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And in the end …

August 2, 2011

The generic title of this post was going to be “Paul McCartney at Wrigley Field, July 31, 2011,” but a better title for this review might be, “A Guy Who’s Seen Paul McCartney Three Times Already Sees Him a Fourth Time and Said Spoilt Guy Just Might Need an Attitude Adjustment.” That seemed a little long.

And before we continue, there won’t be any MP3’s attached to this post. I’m sure a bootleg’s already surfaced somewhere, but you’ll have to use Google or some torrent site to help you find that. I can provide a few videos, though. And some pictures that my friend (who provided these photos AND hosts WSUM’s “The Heavy Petting Zoo”) Grandma Cyd managed to snap.

Well where to start? I suppose with the announcement back in early June that McCartney was going to play Wrigley Field. The Beatles are my all time favorite band, Paul has always been my favorite Beatle, the Cubs are my favorite baseball team and Wrigley Field has had a magical aura for me ever since my uncle first took me there when I was five years old. No brainer, I have to see this show, right? I’m not sure I could convey in words the mixed feelings of indifference and shocked indignance at my own indifference two months ago. Why wouldn’t I want to see my favorite Beatle at my favorite ballpark on a summer night?

McCartney’s last trip to Chicago—a 2005 stop at the United Center in support of Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (critics are still trying to convince me there’s genius in it, but it ranks in the basement of my personal favorites along with Pipes of Peace … maybe one or two decent cuts, but overall, WTF, etc … and this is coming from a guy who will defend Press to Play and ranks Off the Ground as one of McCartney’s best solo efforts). I chanced into a ticket to that show. My dad was supposed to take my mom, but he got called away to work at the 11th hour, called me in Madison the night before and pretty much ordered me to drive down to Chicago the following night and take my mother to see Paul McCartney. Yeah … my parents still are masters of that tough love thing.

The 2005 show itself was a proper fan’s dream. I mean, damn, we were treated to “In Spite of All the Danger.” We got “For No One” and “I’ll Get You.” It was pretty stunning. Christ, we got THIS (Ram is another contender for favorite solo album):

The problem is that McCartney demands a high asking price. The 2005 ticket had been bequeathed to me—I don’t know exactly what it cost, but I do know that there was a row of corporate suits behind me that had probably had a block of tickets purchased for some kind of business deal and/or company outing. I don’t really care who goes to a show as long as they don’t start messing with my experience. Three songs into that show, McCartney tore into “Jet,” I went ballistic and before McCartney had even sung “I can almost remember the funny faces…” there was a tapping at my shoulder. One of the suits—an older gentleman—requested that I sit down.

Now I’m all for being kind to old people, but you don’t go to a rock and roll concert, much less one featuring a goddamn Beatle (even at his age) expecting a nice, relaxed evening. You wanna tell me to sit? Wait until he does “English Tea” or some soft duffer from the new record. Not “Jet.” I kindly reminded him that it was a rock and roll concert and I may have referred to him unkindly as a donkey’s patoot. (If I may name drop here, I once relayed this story to Ian McLagan of Small Faces fame, who was telling me of a similar experience that happened when he saw Elvis Presley. For the record, me calling the old dude “assh*le” was far nicer than the “F*ck off, you f*cking bastard” retort Mac said he would have offered).

But therein lies the problem of setting a base ticket price around the $100 mark. You make it affordable to a select group of people. When you’re talking about a venue that seats tens of thousands of people, even $50 tickets can return a nice paycheck. I know many friends that don’t have the means to see Paul McCartney and might have appreciated a solo version of “For No One” delivered at the piano with no other accompaniment far more than some of the people who could afford that show. But c’est la vie. He’s not the richest man in the world for no reason, is he?

So the idea of paying that much again and sitting in a stadium amongst a lot of people who could afford to live in in those lovely places on Waveland and Sheffield didn’t exactly peak my excitement. Plus, I’d seen him thrice before, so the novelty of it to me was starting to go a little thin (again, another part of me was surprised and a bit worried by this crotchety old curmudgeon creeping into the persona that’s been so Beatle-dominated for the better part of my 28 years).

