Friday, August 20, 2010
Is this guy something, or what?
Even at the ripe old age of 68, Paul McCartney continues to prove that he is the world's greatest living entertainer. You see, when you're the world's greatest living entertainer it's not enough to continue to write and record inventive pop songs decades after a lesser artist's relevance would cease to be in question. No, this calls for something more, and in this old fart's case it means ripping up a live show with a style and finesse that belies his years and shames other would-be superstars. Anyone who witnessed either of Sir Paul's two sold out shows at the new Console Energy Center in Pittsburgh is surely now suffering from a serious case of Perma-Grin, or otherwise going through a type of withdrawal.
The set list is ridiculous. Solo, Wings, and, of course, plenty of Beatles tunes were performed with the type of vim and vigor that makes one seriously consider the vegetarian lifestyle the man continues to push. The band took several breaks while Paul remained on stage alone with a guitar, a ukulele, or on piano, and who can blame them since three hours is a long time to be doing anything (unless your Paul McCartney playing live, that is.) My mother commented that she never saw him so much as take a drink of water.
There were two obviously highly orchestrated but nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable encores, including a a wildly imaginative WETA meets Peter Max style animated sequence. There is no way a fan could witness his performance and come out feeling like he/she was let down. At $250.00 a pop for half-decent seats, it's a remarkable feat to leave an audience satisfied, while still adhering to the first rule of show business.
In discussing the event after the fact, it occurred to me that the major strength demonstrated by the legendary performer is his ability to take a huge stage presentation in front of a gazillion people and make it feel intimate. On the one hand, each and every one of his fans already has his/her own personal relationship with Sir Paul, whether he knows that person exists or not. He understands this and is very respectful of it, and it comes through as he performs, as he relates a little anecdote, even as stakes out his next position on the stage. On the other hand this is also a guy who isn't afraid to put his opinion out in the forefront and get vaguely political, whether it concerns meat, Obama, or a killer rendition of "Blackbird." Even waving the Union Jack in front of a bunch of Republicans (I guess in PA the Dems also have that "Front Row" kind of money)is a little nuts when you think about the current state of politics in the USA, but here is this wrinkly old Limey doing just that, and you have to hand it to him. It seriously reduces the epic scale of the production by getting inside your head, regardless of your own personal stance. Not many performers can accomplish this without ruining their careers, but in Paul's case what are you going to do about it? Seriously?
...And Let Die!
Finally, and apart from the stellar performance and production, apart from a sparkling new facility that has yet to be defiled by Flyers fans, there is the all-encompassing nature of Paul McCartney's audience. It's the truest and greatest achievement any artist could ever hope for. The unification of seniors and young people, families, dating couples, classic rockers, indie rockers, preppies, yuppies, burnouts, freaks is astounding. All of these wildly different personality types dancing and singing along with each and every song is something you don't get to see every day and in our increasingly fragmented pop culture it becomes a sort of emotional experience. For a few hours, nobody is cooler, or smarter, or better off than anyone else in the room. For that short time it's a politics of Beatlemania, with everyone sharing in our agreement of, and love for one of the men who have brought so much joy to the world for so long.
All photos by Carol L. Appleby
I tease the man about his age, but he is timeless, and his live performance is something that should not be missed. I am grateful to have experienced it with my mom and her best friend, Janet, two first wave Beatlemaniacs, all of us seeing our hero for the first time. It's never too late, but don't put it off any longer.