When Sir Paul’s people hook up media types with review tickets, they really hook you up with review tickets. Like, on the floor, 12th row, maybe a hundred feet from the man who has defined rock ’n’ roll for the last 50 years, a living legend in every sense of the word. These were $500 seats, as I heard some clearly intoxicated bro behind me announce. (My photographer was not so lucky; he learned that his photo pass only granted him access for the first two songs. After that, he was escorted out of the building, and had to wait outside for me, as I was his ride. Clearly, I got the better end of that deal.) For that kind of coin, you expect not just a concert, but a show. And Sir Paul delivered.
Before we continue, a confession: I wasn’t a huge Wings fans, beyond maybe “Live and Let Die” and “Band on the Run.” And I’m not sure I could name three songs from the entirety of McCartney’s solo efforts, but then again, neither could most of the 12,000 or so people in attendance. Without John Lennon as a sort of ballast, McCartney leans a little too much toward sap and sentiment. That’s what made The Beatles work so well: John and Paul balanced out each other’s impulses. And so I, like almost everyone else, was hoping for a set list deep in Beatles songs. We got what we came for — “Yesterday,” “Back in the USSR,” “Paperback Writer,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Magical Mystery Tour,” etc. — especially toward the end of the evening.
When you are Paul McCartney, and you are doing a world tour, you can afford to hire some of the finest musicians on the planet, and McCartney’s backing band was indeed flawless, effortless, as you would expect. And while Paul’s voice showed its 72 years from time to time, especially on the high parts of “Maybe I’m Amazed” — no, Times-Union, he has not discovered the Fountain of Youth — he did play for more than two and a half hours, including two encores and some three-dozen songs, which is a testament both to the depth of his catalogue and how much he loves doing this shit. And his rendition of “Let It Be,” still powerful and aching and uplifting after all these years, will stick with me for a long, long time.
But the thing about Sir Paul that impressed me most how much he appreciates the power of the Show (with a capital S), and how well he executes it. (The former is a common trait among the rock-star set. The latter, not so much.) I’ve been to my share of arena rock shows. I’ve seen light-and-fireworks displays. Sir Paul’s put them all to shame. Sure, it felt choreographed and rehearsed, sometimes even the between-song banter, but shows of this nature are as much theatrical productions as rock concerts, so that’s to be expected. But where Paul hit his marks so well was in his nearly unmatched ability to expand and contract — that is, to make his performance feel like a stadium rock show one moment, and an intimate theater concert the next. Nowhere was this more evident than the solo break he took about halfway in, when he stepped on a separate stage in front of the main stage that then elevated about 20 feet in the air as he played “Blackbird” (telling the crowd about the song’s civil-rights origins, though not mentioning that when The Beatles played Jax 50 years ago, they threatened to cancel the performance because the Gator Bowl was segregated), followed by another song he’d written after Lennon’s death, a touching number about how you should tell the people you care about how you feel, because never know when it might be too late (and a tune I’d never before heard). And then, just like that, the brights and flashing lights return and the amps are cranked and the kick drum is booming.
I couldn’t help but wonder, as I wandered out of the arena to collect my poor photographer, how many of these rodeos Sir Paul has left in him; this show, after all, was postponed a few months following a viral infection earlier this year. I hope many. But just as much as I’d like to see him in arena glory once again, though, I think even more I’d like to see him in a setting like this.