My girlfriend, another sickly obsessed Beatlemaniac, had never seen one in the flesh. I’d also seen Ringo twice live, and I think she was getting a little tired of hearing my experiences and wanted one of her own. And yes, you do want to see a Beatle if you get the chance. I understood that, and it’s not like trying to scout out Paul McCartney tickets is high on the list of “the grating aspects of being in a relationship.” Through my dad’s friend’s Wrigley Field season ticket connection, we were able to get four seats in the presale. And yes, once the tickets were acquired, I did get that “Cool. I’m going to see Paul McCartney at Wrigley Field” vibe flowing.

My companions for the show ended up being my girlfriend, the aforementioned Grandma Cyd and my great friend Allan—all of whom would have their “I’m seeing a Beatle” cherry popped on July 31. I was excited for them. I popped mine at Milwaukee County Stadium in June 1993 when McCartney was on his “New World Tour” to promote Off the Ground. At that show, my dad and I were treated to all the classics, and then some. “Fixing a Hole,” “Coming Up,” “We Can Work it Out,” “Here, There and Everywhere,” most of the Off the Ground LP and “Penny Lane.” I was a 10-year-old Beatlemaniac. I was seeing one in the flesh. It blew my mind. Christ, we got this song, which I had only just memorized from repeatedly playing the dusty copy of my dad’s old 45:

(video from the Charlotte stop on that tour)

I remember he opened that show with “Drive My Car,” and at that time the only advanced graphics the jumbotrons could hold were pop-art style “BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! YEAH!”s that danced around the screen. At 10 years of age, I thought that was unbelievably amazing.

So to get to see three friends have their first Beatle experience (even if they weren’t 10) on Sunday was going to bring me about as much enjoyment as the show itself did.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but summer temperatures usually end up being a tad uncomfortable on the warmness scale. The Chicago area’s been nailed by some pretty biblical rains of late, so I’m glad those decided to stay away, but it’s added a great humidity to what are already generally stifling temperatures. In my enduring wisdom, I wore pants to the show, holding out hope that once the sun left the sky, nightfall would bring some of those nice famous prevailing 30-miles per-hour southwest winds through Wrigley. I also encouraged my girlfriend, who gets chills when it’s 80 degrees, to wear jeans. She did so, and thankfully, wigged out enough about seeing a Beatle to forgive me for that advice.

The other issue with heat is that people forget not all consumable liquid actually hydrates you. Beer, for instance, does not. A cold beer sounds great on a hot day, but it’s gonna mess you up quick and only make you thirstier. Suffice to say, for the people who could afford the $7.50 a plastic cup bender, they went all out. If you’ve never been, let me assure you—there is some fabulous old, drunken white people dancing to be seen at a Paul McCartney concert, and some absolutely biblical attempts at singing, but not falling with any discernable key on “Let it Be” as well. An elder woman … I would put her in her mid 60s or so sat directly behind me and made a few attempts to make me sit down. These included a slurred “Dah ni frunt,” putting both her hands on my shoulders and pushing down, rubbing her hands up at down my sides (I’m convinced I could’ve pressed charges for that one), and tugging at my shirt. Although I turned around and gave her several judgmental looks, I didn’t say anything. One, she wouldn’t remember it (or anything else from that night) anyway, and two … it’s best not to engage drunks until they puke on you. It was a nervewracking 3 hours, let me tell you, but vomit was thankfully left out.

As far as merchandise, my girlfriend was also adamant about getting a T-shirt, and although I will say that this tour had the best selection of T-shirts I’ve seen, including song-specific designs, like for “Silly Love Songs” and “Band on the Run,” the starting price of $40 placed a soapbox right in front of me from which I felt I must deliver a little tirade. Again, my girlfriend waved off my grandstanding to get herself a tour t-shirt that hopefully won’t pop a hole after two runs through the wash and makes every cent of that investment worth it. I also got to deliver the first true “In my day…” sermon of my life when I saw the tour program’s asking price of $30. When I saw Paul McCartney in 1993, the tour program was free (“…dammit”). Conclusions to draw from this? I can only think of one. Heather did *really* well in the divorce.

With Wrigley Field able to hold more seats than the United Center, my concern about being surrounded by suits ended up being unfounded. Maybe because it was simply too hot to wear a suit, but regardless. Allan was astute enough to notice the racial makeup of the crowd going in, and remarked to me that he’d never been part of such a large gathering of white people. We searched in vain for different skin tones, but to my knowledge only one non-white made an appearance Sunday night…

For all I know, it might have been a commentary on the debt-ceiling deal that was reached Sunday night, but maybe McCartney thinks Obama’s still campaigning. Well, I guess he is, actually.

