by Zach Fleisher
In putting this piece forward, I have to acknowledge a fundamental bias in my writing a review for a Paul McCartney show; I’m a Beatles fanatic. I grew up listening to the Fab Four (though I didn’t actually listen to Sgt. Pepper side to side until five years ago) through drives from end to end of the Canadian prairie. In grade five, I fell asleep every night listening to Abbey Road on a CD with only one track for the entire album and no way to change which song I was listening to. As often as I would fall asleep to the gentle and soothing tones of “Something,” I did make the consistent effort to listen until the medley of broken songs at the end, which more often than not proves to the be the enduring legacy of Paul McCartney’s musical career.
With this knowledge in tow, I headed down to Investors Group Field for this spectacle of a show that only Mecca can create. Nothing brings together the middle-upper class like a show by a former Beatle, with seats on the floor setting you back a cool $275 (last time Paul visited Winnipeg in 1993, then Stylus editor Bartely Kives lashed out at him in a piece for the Free Press, for charging $30 a ticket to his show. The times certainly do change). After hopping off the bus, we headed to our seats, navigating the throngs of fans in line to purchase for $7 Budweiser’s and $80 McCartney tank tops, while a DJ on stage blasted bastardized electro-pop versions of Beatles songs from the stage.
With that, McCartney took the stage amid a wave of nostalgia for the 1960s and a sea of iPhones, capturing his every move as he gingerly swayed across the stage. It’s my opinion that McCartney’s work with The Beatles, particularly towards the end of the ‘60s still stands as his finest work, while his work in the 70s, particularly Band on the Run is still fantastic; his work since then, while honorable, doesn’t truly meet those standards that he set earlier for himself. With that in mind, McCartney dipped heavily into his musical vault from the 60s and 70s, much to the satisfaction of the sellout crowd.
Without going into the details on per song basis, its simple to say that McCartney rocked this show; from the floor, it seemed as though he had a lot of presence and energy, looking spry for a 71 year old. In contrasting him to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at this stage in their careers, McCartney appears to be in outstanding shape; maybe this whole vegetarian thing actually worked out for him. His band was also particularly sharp on the classic cut from Band on the Run, Let me Roll it, with its distinctive bluesy feel, as it ended with a rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady and on Live and Let Die, which brought the 32,000 strong to their feet with a rousing exhibition of fireworks.
So we’ve established that McCartney can certainly both talk and walk the talk. His back catalogue and live performance on Monday certainly enshrined him in my memory as one of the more notable shows I’ve ever seen. If you close your eyes, maybe you could imagine yourself in a small, cramped club in Hamburg in 1962. Or maybe you’re smoking a cigarette outside Abbey Road Studios in 1968. Despite his increasingly limited vocal range, McCartney is still able to transport his audience back to these places that we’d all like to wish to be at or remember.
At the end of the day though, after we’ve all had our fun listening to the classics, we have to wonder: how thrilled is McCartney to be touring at this point in time, playing 50 year old classics? When I saw Bob Dylan a few years ago, he radically altered the structure and other elements of his songs and introduced several new ones. Dylan truly played the show he wanted to play, not necessarily the show the crowd wanted to hear.
The crowd’s reception to two new songs, which, regardless of their artistic merit aren’t able to garner the same respect and appreciation that a tune like “Day Tripper” ever will. The irony of the situation exists in that for a large segment of the crowd wasn’t even born at the prime of McCartney’s musical prowess, during the 60s and 70s.
In some ways, it must be frustrating for McCartney, who is still releasing new music on a semi-regular basis to have to always have his latest offering consistently compared to his earlier work with those other three lads from Liverpool. Even if his new music was absolutely brilliant, like his electronic ambient project heard by few fans in the form of The Fireman, it could never compete for critical recognition with his past efforts. In that way, McCartney is stuck in a time warp; forced to eternally play the songs of yesteryear. In closing, it’s quite clear that he enjoys playing them. I think the vast majority of those assembled on Monday loved them too. I know that I enjoyed seeing this living legend and would appreciate him in whatever manner he performs, any of the eight days a week.
PS- The acoustics at the new stadium in the concert setup are great if you are on the floor. Elsewhere around this concrete mammoth, they appeared to be shaky at best. I’d love to hear from other folks who attended this show what they thought about the sound.