Words by: Ron Hart
Paul McCartney :: 07.17.09 :: Citi Field :: Flushing Meadows, NY
One of my all-time favorite stories about my mom was the time she had my grandfather take her and her girlfriend to Shea Stadium to see The Beatles in 1965.
|The Beatles at Shea Stadium 1965|
Now, depending on who you talked to, it was either the greatest thing a person could ever experience in their lives or the thing that gave them a headache for the rest of the week from all the noise and screaming. According to my grandpa, the noise level at Shea when The Beatles first walked across the field to the stage was simply deafening, like a Merzbow/Sonic Youth double bill I'd guess. And, as much as she was having fun being part of one of the most defining moments in rock, mom, too, admitted they could barely even hear the band over the tinny PA their amps were broadcasting from. This was also something Sir Paul McCartney reminisced about with the sold out crowd at the Mets' brand new stadium, Citi Field, this past Friday night.
"The first time we played here," he proclaimed, "we couldn't hear a thing because of all the girls screaming and the stadium sound system." He used the whole "girls screaming" thing throughout the night for cheap pops, and referenced that hot August night in 1965 many times over the course of his epic, expertly played two-hour-and-forty-minute set.
When The Beatles played Shea, they made history as the first rock group who booked a major sport stadium for a concert. Macca playing a three-night stand at Citi Field bears a definite importance on a cultural level in that respect, ushering in a new ball park replacing the old one on that lot in Flushing Meadows where he helped to change the face of live music as we know it.
New York City has been as crucial a fabric to the DNA of The Beatles as Liverpool and London for reasons we're all aware of - the JFK landing marking their first U.S. visit, Shea, Ed Sullivan (which Macca saluted by playing the top of the marquee of the TV legend's theater during Letterman just the other night), the Madison Square Garden shows, George Harrison's Bangladesh concert, Lennon's One-to-One fundraiser and McCartney's 9/11 benefit, Lennon moving to the Dakota, Strawberry Fields in Central Park memorializing Lennon's untimely passing, and so on and so forth.
|Paul McCartney :: 07.17.09 :: Citi Field by Hart|
Sir Paul's first night at Citi Field certainly had the hallmarks of these pivotal moments in terms of nostalgia and sentimentality, even if the skeptic in me can't hold a concert played at a venue named after one of the very banks who are reporting handsome profits as foreclosures soar and unemployment is in the double digits in the same light as some of those other historic, selfless moments in Beatles history.
Nevertheless, McCartney made the obvious act of profiteering off the memories of the same people banks like Citibank are bringing to their knees as genuine as it could be. Granted, as a Mets fan, the new stadium is an absolute beaut of an edifice - a veritable modern day update of the old Ebbets Field in nearby Brooklyn, where the Dodgers used to play in the first half of the 20th century and blows Shea away in every way, shape and form. And Macca brought the damn thing down with a powerful, touching and phenomenally choreographed performance augmented by a state-of-the-art stage and sound system that certainly compensated for the lack thereof 44 years ago.
Macca and his longtime touring band - guitarist Rusty Anderson, guitarist/bassist Brian Ray, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. and keyboardist Paul "Wix" Wickens - were as tight as ever and are, in every way, Paul's finest band since Wings. The way they hit the four-part harmonies on such Beatles gems as a visceral take on "Helter Skelter," a by-the-numbers "Paperback Writer," "Eleanor Rigby" (a song that personified the English weather McCartney seemed to have brought to Queens with him), a poignant "Blackbird" and "I'm Down," the same number the Fabs closed out their Shea Stadium concert with, were pitch perfect to say the least. The man even found time to hawk the upcoming Beatles: Rock Band game during "Got To Get You Into My Life," as images of the digital Fabs graced the jumbotron while Paul and his band delivered a brassy, classy take on the Revolver hit. In fact, all 21 Beatles songs performed Friday night were of optimum quality, especially in the show's final third, where Macca and the boys barreled through nine Fab jams in a row, chief amongst them a rousing, audience-inspired version of Paul's ode to Julian Lennon, "Hey Jude," and a kinetic rip through "I Saw Her Standing There," for which McCartney invited Billy Joel on stage to play piano. Joel had summoned Macca last fall for an appearance during the Piano Man's acclaimed residency closing out Shea Stadium, so the return of favor on Joel's part was perhaps expected yet still equally surprising. And, in spite of the fact that he looked either drunk as shit or incredibly sunburned behind the grand piano, the Hicksville native's hurried cameo was certainly a highlight for fans of both icons.
