THE AMERICAN PROJECT
Paul McCartney's American Concert
August 10, 2011 Arts & Design By Jonathan Allen
This summer has seen record breaking heat in the Midwest. Sahara Desert, while wearing a turtleneck sweater in August, hot. But for one night, one lone Thursday evening orphaned from its weekly family of scorch, Mother Nature cooled it down a bit.
On the banks of the Ohio River, metal birds patrolled the sky, helicopters circling above like vultures, while nautical vessels of all proportions inched near the venue, hoping to land prime real estate, perhaps steal the tunes from a neutral position.
For many, the evening began with a cocktail or three, a limo, perhaps a carnivorous feast at one of the famed Jeff Ruby dining experiences. For us, it was Subway, not because we were eating light, but because we had scored great field seats and the college funds of future generations had been breached. But we did not care; not on this night.
Leaving Northern Kentucky on foot, we crossed Cincinnati's Roebling Suspension Bridge the buzz and energy from the other side growing with each step, and within seconds found ourselves at the gates of Great American Ballpark. Home of the Reds Cincinnati.
On this majestic eve in the Queen City, a Knight held court. Sir Paul McCartney.
Like many, I have always respected McCartney. He is a legend as a Beatle, as a Wing, and as a solo artist. He is an icon as a philanthropist, a peace activist, and a man. Like many in the crowd of about 50,000, (which ranged from ages 1-101) I somehow knew every song by heart, an odd caveat from an artist who does not hold residence in my shuffle. Did not hold residence. After this performance, his last in North America on this tour, my respect turned into fanaticism. I was hardly alone.
As we purchased two waters that cost more than dinner, took one final trip to the porta- john, and gazed in awe at the 100,000 eyes peeled towards center field at the grand stage, there he suddenly was. Onstage, on time. Sixty nine years old going on forty five, a genius clothed in a splashy red jacket, instantly consumed by deafening applause. With a panoramic turn of the head, the sight of an entire stadium shaking filled our vision, every screw, every rafter thunderously bouncing.
And then he started.
“All My Loving”
Explosive drummer and crowd favorite Abe Laboriel, Jr“Yesterday”
Anecdote after anecdote, story after story. Like a ping pong ball, batting back and forth, from guitar to ukulele to the ivory. With more charm than a bracelet, McCartney wowed heads of industry and ground crew alike between the thirty- seven song set list. Often humorous (Did you hear the one about Jimi Hendrix asking Eric Clapton to hop onstage and tune his ax?), sometimes poignant (From the racially charged Black Bird to an open letter to John Lennon), and always from the heart, Sir Paul interacted with the audience in a way that made us each feel as if we were breaking bread with him in Liverpool. The Fifth Beatle. All fifty thousand of us.
Backing him was a collective that is vastly more talented than anything on the synthetic pop scene today. Abe Laboriel Jr., the hulking drummer, would have easily stolen the show had the front man been anyone but Paul. With his whimsical humor and aggressive, anguished face tempo, he ably played as well as Ringo (or Pete Best) might have. Paul “Wix” Wickens, Brian Ray, and Rusty Anderson completed the ballsiest background in modern music history-who else would want to follow in the Fab Four’s footsteps? With their assistance, we literally could recognize no difference between an original 45 LP and Paul and the boys, live.
Not once did McCartney appear tired, though our much younger contingent at one point had to sit down-blasphemous, we know. Not once did Sir Paul take a sip of water. In an era where performers 1/3 his age hold 30 minute sets and cancel shows for “exhaustion”, McCartney, the human Red Bull, schooled the world on how to give a concert. Several hours, thirty seven near continuous smash hits, two encores, and 50,000 witnesses to history. The ticket price was justified.
Something on George's UkuleleAs we attempted to leave midway through the final explosive encore-again, blasphemous- a fifty-something woman begged me for my field access wrist band. I obliged, and off she ran like a school girl, something the aloof and dashing McCartney seems to do to every woman in his path. After the show, the city lingered, not wanting the experience to end, collectively rehashing the event, some rushing home to buy his albums online, others holding impromptu jam sessions with their forgotten Gibson guitars. One woman who had the fortune of having her arm signed by McCartney speedily found an open tattoo parlor, and now holds Paul’s autograph close to her heart at all times. In our little group, I half expect the patriarch to grow a shag and follow the band around Europe.
If, at the age of 69, this was Paul’s last tour stop on American soil, his legend can only grow from such a dazzling display. In a media world that preaches objectivity and balance, we must buck tradition this one occasion. If you have tasted the finest champagne that ever was, there is no need to ever again sip a wine cooler. If you have played chess with Bobby Fischer, no game of checkers will ever suffice. And if you were there, on a pleasant August night in Cincinnati, where Paul McCartney re-wrote history, never again should another concert be attended.
Maybe we are being too poetic. Then again … Maybe we’re amazed.