Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Good Day's Knight: In Rocking St. Louis' Busch Stadium, Paul McCartney Provides a Magical History Tour -- St. Louis Concert Review

Concert Review

Paul McCartney
Busch Stadium, St. Louis
August 13, 2016

Other than family, friends and a few other people I've personally known, I don't think it's too rash or hyperbolic to suggest that Paul McCartney has positively affected my life more than anyone else alive (save perhaps for Bruce Springsteen, and like many, his musical career descended from the Beatles' arrival in America and appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964).

Given my lifelong love of rock 'n roll--including quite specifically and deeply The Beatles--and my appreciation for just how broadly four lads from Liverpool forever changed the world, the above thought would probably have validity based solely on what Paul did (alongside John, George and Ringo) before he turned 22--and prior to my being born.

It would be hard for me to overstate my regard and reverence for the Beatles' recorded output that--with due deference to Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and other rock pioneers who influenced the band--I consider the Holy Grail of popular music, and among the very greatest artistic achievements in history.

With Paul just 21 when the Beatles performed on Ed Sullivan to the largest TV audience to date--having already written (with John Lennon) and recorded "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "She Loves You," "All My Loving," "I Saw Her Standing There," "Please Please Me," and other classics--and only 28 when the Beatles disbanded in 1970, he was integral in creating a discography that has provided me with immeasurable enjoyment, enrichment and emotional nourishment.

But Sir Paul--he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1997--has also tremendously entertained me live & in-person via 11 concerts I've attended since 1989, the last 10 coming in this millennium.

Certainly, his legacy and songbook--including from the Beatles, Wings and lengthy solo career--were enough to draw me the first few times.

But I keep coming back--and since 2009 have seen him in such disparate places as Tulsa, Paris, Milwaukee, Chicago's Wrigley Field and now St. Louis--for reasons that extend far beyond nostalgia, sentimentality and historical appreciation.

Even at the age of 74, Paul McCartney and his band--of four others (Brian Ray, Rusty Anderson, Abe Laboriel Jr. and Wix Wickens) who have played with him for nearly 15 years--still put on one of the best concerts you're liable to see or hear.

To the point that although I expected him to be great at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, I repeatedly found myself rather awestruck at how awestruck I was yet again.

Or maybe, amazed.

McCartney isn't playing Chicago this year--and I skipped seeing him in 2015 at Lollapalooza--so I decided to take an Amtrak down to St. Louis with my friend Paolo.

Over the course of about 25 hours in the city, we also enjoyed great BBQ at Pappy's Smokehouse, went to two superb museums, rode to the top of the Gateway Arch, enjoyed famous frozen custard at Ted Drewes and more. I will try to write a bit of a travelogue in coming days, but the clear impetus and highlight of the trip was the opportunity to see "Macca."

Certainly, I could sufficiently justify the excursion, effort and expense simply by saying that Sir Paul sang 38 songs over the course of nearly 3 hours, that his voice sounded strong on a beautiful night and his band typically robust, and that it was a treat for a pair of Beatlemaniacs to sing along heartily to some of the greatest tunes ever written.

That probably won't convince the skeptics, and even fellow fans couldn't be blamed for going, "Yeah, of course he's great, but you've seen him 10 times before, how different or special could it be?"

But while I would certainly concur that 21st century Paul McCartney concerts have largely followed a similar outline, with several of the same staples showing up each time out, thanks to Setlist.fm I can tell you that I've heard him play 115 different songs over the years, most of them rather terrific.

And even though a humid summer night in a NL Central ballpark with Paolo alongside in roughly comparable upper-deck-behind-home-plate seats might make this Busch Stadium gig seem congruent to a July 2013 show at Milwaukee's Miller Park, 15 of the 38 songs varied. (See Saturday's St. Louis setlist here.)

Especially given the train ride down--all that was missing was Paul's "grandfather"--it was sublime to hear McCartney open with "A Hard Day's Night," a song he's never played on previous tours.

From there, he mixed in several Beatles songs that haven't been regular concert selections--"Can't Buy Me Love," "Here, There and Everywhere," "You Won't See Me," "The Fool on the Hill," "Birthday"--while omitting several that have been ("The Long and Winding Road," "Paperback Writer," "Get Back," "Day Tripper," among others).

It was fun to hear him include the Beatles' debut single, "Love Me Do," from 1962 and an even older song--"In Spite of All The Danger," which was the first original composition McCartney, Lennon and Harrison recorded as The Quarrymen in 1958--while also performing "FourFiveSeconds," his 2015 collaboration with Kanye West and Rihanna. (Before you scoff, note that it has been played on Spotify over 325 million times, tenfold that of any Beatles' song.)

Even the somewhat odd inclusion of 1980's electro-pop "Temporary Secretary" served to illustrate just how much rock's greatest living legend still enjoys making things fun for himself...and his audience.

I used to criticize Sir Paul for too much sameness in his shows, but while he prefers to keep his setlists static on each tour--and regularly play "Back in the USSR," "Let It Be," "Live and Let Die" (complete with mega pyrotechnics) and "Hey Jude" to round out the main set--I've come to appreciate the way he switches things up from tour-to-tour or year-to-year.

And I will never tire of hearing "Blackbird," "Eleanor Rigby," "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," "We Can Work It Out," "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Band on the Run" and the songs cited in the paragraph above.

Honestly, that would be enough for a rather spectacular and delightful concert.

But what made it even better was the inclusion of enough disparate Beatles songs to blow my mind anew at just how supernaturally great they were--and reiterate my belief that Paul was John's equal from a songwriting standpoint.

This--along with Wings songs like "Letting Go," "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five" and "Hi, Hi, Hi," as well as worthwhile recent tracks ("Save Me," "My Valentine," "Queenie Eye," "New") that demonstrate that Paul McCartney still loves to make music and perform it for people--made the concert a religious experience for me. (More so than most actual religious experiences, truth be told.)

Sure, I've long heard many of the same stories Paul has shared from the stage--about how he saw Jimi Hendrix play "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" in London on the Sunday after the album was released on a Friday, and Jimi cheekily asked Eric Clapton to tune his guitar; about performing in Russia and having government officials tell him they learned to speak English from Beatles records--but he seemed to clearly get that some devoted fans may have heard them before.

And yes, I've heard him pay tribute to departed mates John (with McCartney's "Here Today" being about a conversation he wished they'd had) and George (with the Harrison penned "Something" begun with Paul playing ukelele) in much the same way several times.

And for the 11th time in my life, I sang the "na-na-na-na" part of "Hey Jude" with all the men in the audience, before Paul beckoned "now just the ladies" to do likewise.

But once again, I loved it all.

And especially in a year that has shown the mortality of rock 'n roll superstars perhaps more than any other, it greatly warmed my soul to see Paul McCartney playing a phenomenal, energetic, often hard-rocking show in a packed stadium.

...that stands just feet away from where, at the former Busch Stadium, the Beatles performed one of their last concerts 50 years earlier, on August 21, 1966.

I can't really say it was a hard day's night, as only frustrating delays at the Gateway Arch just prior to the show brought any hint of stress to an otherwise pretty enjoyable day in the life. 

But for the 11th time live--plus countless evenings enlivened by vinyl, Memorex, radio, CD, MP3s, Spotify, Beatles' movies and more--the magnificent, then & now, Sir Paul McCartney made for a truly unforgettable knight.

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