned English by listening to Beatles records: "Hello goodbye, haha."
How does one human being process that kind of information? With a smile and a nod, probably. What else do you do with it?
After years of only knowing Paul McCartney, icon, Wednesday I went in wanting to see if I could discern anything about Paul McCartney, human being, but also Paul McCartney, musician. Not to be overly grim, but all those "Bucket List" signs scattered around Minute Maid weren't there for nothing. He seemed to be a very fit 70, practically bounding up the steps to his piano before final medley "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End," but 70 is still 70.
Paul was talkative and a little spacey, about halfway there to Dana Carvey's famous dingly-dingly-doo SNL caricature. (Is there anyone left on the planet, even in England, who seriously thinks this city is pronounced HOO-ston?) Besides the Red Square story, and the Jimi Hendrix/Eric Clapton tale Craig already told you about (very cool), he talked about how watching footage from the Deep South in the mid-'60s inspired him to write "Blackbird."
That was pretty human. So were his eyebrows, which would have been singed off in the pyro of "Live and Let Die" if he had any to start with. And it's a good thing he keeps his nose hair trimmed, because that's the kind of thing that would be pretty noticeable when you're 50 feet tall.
On to the musical part. If there is one main thing I enjoy about Beatles songs, which can admittedly be tough to pin down, it's generally the bass lines. I used to dabble in bass, and watching his fingers work over the frets on the walking shuffle of "All My Loving" brought it all back.
The melodies he crafted could almost go without saying, but Wednesday we could start the meter at "All My Loving," "The Long and Winding Road," "I'm Looking Through You," touching Lennon tribute "Here Today" and "Blackbird" and keep going all the way through "Day Tripper," "Lady Madonna" and "Hey Jude." Throw in a monster riff like "Helter Skelter" or two and you've got a show where if anyone said they wanted their money back, however much they paid for a ticket, they'd be lying.
One other thing that stood out Wednesday was that people paid attention to the show and not their neighbors, unless they were dancing with them or stealing a kiss. We were sitting pretty close, so the parade of people running up towards the stage to take pictures and negotiating with security created a few comic moments. (Some of them snuck some pretty elaborate camera equipment, like a damn video camera, but Paul probably doesn't mind that much.)
Other than that, the show was remarkably free of distractions, especially for one as enormous as it was. The video screen behind McCartney showed all kinds of things. But minus that one little bit of pyro in "Live and Let Die," which was pretty impressive, McCartney held some 40,000 people spellbound for three hours using nothing more than the four other guys onstage with him. The one single moment I think I'll take away from Wednesday night came during "Something," when the entire ballpark began softly singing the words back to McCartney.
Unbidden. That kind of thing will get you every time. A close second was the "na na na na... na na na na... na na na na... hey Jude" section of "Hey Jude," which lasted a full three minutes and 40 seconds. I timed every last cheesy second of it with my watch as the video screen showed the crowd singing along. Beautiful.
Wednesday night did not change my opinion of McCartney or the Beatles all that much. I already thought most of their songs were pretty great. I was pleasantly surprised by a couple that I didn't know that well, "Mrs. Vandebilt" (another Russian tune) and the bluesy workouts "Junior's Farm" and "Let Me Roll It." All in all, between his goofy stage banter and his multiple efforts to gauge whether or not HOO-ston was having a good time (it was), it seemed to me that Sir Paul himself was happiest in moments like the Spencer Davis Group-style "I Got a Feeling," when he was just jamming with the other guys onstage.
So I got what I came for after all. Paul McCartney, musician.
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