Monday, May 27, 2013

Paul McCartney - Live 2013.05.22 Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas

I missed my chance to see Sir Paul in St. Louis last fall because it sold out instantaneously. I decided I couldn't miss my second chance, in which I moved to Austin a week before Paul was coming to town. Since tickets again had sold out instantaneously for both nights, I was forced to buy second-hand, which is normally something I'd shy straight away from. However, I have no regrets.

Artist: Paul McCartney
Venue: Frank Erwin Center
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: 22 May 2013

01. Eight Days a Week (originally performed by the Beatles)
02. Junior's Farm (originally performed by Wings)
03. All My Loving (originally performed by the Beatles)
04. Listen to What the Man Said (originally performed by Wings)
05. Let Me Roll It (originally performed by Wings)
06. Foxy Lady (Jimmy Hendrix cover)
07. Paperback Writer (originally performed by the Beatles)
08. My Valentine
09. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five (originally performed by Wings)
10. The Long and Winding Road (originally performed by the Beatles)
11. Maybe I'm Amazed
12. I've Just Seen a Face (originally performed by the Beatles)
13. We Can Work It Out (originally performed by the Beatles)
14. Another Day
15. And I Love Her (originally performed by the Beatles)
16. Blackbird (originally performed by the Beatles)
17. Here Today
18. Your Mother Should Know (originally performed by the Beatles)
19. Lady Madonna (originally performed by the Beatles)
20. All Together Now (originally performed by the Beatles)
21. Lovely Rita (originally performed by the Beatles)
22. Mrs. Vandebilt (originally performed by Wings)
23. Eleanor Rigby (originally performed by the Beatles)
24. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! (originally performed by the Beatles)
25. Something (originally performed by the Beatles)
26. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (originally performed by the Beatles)
27. Band on the Run (originally performed by Wings)
28. Back in the USSR (originally performed by the Beatles)
29. Let It Be (originally performed by the Beatles)
30. Live and Let Die (originally performed by Wings)
31. Hey Jude (originally performed by the Beatles)

First Encore:
32. Day Tripper (originally performed by the Beatles)
33. Hi, Hi, Hi (originally performed by Wings)
34. Get Back (originally performed by the Beatles)

Second Encore:
35. Yesterday (originally performed by the Beatles)
36. Helter Skelter (originally performed by the Beatles)
37. Golden Slumbers → Carry That Weight → The End (all originally performed by the Beatles)

Paul McCartney needs no opener. He needs no one to fill time for him before he hits the stage. In fact, he needs little explanation at all.

Paul clearly still embraces his past. His recent setlists indicate a preference for his work with the Beatles, hits and otherwise, despite his large catalog. He may have released an album last year, but he only played one song from it on this night. (To be fair, it was mostly a covers album, and I'd much rather hear Paul play his own songs anyway!) The show started with a roughly even mix of Beatles songs and post-Beatles material, but as the night went on, he began to play more and more Beatles songs with just a few Wings songs scattered about. This seemed to be what the audience wanted.

His band was fairly standard: lead guitarist Rusty Anderson, guitarist/bassist Brian Ray, keyboardist Paul Wickens, and drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr. All four appeared to provide backing vocals, although the guitarists were the most prominent. Ray typically played bass whenever McCartney wasn't, since Paul cycled through a Höfner bass, an acoustic guitar, a grand piano, an electric piano, and a few electric guitars.

McCartney had plenty of options for a good opening, and I appreciated the immediately recognizeable but perhaps unexpected first chords of "Eight Days a Week". The first few songs thereafter offered no surprise until the band lept from "Let Me Roll It" into an instrumental jam that sounded a lot like "Foxy Lady". Paul explained that it was a tribute to Jimi, whom he claimed to still deeply respect. He told the story of Jimi covering "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" in concert two days after the album was released, although I wonder if there was some connection to the apparently unanswered telegram that was recently uncovered from 1969 in which Jimi asked Paul to join him in a supergroup with Miles Davis and drummer Tony Williams.

