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I was born at a relatively young age. Growing up consumed the better part of my childhood. As a young man I chased a lot of girls. But they kept getting away. Then I got older and even slower, so I got married. I've lived in New York City almost since before I moved here. I summer in Manhattan, which is like New York City, but with more humidity.

Here's me, without baby, thinking big thoughts. (Actually, what I'm thinking is, "Hey, these aren't Pringles!") I think I look better with baby.

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When I'm Sixty-Three
Friday, October 21, 2005

So, been a while. You’re all well I trust?

Paul McCartney played a stand at Madison Square Garden beginning September 30, and I managed to catch the first night. (And next year, when you see dozens of articles about Macca titled “When I’m 64,” remember you read it here first, sort of.) I’ve been thinking about the show, processing it, ever since. I’ve seen him 5 or 6 times, the last time in April of 2002. He’s always been quite the crowd pleaser, and as the setlist will indicate, he is hardly shy about playing Beatles songs. Indeed, if anything, I would have liked to have heard fewer Beatles songs, and a couple more from his solo canon from, say, 1970 through 2001. But we’ll get to that…

One asterisk indicates that this is the first (post-Beatles) tour on which McCartney has played the song; two asterisks indicate first US tour the song has been played. Most of the songs that are new to the set since 2002 (“For No One,” “Flaming Pie,” “In Spite of All the Danger,” “I’ll Follow the Sun,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” and “Helter Skelter”) were debuted on his European tour in 2004, which predated the current album and featured none of its songs. Three asterisks indicate songs from the new album.

Magical Mystery Tour
Flaming Pie**
I'll Get You*
Drive My Car
Till There Was You**
Let Me Roll It
Got to Get You In My Life
Fine Line***
Maybe I'm Amazed
Long and Winding Road

In Spite of All The Danger**
I Will*
Jenny Wren***
For No One**
Fixing A Hole
English Tea***
I'll Follow The Sun**
Follow Me***
Bouree (Bach) > Blackbird
Eleanor Rigby

Too Many People* >
She Came In Through The Bathroom Window*
Good Day Sunshine**
Band on the Run
Penny Lane
I've Got A Feeling**
Back in the USSR
Hey Jude
Live and Let Die

Get Back
Helter Skelter**

Please Please Me*
Let it Be
Sgt. Pepper Reprise > The End

The show is close to an hour long before the band takes the stage; first a series of paintings, presumably McCartney’s work, cycles through on the video screens. Then some cascading psychedelic screensaver-type video, very Yellow Submarine, accompanied by DJ Freelance Hellraiser, who plays tracks from the Twin Freaks record. This record is a mash-up by Mr. Raiser of McCartney tracks; for example, there was one number that combined the vocal line from “Coming Up” with the riff from “Old Siam Sir.” It’s hard to explain; check it out here. We liked it though. Then a 15-minute film that spanned McCartney’s life, getting faster and faster (say, 12 of 15 minutes devoted to the years through 1970; about the same ratio as the concert), flying at the end through the Superbowl set and his Live 8 appearance with U2, and then right up his nose as he’s walking out to the stage. Then, finally, the concert part begins.

It may have been because at my advanced age I go to very few concerts in hockey rinks, but the first few songs sounded decidedly muddy. It didn’t matter for “Jet,” a great song that he wisely plays every time around. But I thought “Mystery Tour” and “Flaming Pie” suffered; not a lot of clarity in the instrumentation, save for Paul’s booming yet melodic bass underneath.

“I’ll Get You” was an early highlight, one of those real “Beatle-y” Beatles songs from the early 60s. Of course, John sung it back then, and it was unclear why McCartney included it, although I’m willing to concede that this was written in the time when they wrote together, tossing lines at each other in the same room. Similarly, “Till There Was You” was a highlight, nicely rendered in the original Beatles arrangement and sounding more intimate than you had any right to expect in a hockey rink.

Other highlights included “In Spite of All the Danger,” which the Quarrymen (John, Paul, George, 2 other guys) covered in a record booth in the fifties, and which appears in that version on the first Anthology release. McCartney played this solo acoustic (by the way, you can see who played what on each song here.) I also liked “I’ll Follow the Sun,” which featured several reprised endings. Indeed for the most part these early Beatles songs worked far better for me than the warhorses, and therein may lie a problem. I think McCartney is trapped in “Beatle Paul” hell; many people see him largely through the lens of that band’s work only, and the bulk of the house erupts for any Beatle reference. Just his Hoffner bass gets more of an ovation than, say, the Eagles would. And the older he gets, the more skewed the shows are toward the Beatles repertoire, a sort of part-Dorian Grey, part-Sisyphus Greek tragedy he seems resigned to playing out forever.

But if you remember the ’75-’76 Wings Over America tour (and don’t tell me you don’t; you had the triple live album in high school and played it to death), there were 29 songs played on that tour, and only 4 of them were from the Beatles songbook. On the current tour, he plays 37 songs, and fully 26 of them are from the Beatle catalog. Four from the new album, so the years from 1970 through 2004 are represented by 7 (!) songs: “Flaming Pie,” “Jet,” “Let Me Roll It,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Too Many People,” “Band On the Run,” and “Live and Let Die.” And of these, only “Flaming Pie” and “Too Many People” aren’t ones he trots out every time around (although I’m fine with the three Band On the Run tracks.)

