Sometimes life throws you opportunities that you can’t pass up. It was never in our plans to see Paul McCartney on this trip, but when the chance presented itself I jumped on it.
After Yosemite, we were set for a tour of the mid-west USA but some unexpected circumstances gave us a few spare days to get from San Francisco to Philadelphia. We booked into a hostel in San Francisco and after some late night phone calls, from a quiet corner of a Chiang Mai hostel, we were able to rearrange our flights.
I managed to find some re-sale concert tickets on StubHub (give it a go if you never have!) and affordable accommodation in Tampa Florida.
So why all this effort for Paul McCartney? I’m sure you all have that one artist, or band that you would do anything to see live. Music affects us all, in a unique and profound way. For me, that’s always been Paul McCartney.
My Dad is from Merseyside, England, the same place you’ll find Liverpool, home of The Beatles. Dad has always loved their music. I have memories from three or four years old, sitting in my parents lounge, with giant 80’s headphones listening to Beatles music.
After my Dad returned from a Paul McCartney gig in Auckland in the early 90’s, I recall having ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Let it Be’ from ‘Tripping the Live Fantastic’ on repeat. It seems like yesterday that I was asking Dad if he was “the people on this side, or the people on the other side?” during the audience participation of “Hey Jude”.
I’ve lived and breathed the music of The Beatles from a young age. It has lifted me in many of my life’s highs, comforted me in the few lows, Sarah and I even had our first dance to Paul McCartney’s ‘My Love’. I knew the words to several Beatles songs before I could read. I never thought I would get to see the music of the Beatles, performed live, by a Beatle.
So to the concert…Dad, stop reading now. My parents are going to see Paul next week at Madison Square Gardens – I don’t want to ruin the surprises in store.
Seriously Dad – stop reading! 🙂
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America has some incredible indoor arenas and the Amelie Arena in Tampa was impressive from the inside and out.
The crowd was warmed up by a DJ mashing up Beatles hits live while the screens trickled with images and animation from photos, to album covers, and scenes from movies. He left the stage while the music continued. A sense of anticipation fell over the crowd as showtime neared. Myself and a few others picked up that the haunting orchestral crescendo of ‘A Day In The Life’ was leading to something, and it was as the song finished with the arena falling dark for the bands arrival – showtime!
Despite being well into his 70’s Paul McCartney has not lost a sense of showmanship. Before the music even started, he strolled from side to side of the stage, lapping up the applause and amping the crowd up for three hours of entertainment.
The iconic opening note from ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ rang out and the crowd on the floor surged forward. We sat next to a couple who were eager to point out that we were probably younger than their grandchildren. She had seen the Beatles live in Detroit in 1964 and was pleased to say she felt the night would be more of a sing-along than the screaming session she encountered all those years ago.
A puzzled look Sarah’s face as the second track was the lesser known Wings’ ‘Junior’s Farm’. When you’ve got 55 years of hits to pull from, you can take your time getting to the bigger tracks. However, the opening section still featured ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, ‘Jet’ and the smooth bass of ‘Let Me Roll It’ that transitioned into a jam session of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’.
McCartney was in no rush and happy to take his time, stopping to tell stories featuring Hendrix, Clapton and others. He talked of the relationship with the Rolling Stones and was keen to dispel the myths about The Beatles and ‘Stones being enemies, describing said stories as “fake news”. The Trump catchphrase was met by huge cheers – this President is popular in the southeast corner of the US.
Close to an hour in, Paul sauntered over to his piano for ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ the beautiful tribute to his late wife, Linda. Not for the first time, there was a noticeable glint in a few eyes around the stadium.
He offered up something for fans of every era. There were plenty of Wings hits, including ‘Hi Hi Hi’, ‘Jet’, ‘Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five’, ‘Band on the Run’, and the stadium shook with the pyrotechnics accompanying the Bond them ‘Live and Let Die’.
The crew running the stage are a polished act. While the band was off stage as McCartney played solo on his piano, a mini stage appeared which the band took to for an acoustic set. They featured McCartney’s oldest recording ‘In Spite Of All The Danger’, far from a hit, but a track he laid down with the Quarrymen before the Beatles were even a thought.
We were then taken from the oldest to the newest, a hit that gave McCartney a record of the longest time between top-ten hits. He showed his contemporary skills with FourFiveSeconds, a song he wrote and recorded with Rhianna and Kayne West.
Acoustic classics of Eleanor Rigby and Blackbird featured. McCartney taunted the guitarists in the room that none of them have been able to play Blackbird properly – “you can’t work it out!”.
He paid tribute to the two fallen Beatles, George and John. A good chunk of the crowd stood to pay tribute to John Lennon, simply at the mention of his name. McCartney played his tribute to his late friend and writing partner ‘Here Today’, which he described as a musical version of a patch up conversation the two had some years ago. Afterwards he remarked “if you want to tell someone something, tell them now” – a sentiment I have no problem getting on board with.
George was remembered by a ukulele cover of his own song, ‘Something’. This is one of my favourites and was the first moment where the sense of occasion started to sink in. The band joined in after the first chorus to provide the full depth of this wonderful song. If you’re unfamiliar with this one, break out the headphones and give it a go, it features a subtle yet amazing base solo.
Paul McCartney didn’t always take a deep dive into The Beatles back catalogue, he tended to stick to big hits on which he sung the lead. In later years, he not only indulges some lesser tracks but seems to relish it; “we know you love the Beatles’ songs, we see the whole place light up with cellphones when we play them and we see it go dark when we play something new”.
The crowd knew they were on the run toward ‘The End’ (pun intended) as the familiar chords of ‘Let It Be’ rang our from the shiny white keys of McCartney’s piano.The tour is billed as ‘One on One’, he wants you to feel like it’s just you and him.
As ‘ Let it Be’ filled the arena I was instantly transported back to the floor of my parent’s lounge, four or five years old, Dad’s giant headphones, singing along. For me the simplicity and complexity of this song means so much, it resonates when I’m happy, sad, frustrated or angry – I never thought I would hear it live.
I had a few moments to dry my eyes before Sir Paul moved into the stadium anthem of Hey Jude. We sung along with the 17,000 plus that were present – a life long dream was fulfilled.
I feel incredibly lucky that we’re in a position to take such a journey – this was a giant cherry on the top.
I can’t imagine I’m about to put any newspaper columnists out of a job, but for those of you who know me well, will understand this was an occassion I had to record!