My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of Sir Paul
By Pablo Toledo
The taxi zoomed across a mostly sleeping city, and I got home half after midnight. Quick bite, quick chat, put the baby to sleep. Then try and get some of my own – but what’s the point? At 5am, images from Paul McCartney’s show at River Plate kept flooding back, and the ear-to-ear grin simply refused to budge. It’s still tattoed on, and likely to stay put for a while.
It was unforgettable. Epic. Legendary. Mind-blowing. Seismic. Masterful.
It was like watching Michelangelo take a large blank canvas and repaint his masterpieces with the wisdom gathered over the years.
It was a magical non-mystery tour.
Before I keep wearing out my Thesaurus, falling into convoluted analogies or twisting song titles in search of pun and punchline, let me state the facts: in three hours sharp, Macca blazed through 35 tracks spanning his solo years, his time with the Wings, his side project The Fireman, John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance (released while he was still a Beatle), a salute to Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady (incidentally, the first artist to play Sgt. Pepper’s... live, in a London club the day after the LP was released) and a whooping, glorious 22 Beatles songs from All My Loving through to The End. The stage design was impressive but not gimmicky, with screens at backs and sides, interesting lights and a fireworks display for Live and Let Die that you may have seen on videos from previous shows on the tour but which, live, simply knocks you off your feet.
His band was beyond flawless: Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray on atomic string duty, Paul Wickens on keyboards and the tower-of-power consummate showmanship of Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums handle all of the music to perfection, and are a well-oiled rocking machine with years of shared experience. And, of course, they have Sir Paul on bass (the signature Hofner violin), guitar (including the upside-down Gretsch he played on the original recording of Paperback Writer), mandolin, ukelele and piano.
Paul joined John Lennon and Stu Sutcliffe’s Quarrymen in 1957, at the age of 15, allegedly because he knew how to tune a guitar. 53 years later, he plays a stadium with the ease and confidence you and I take a Sunday stroll. He read Spanish out of a prompter and did wonders with a few choice phrases, including a rhyme he had learnt on his primary school Spanish class back in Liverpool. He led people in singalongs, and danced to the chants of the fans. In the context of a rigorously choreographed and engineered show, he was spontaneous and warm enough to make it feel effortless and one-on-one, 45,000 old friends together to share some favourite tunes.
He walked on stage for the opening Wings medley with his trademark smile, and even though he makes no attempt at hiding his age there is an energy about him that dissolves time: when he smiles, it’s always and forever 1965. Contradicting every misconceived notion of hard John vs. bland Paul –a byproduct of the rift that tore apart the Beatles spread mostly by Lennon dubbing McCartney’s writing “granny Paul” material–, Macca can rock like nobody else (Wednesday’s Paperback Writer, Helter Skelter and Live and Let Die were volcanic). He can also take centre stage with his guitar and make your soul tremble with Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, Here Today (a tribute to Lennon) or Blackbird. He may not have the top highs he once boasted, but his voice is otherwise intact and much wiser: when he recorded Oh Darling he used to go to the studio fresh out of bed to get the raw edges the song required, complaining that earlier in his career he would have done it in a flash; today, both the grit and the velvet are there on command, and his instrumental prowess is in top form.
But the key were the songs: McCartney wrote or co-wrote the soundtrack of many lives, of several decades, perhaps of a whole century. Every pair of ears in the audience had gone through them a few thousand times before, and yet they hit just like the first time, perhaps more so from all the bundled personal history – a first kiss, a breakup, a hard time, a happy day. Like Hey Jude, which he wrote on a car to comfort Julian Lennon when his parents were breaking up and now gets stadiums full of people chanting its endless finale in a state of bliss. Like Helter Skelter, once claimed by Charles Manson and now the hardest rocker of the 1960s.
River Plate stadium with a field full of seats feels colder than usual, and still this was one of the hottest shows I’ve ever seen. Many laughed at those who had paid $6,400 for the top tickets, but having been through the show it feels like a frigging steal because the experience, even from my less-privileged location, was so unique. As the Sgt Pepper’s/The End medley rounded off the night, there was a sense of a once-in-a-lifetime experience punctuated by the closing verse: “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Take it away, Paul