Another wonderful Beatles-related moment of the night came when McCartney broke out the ukulele given to him by his beloved friend, the late George Harrison, and did an emotional rendition of the Quiet One's Abbey Road wedding standard "Something" as classic images of the guitarist faded in and out on the big screen behind the stage. Paul also gave a sentimental nod to his beloved songwriting partner John Lennon by delivering a heartfelt rendition of the greatest album closer of all time, "A Day In The Life," which he smoothly segued into a version of John's own timeless protest anthem "Give Peace A Chance," leading a stadium full of voices singing and swaying along so loudly one would hope it could be heard in Iran, North Korea and Dick Cheney's little hole in the ground. There were rumors of a Ringo appearance, but unfortunately those of us who waited for him to emerge at the end of the concert to sing us out with "Goodnight" were met with disappointment.
As arguably the one Beatle to consistently deliver winning post-Fab material over the course of his lengthy, near-50 year career, the concert was also peppered with plenty of great material from McCartney's solo catalog and, of course, his work with Wings as well. The group broke into Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" at the end of an incredible spin through "Let Me Roll It," which McCartney followed up with the story of how Hendrix learned and covered "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" two days after it arrived in stores at a performance at London's Saville Theatre which Sir Paul attended. In addition to finding time to slip in such superior new material as "Flaming Pie," "Dance Tonight" and two tracks from his recent Fireman album, Electric Arguments, Paul also managed to drop a few deep cuts from his past as well, including "Only Mama Knows," a great track off 2007's Memory Almost Full, a rousing romp through the Band On The Run sing-along "Mrs. Vanderbilt" and a tearful version of "Here Today" off 1982's Tug of War, which Paul had written shortly after the assassination of Lennon. However, the house truly came down in terms of emotion when Macca performed a beautiful, beautiful version of "My Love," his soulful ballad from Wings' Red Rose Speedway that he dedicated to the one true love of his life, Linda McCartney, who he touchingly referred to as "a New York girl." However, as a fan of his 1989 comeback album Flowers in the Dirt, it would have been cool to have seen Paul acknowledge the 20th anniversary of its release with a jam through "My Brave Face" or "Figure of Eight," but we can't get too greedy now, can we?
The most fantastical moment of the evening came when the band broke out McCartney's reggae-tinged anthem for the "Blaxploitation" entry in the James Bond film series, "Live and Let Die," replete with the kind of fireworks and pyrotechnics that would make Vince McMahon second guess himself. It was the kind of spectacle that could only be pulled off by a very select few in the rock arena without looking completely bogus, and Sir Paul did indeed pull it off in spades as only he, The Rolling Stones and Kiss can.
Though it might be a stretch to put Paul McCartney's three-night stand at Citi Field alongside the likes of the original Shea Stadium show or the Concert for Bangladesh as a historical event it most certainly succeeded in its goal of being one concert nobody in that beautiful new ballpark will soon forget, both in scope and in sound. It was certainly a show that I will always remember, as will my date for the evening, my mother-in-law, who was deemed too young by her parents back in '65 to attend the first time around. And I am for certain my mom was smiling down in the middle of her George Harrison foot massage in heaven over the fact that I brought her to witness this most beautiful night for Beatles fans.
Paul McCartney :: 07.17.09 :: Citi Field :: Flushing Meadows, NY
Drive My Car, Jet, Only Mama Knows, Flaming Pie, Got To Get You Into My Life, Let Me Roll It / Foxy Lady, Highway, The Long and Winding Road, My Love, Blackbird, Here Today, Dance Tonight, Calico Skies, Mrs. Vanderbilt, Eleanor Rigby, Sing the Changes, Band on the Run, Back in the U.S.S.R., I'm Down, Something, I Got A Feeling, Paperback Writer, A Day In The Life, Give Peace A Chance, Let It Be, Live and Let Die, Hey Jude
Encore: Day Tripper, Lady Madonna, I Saw Her Standing There (feat. Billy Joel)
Encore 2: Yesterday, Helter Skelter, Get Back, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise), The End
Paul McCartney tour dates available here.
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