This was followed by "Paperback Writer", which blew me away. The band handled the vocals superbly. Admittedly, I could hear a couple wavering notes, but that just told me that they weren't auto-tuned. The band extended the song into a bit of a jam at the end, one of the few moments they allowed themselves such an indulgence. Being such an excellent performance of one my favorite Beatles songs, it was a highlight of the night. This contrasted with "The Long and Winding Road", which featured the much-contested string section added by Phil Spector to the Let It Be version. I was expecting the unmolested version from Anthology 3 or Let It Be... Naked but I was shocked that Paul would reverse his former feelings on the matter. At any rate, it is still a good song, but the performance was not what I would have expected.

After forgetting a chord at the start of "Maybe I'm Amazed" and restarting the song, Paul brought out an excellent rendition of "We Can Work It Out", augmented by an accordion in place of John's harmonium. "Your Mother Should Know" was another pleasant surprise, and I wondered if he played the song conscious of the irony of the lyric. "Lovely Rita" and "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" were also cool oddball songs to play; both were first debuted live on this tour. "Kite" was originally sung by Lennon and generally considered to be written primarily by him, and thus McCartney's description of writing the song together based on an old circus poster seems suspect. Since the two often disagreed strongly in public about who wrote how much of certain songs, this is no suprise, but I'd never heard them argue about this one before.

"Back in the USSR" was also a cool pick, augmented by video displays of flashy Soviet-style Russian text, but most of Paul's other choices were more predictable ("Let It Be" (albeit without the Spectorisms), "Hey Jude") or rather uninteresting ("Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", "All Together Now"). "Blackbird" and "Here Today" were played solo by Paul on a platform at the front of the stage that rose up and then back down while he performed. The latter was described as a tribute to John Lennon, and Paul also performed "Something" (opening the song alone on his ukelele) as a tribute to George Harrison. There was no tribute to nor mention of Ringo, although I suppose he is still living and I believe they are still friends.

The most absurd moment of the evening came during the performance of "Live and Let Die". Before the song, a stagehand covered Ray's pedal board with an English flag, which struck me as odd but otherwise not particularly notable until I understood that this was intended to protect the electronics. The song began as normal, but during the chorus, after singing the title, the drums were punctuated by massive, loud bursts of flame from a row of cannons at the front of the stage. This was repeated at every instance of the hook, and the venue became noticeably warmer and filled with smoke. I certainly had not expected pyrotechnics!

There was no surprise that Paul came back for an encore, and little that he came back for a second. The first featured a great rendition of "Day Tripper" and concluded with a version of "Get Back" featuring an extended coda, which was of course originally just an edit appended to the song by Phil Spector (although I've always been fond of that little bit). The second started with the predictable "Yesterday", followed by a raucous and heavy "Helter Skelter", and completed, appropriately, by the end of the Abbey Road medley. "The End" featured Ringo's solo practically note-for-note, and the three guitarists traded lines just like in the studio version, starting off practically identical to the original but then veering into their own creations.

Setlist aside, the performances were consistently quite good, with Paul's vocals hardly any weaker than they were fifty years ago. It's amazing how well he has held up after all these years, especially considering how poorly many of his colleagues have fared. The only real downside to the night was Paul's stage banter. Much of it consisted of things like, "Oh yeah! Alright!" Otherwise, most of his talk was simply self-glorification, such as the aforementioned mention of Jimi Hendrix, but also tales of meeting Russian politicians who told him they learned English from his records and encountering countless fans who told him they'd mimicked his parts over the years. In each case he ended with something like, "How cool is that!?" and proceeded to just bathe in the adoration.

Despite Paul's self-indulgence, he was mostly indulging the audience by playing the songs they came to hear. I can hardly complain!

Score: A-

P.S. I saw the first night of his two shows in Austin, his first shows ever in the city. Apparently, before his show the next day, he gave an award from PETA to Lee Leffingwell, mayor of Austin, for having the most vegan-friendly city in the nation. Perhaps Paul's diet explains his sustained good health!

P.P.S. The setlist to the St. Louis show that I missed is rather similar and can be found here.

P.P.P.S. For the record, the audience cheered after Paul's false start of "Maybe I'm Amazed". Paul was quite appreciative of our tolerance.