But between 1970 and the new album, he put out 20 studio albums. That’s a lot of records. For the bulk of the crowd, obviously, he could play all Beatles songs all the time and they’d be thrilled. But I’m actually a fan of Paul McCartney the solo artist (he IS in the Hall of Fame as a solo act), and I like most of those 20 records. I remember the summer of “My Love;” I remember the summer of “Listen to What the Man Said;” I remember the spring of “Silly Love Songs” (I was a high school senior, and it was number one). I remember the summer of “I’ve Had Enough” and “With a Little Luck.” Not to mention “Don’t Say Goodnight,” “Daytime Nighttime Suffering,” “Girls School,” “Beware My Love,” the incandescent “Back Seat of My Car” (an album track off of Ram), or “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” I’m in the camp that says McCartney didn’t start writing weaker songs when he went solo (“Every Night” and “Junk,” for example, were demoed for the Beatles.) Could you imagine what classics “Uncle Albert” or “With a Little Luck” would have been as Beatle songs? Maybe the solo records weren’t as good as Beatle records. But that shouldn’t mark the songs themselves as somehow sub-par for delivery in a live context. Without the rest of the Fabs physically there, they’re all equally McCartney songs.

So see, I liked this show. But I found myself thinking more about the concert I didn’t hear than the one I did. Thinking about this imaginary concert that had a few well-chosen Beatles songs, but which included all the solo stuff above, plus the best stuff off of Tug of War and Flowers in the Dirt, plus “Getting Closer,” “Hope of Deliverance,” and others. I really do wish he’d have the courage to play that concert one of these days. Indeed, on one of the night’s highlights, “Too Many People” (also from Ram), there were scattered but distinct squeals; this was probably the one number most welcome by us solo Paulophiles. And he segued it into “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window;” this pairing was another highlight.

On the other hand, and maybe it’s because I’ve seen him and I’m jaded, but I don’t really need to hear “Hey Jude” or Let It Be” or “Long and Winding Road.” And some of his Beatles stuff, I think, is actually vastly overrated; “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yesterday,” for example, are both much lauded, but I would argue that in both cases it is the string section that really grabs people and defines the song. And while he may have had the idea of adding the strings, I’m sure he didn’t write the string arrangements.

As for the band, they are top notch. Rusty Anderson on lead guitar and harmony vocals was particularly noteworthy. Last time I saw McCartney he was new to the band, and I thought he was sticking pretty close to the original parts on most of the material. This time around it seemed like he was just playing the guitar, putting more of himself into these classic tunes that are imprinted indelibly on your brain. He lent them some bite and catnip. Overall the band is impressive, and Paul himself has, as John Lennon used to remind people, the benefit of having one great bass player on his stuff.

But yeah, a lot of the most familiar Beatle material came off the most lackluster for me. “Helter Skelter,” which I’ve heard others laud, was far too much of a reach for his frayed vocal chords so late in the show, and I thought it was just a miscalculation (on the other hand it might have been a great choice to open with). And I kept mooning over the songs he might have chosen. But “I’ve Got a Feeling” was neat, and ultimately, when he and the band rip into “Please Please Me” or he segues from “Sergeant Pepper Reprise” into “The End” to slam the show to a sentimental close, well, no matter how cynical you are, it gets you, it gets you in the end. At which point, as you know, the love you make…

…When I saw him in 1989 for the first time and he encored with “Golden Slumbers” > “Carry That Weight” > “The End,” afterward the lights went up and most people had tears streaming down their faces. I’ll confess that was a memorable night.

But on this night, if he’d played 10 more Wings songs and 10 fewer Beatles songs, I think it would have kicked that much more ass. With such a Beatle-heavy set, it almost seemed like he was a cover band playing his own songs. At these prices I see why he might feel he has to roll out the classics. But the headline is, he has a lot more classics than he thinks.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 9:12 PM  

At 10/24/2005 9:35 AM, Blogger minty said...   

Sorry to break the trend here by leaving a non-spam comment, but I just wanted to say, great review! I really enjoyed it! And please visit my site about banjo lessons free.

Josh, maybe it's time to put the word verification thingy on this blog?

At 10/24/2005 11:33 PM, Anonymous scruffy said...   

i saw the wings over america tour and at the time wished that he would have played more of the beatles stuff like he does now. but you hit it on the head when you say he is trapped in beatle paul hell. the big venues are filled with people who are unlike you or me--all they know are the big hits and i think he feels beholden to them. it would be really risky for him to book a tour of smaller halls and dig deep in the catalog while ignoring the obvious songs. there would still probably be a lot of people showing up just because he's beatle paul and being disappointed because he played daytime nightime suffering, a song they've probably never heard, instead of hey jude. i'd dig it, though...

At 10/25/2005 1:31 AM, Anonymous synchro1 said...   

okay, but who really doesn't already have an opinion on the guy?

Decent writing, cheap in a few spots, but basically too many words.

At 10/25/2005 2:01 AM, Anonymous sob451 said...   

ok, hold on, *** coupled with > means what?

thanks for the review, Josh. it's the closest i'll get to a gig. i've never seen Sir Paul, probably never will. i'll enter hockey rinks and football stadiums for few artists, and none of them are Paul.

At 10/25/2005 9:41 AM, Blogger minty said...   

Wow, nice to see some old bawiz friends here. Hello, old bawiz friends! I miss you! But the list? Not so much.

At 10/25/2005 4:47 PM, Blogger --josh-- said...   

Synchro's right, everyone DOES seem to have an opinion on the guy. I've gotten a bunch in email as opposed to comments.

As for cheap writing and too many words, hell, the reason its so cheap is BECAUSE we here at APW give you more words for your money! And we will continue to do so, even as others struggle to "get to the point" and "be brief."

At 10/25/2005 5:22 PM, Anonymous Hersh said...   

Hockey rinks are for...well...hockey games! (How 'bout that Lindros Josh?)

My wife and 14 year-old son saw the Toronto show and loved it.

Minty come back...we miss you.

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