I almost missed McCartney's most recent tour. On purpose.
Shame on me. And I'd even convinced myself that I had good reason!
People kept asking me beforehand, and it was hard to explain. No, said I, not this time. I'm not going. Too far, too difficult, too expensive. Too much potential for disappointment, was closer to the mark. Some things I can handle and some things I can't. Having spent more than half my life involved in one way or another, almost every waking minute, with these musicians has twisted me...mostly in a nice way, but in some ways not.
It's made me demand too much of them; hold them to unreasonable standards; elevate them to unwarranted heights. And there are a multitude of other transgressions, such as, perhaps, doubting what they can still accomplish, even as artists now long used to being on their own.
For instance, I play favorites. I know better, but I do it anyway, like a parent who claims not to like one child more than another. An unabashed Lennon partisan, I forgive him his many past sins while condemning Paul for the same...poor Macca, who's just as influenced by Lennon as I am. And he's got a better claim than I, having inspired Lennon in his own way, even *made* the man much of what he was, just as Paul was reciprocally embellished by John.
When I think of that erstwhile group as a confluent foursome, fulminating with talent, I forget that McCartney---all solo works notwithstanding--- never steps more than a whisper from his past. We won't let him. And to a certain extent, he wouldn't want it.
Even this glossy new varnish on his personality is old stuff. There's nothing new, nothing to fear---no way, in fact, that he'd let down any proverbial fan. Sometimes, I'll admit, he enrages me, confounds me in ways that his cohorts never have. But on stage, at least, he always delivers.
*And I should know that by now*.
There are few places---in song, in print, in real-time interviews---where you get a straight answer from the good Doctor. Despite the gloss, the glitz, the lights and flares, the mock-naivete mixed with politicallycorrect showmanship---or maybe because of all this---I found out for myself what I had dared to hope: there's a rare treasure to be had in the price of that ticket.
And just for the record, I owe r.m.b. lurker Susan Wilson, r.m.b. regular Lynn Schneider, and any other unnamed souls involved in the proceedings a passel of thanks for providing me with an opportunity to attend.
I can't promise everyone will have a wholeheartedly transcendent time. That's the way it was for me in '89; maybe that contributed to my fear that Paul wouldn't reach those same heights this time. Well, he didn't. He reached other heights instead...and a few lows.
You've no doubt heard something about the concert set up---the splitscreen film introduction, the play list, the staging. I was of two minds during the screening---enraptured by the images of the Fabs, tweaked to tears during Paul's home movies, filmed with such tenderness; then utterly and suddenly cold during the animal-rights sequence. How like this twosided, two-minded man, to teases his helpless fans to emotional openness, then twist their hearts with sanctimony. It was no less reprehensible when John practiced the same thing, some twenty-odd years ago; and I realized with a start that Paul's sudden politicism is so much a mirror of John's that it's as if Macca is going through the same soul-searching which inspired John's equally sincere but misguided stunts. It's just that Paul's attempt is several decades later---and he's trying to out-Lennon Lennon. At least it's a sign, I guess, that Paul's as much aware of John's presence as are the rest of us.
But the concert taught me a lot---in fact it hammered home the lesson I've needed to learn for years now, ever since I started resenting McCartney just for being himself. He showed me and the whole audience what truths exist in a world thirty years past the start-point of a phenomenon of musical history. For Paul, the only truth is the stage. And if any of us hope to see the man for all he's worth, here is where it must be done.
He's not an innovator any more, but rather a craftsman of classic pop. And what craft! Unlike his previous tour, his voice (at least in Anaheim) was in fine tone, at ease in almost all notes, in stride. He's clearly at home with the concept of performing his music, and self-confident enough to vary the style. His "Unlugged" experience has served him well, made him less dependent upon heavy electronics and more conscious of the crisp cleanliness of acoustic instrumentation---the analogous "unplugged" section of the show (though of course amplified for the stadium setting) in an odd way it reminded me of the simplicity and directness of skiffle, the root of Paul's career.
Remarkable, too, was the way the band's best new material, as well as several covers of Fabs music (notably "Paperback Writer") sounded fully ripe and riotously alive.
But duality is a fact of life, and with all the elements that were indubitably exciting in this show, there was for me an unexpected sense of what is gone, what is missing. It was something I saw and heard much less in Macca's last tour, when he first tested the waters by embarking into the realm of Beatles songs---a particularly deft flash of audacity which (now that I think of it) was too bright to reveal the shadows of loss.
This time, I could only half share the up-tempo joy of "All My Loving", since the man who took such pride in his rhythm-guitar triplets is not here to add them in. Something was missing this time, for me, in almost all the Beatles music that Paul chose to cover; the synthesizer in no way stirred the heart in "Penny Lane" where a real trumpet would have done; and the three men who combined their talents with Paul's were mocked in each classic rendition ("Can't Buy Me Love", "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band", "Fixing A Hole") by the subtle thunder of their absence. I know why they're gone. I know time has passed. I live there as little as I can these days. But in each song there was a subtext of melancholy, which cast a slight pall over even the most spirited rendition.
And it came to me that this is what happens; it's a lesson. There is no pure joy, not even in the mostly-thrilling presence of a Beatle. Even the most fulfilling love in the universe, should one be so blessed as to find it, is admixed with sorrow of one sort or another.
So with the Fabs. And I suspect that, being older, the remaining Fabs have learned to accept and accommodate change in their musical universe much better than I...though in a miraculous sort of way, Mr McCartney has taught me a little better how to see it and hear it for what it is. And how to accept the artist he's become, as well.
Had I not gone I might have missed that revelation. And for me, despite
any minor surface disappointment, that understanding makes the worth
of this brief evening's entertainment an incalculable treasure.
Click here to return to saki's index.