Now, the graphics for a stadium show are pretty advanced from what they were at Milwaukee County Stadium in 1993, although in terms of hokey-ness, they’re closer to dancing “BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! YEAH!”s than anything. For “Jet” we got basically a video game animation of F-16s skywriting “Jet” and, you know, flying really fast. For “Drive My Car” we got a lot of stock footage of (you guessed it!) old cars. For “Dance Tonight” we got Polaroids of Paul McCartney’s children being children while the jumbo screens featured the dance stylings of Abe Laboriel Jr., who was nice enough to include a bit of the Macarena in his oeuvre.

The most puzzling really, was what we got for “Lady Madonna.” Images projected onto the big screen included Princess Di, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Mother Teresa, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart and many others just as random as that list. I didn’t know what to make of it. In fact, I’m still analyzing it two days later. Maybe Paul McCartney thinks “Lady Madonna” is some sort of great women’s lib anthem, but I still think it’s nothing more than a song about a woman stuck in a weekly cycle of domestic servitude. You can’t even call it an ode, anthem or anything remotely resembling an empowerment song. And the only connection I can reasonably make from the host of women projected onto the big screen is that all of them are human beings who achieved some level of fame and failed to obtain the Y chromosome.

At 28 years of age, it’s easy for me to be snarky about the big screen animations (although the images of George Harrison projected while Paul performed “Something” were fabulous), but then I remembered how cool I thought the “BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! YEAH!” was 18 years ago. And I remember all the young kids I saw as I worked my way up to my seat at Wrigley. Sure, Paul McCartney produces about as much cheese at his shows as the state of Wisconsin generates in a week, but you can’t fault him for appealing to all ages. He is a natural showman.

Which brings me to the most important part of the concert, the music. I can gripe about prices. I can gripe about aesthetics. I can gripe about the fact that the audience on other nights might have been mistaken for a Republican convention (down to the preposterously jingoistic “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” chant when Macca waved the flag before his 1st encore—my stomach sank at the thought that “Freedom” might soon follow).

I can’t gripe about the tunes.

I can’t gripe about hearing “Let ‘Em In,” “Mrs. Vandebilt” and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five.” I can’t gripe about hearing “I Will,” even if he did it in 2005. I can’t gripe about hearing “The Night Before” or “I’ve Got a Feeling” or “Paperback Writer” (played with the original Epiphone he used on the 1966 recording). Who’s going to gripe when you realize a 69-year-old Englishman can still sound like that on “Maybe I’m Amazed” or “Helter Skelter”? Sure, you see McCartney a few times, and you can start clocking it (with sweat pouring down my neck and back, it was momentarily brutal at one point when I looked at my watch and realized we STILL had “Hey Jude” and “Yesterday” to get through), but being able to stand in Wrigley Field and listen to the whole crowd sing right at the band’s level for the “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na” bit is kind of awe-inspiring. I wish I had that power over tens of thousands of people.

If I’m going to be a stick in the mud and bitch about there not being enough rarities, then I need to remember 1999, when my parents were invited by family friends to Hollywood to attend PETA’s Millennium Gala, hosted by Paul McCartney. My mom ended up not being able to go and told my father to instead take me as I would appreciate it more (man, did Will Smith ever hit the nail on the head when he said “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” eh?). In addition to meeting Roger Daltrey and getting kissed by Gillian Anderson, I got to see Paul McCartney perform live on the Paramount Pictures studio lot and do a 7-song set consisting of nothing but cuts from Run Devil Run. It was his only live US performance in support of that (awesome) album. Dave Gilmour was on guitar. It was a black-tie affair. I was in the audience for this.

So even making a passing comment like, “Oh it would’ve been nice to hear ‘Temporary Secretary’ on Sunday” would understandably make a lot of people want to punch me in the face.

Plus I got to see three great people in my life enjoy the hell out of seeing a Beatle in person. My girlfriend screamed, cried and danced like I did the first time I saw McCartney. We all sang along to “Maybe I’m Amazed.” The “wow” factor of seeing Paul McCartney for me might be gone. But the “damn” factor isn’t. “Damn! He’s gonna play this too?!” And I think Paul McCartney will always have the “damn” factor.

But I would say that, right? He is my favorite Beatle.

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One comment

  1. Great recap. I felt like I was there, and all for $250 less!



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