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Monday, November 07, 2005
Paul McCartney at the Rose Garden - 11/04/05
There's an old line: you're either a Beatles fan or an Elvis fan. I prefer another version: you're either a Beatles fan or a Rolling Stones fan. I fall into the later category.
The Beatles recorded some of the greatest pop music ever recorded but, as good as those songs were and are, the Beatles' lyrics sucked. There's no getting around it. The first half of the band's existence was dominated by banal love songs with words that would have been at home in the mouths of any of their one-hit wonder predecessors. The later half was chock full of children's songs. For every "Day in the LIfe" there are a dozen "Bungalow Bill"s or "Octopus Garden"s. What's is "Mr Kite" really about? Not heroin or anything else. Lennon just scribbled the lyrics after being inspired by an old circus poster he found in an antiques store. Over the years, every member of the band went on record expressing their puzzlement over fans searching for inner meaning in their mostly innocent pop tunes.
I spent Friday with a 17,000 people that would probably still argue that "Henry the Horse" was really a metaphor for heroin and that "I buried Paul" was something beyond a lame prank. I'll never understand what once was described as "Beatlemania" but, on the other hand, I didn't live through it. I'll never understand the relevance of four British kids that had slightly longer hair than all the other rock bands in 1964 and played their songs slightly faster and how they conquered the world, changed pop music forever, etc. I was born 15 years too late for all that.
I don't know how pumped up the audience was to watch Paul McCartney on Friday night but his concert organizers were set to roll out a full-fledged religious experience. Before the show started, the stage was obscured by a glowing orange curtain as five monitors around the stage displayed McCartney's self-portraits. An orchestral soundtrack pounded the gathering audience and sounded like it was cut and pasted from Braveheart. It was as Jesus Christ was about to come out on stage and slam-dance in front of a full orchaestra.
And then the lights went down and, after a DJ in lizard makeup (?!) remixed various Beatles tunes ala DJ Danger Mouse, the monitors rolled out a McCartney retrospective. A ten minute ride through screaming b & w teenagers, florescent pepper jackets and...Wings.
Then who strolled out stage? Not Jesus but a kindly British gent who, despite the fact he's been doing this for over 40 years, still seemed earnestly in awe of his own fame. Unlike many other "veteran rockers," he was more than happy to set aside his new material and give the crowd exactly what it wanted: a legend playing all the songs that put him up on his pedestal. "Sgt. Peppers," "Let it Be," "Yesterday," "The Long and Winding Road," "Eleanor Rigby," "Back in the USSR," "Blackbird," "Hey Jude," etc.
While he stuck with the songs that weighed more heavy on the McCartney side of the "Lennon/McCartney" collaborations, I was still surprised that 2/3s of the set came from the old days. Giving your audience exactly what it wants still comes across as somehow patronizing. It was weird watching how eager McCartney was to please the crowd- at one point even running around the stage with an oversized American flag before signing autographs. What would John have thought of this all this?
It's hard to be humble when you're playing a piano in front a hundred LED screen with your face plastered on it but McCartney at least made an effort. Between songs he dished-out self-effacing jokes and made a crack about the audience heading out to the lobby as he started one of his newer songs. He told anecdotes about meeting fans in Mexican restaurants and the origins of the first song the Beatles recorded.
And the old fart played for damn near three hours.
The curmudgeon in me would love to decry the overpriced tickets, the ego-fueled production, the cheesy pyrotechnics during "Live and Let Die," the fact that the tour was sponsored by Lexus, the drummer's pathetic "are you ready to rock?" declaration before a series of slow songs but, I'll admit, watching McCartney perform "Blackbird" live was nothing short of amazing. Despite being too close to 64, he still sounds great. I'm sure Charles Manson would agree if he had been in the Rose Garden on Friday.
Plus, it's hard to argue with a crowd of thousands crying and singing the words to "Hey Jude" before an encore consisting of "Yesterday," "Get Back," "Helter Skelter" and "Let it Be." And it's even tougher to argue with a second encore consisting of "Sgt. Pepper" and "The End."
I would have raised my kitty lighter if I had thought to bring it along.