Monday, July 22, 2013

Adrian's Summer/Fall Concert Blitz, Part 1: Paul McCartney, Safeco Field, Seattle, 7/19/13

The Seattle area is blessed with lots of great concerts this summer and fall, and I can't think of a better way to have kicked off my personal slate of shows than with Paul McCartney in Seattle. What a night!

I've always loved the Beatles, but I'm far too young to have ever seen them perform. They broke up a year before I was born, and John Lennon died when I was 9. So the most I could ever hope for was for one of the surviving members to come to town. And when I heard Paul McCartney was going to put on the first ever rock show at Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, I snatched up a ticket as soon as I could get to a computer.

Now, I love all the Beatles, for different reasons. I love Paul for his musicianship. There aren't many people who can craft so many amazing tunes that sound fresh and exciting decades after they were written, and who can express those ideas on such a wide array of instruments. But his work on bass in particular is, I think, some of the most unheralded in all of rock music.

It's not flashy or complicated, but the incredible melodic gift Paul employed in writing so many brilliant songs is something he carried over into his bass work as well. It's little wonder that Chris Squire, my favorite bassist of all time, cites Sir Paul as one of his biggest influences. Chris plays his bass like a rhythm guitar, creating his own melodies as much as he holds down the bottom end of the music. That comes directly from the man I went to see last Friday.

It was a warm, cloudless summer day in Seattle -- a perfect setting for a show. I got to Safeco about an hour before showtime, because I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to fight the crowds, grab a program, and hang out in my seat for a while before the show started. It's a good thing I got there early, because Safeco really dropped the ball for people with seats on the field -- like me. I passed through the front gate and followed the signs to the field sections, and as I got to the top of the first stairway, there was a guy saying that people with field seats should get in this line (pointing to his right) to get a wristband.

Now, I've been to shows before where you get a wristband. Usually, it's to identify people who want to be served alcohol and are of legal age, right? So I figured it was an optional thing, and I had no interest in drinking during the show. So I passed by the line and inched my way through the crowd to get to where the usher was letting people down to the field.

I show him my ticket.

"Where's your wristband?"

"I didn't get one."

"You have to have a wristband to go on the field. Go back to Section 105."


I go back to the entrance to Section 105. It's taped off. No ushers. I look around for anyone who works at the stadium. I find one and ask him where I get a wristband for the field seats.

"Uh … go over to Section 105. They'll escort you down to the field."

Before I could point to Section 105 and show him it was inaccessible, he was off helping someone else.

So I wander around back toward the stairway where the first guy was telling everyone to line up for wristbands. Now he's telling everyone that they HAVE to get a wristband, and to get one, we all had to line up and snake our way up and down the stairs until we got to the end. From where I fell in line, I had to go up and down the stairs five times. This took half an hour, as we all moved down one slow, painful step at a time, then up one slow, painful step at a time. A guy behind me was incensed that he'd done the same thing I did -- bypassing the wristband line and then being sent back -- without being told this was something we HAD to do.

The capper was that when I finally got to the front of the line, there were a grand total of SEVEN PEOPLE putting wristbands on everyone. Seven people, for literally hundreds and hundreds of people in line, waiting to get to their seats. But before we could even get to them, we first had to bottleneck past ONE GUY who was checking every single ticket -- I guess to make sure we were where we were supposed to be.

Anyway, I finally get the wristband, and after hitting yet another bottleneck, where a guy stopped us to punch a hole in each of our tickets -- for reasons that remain a mystery to me -- I shuffled down the corridor again, back to where the usher had sent me back in the first place. By now there are so many people moving down the stairs to get to the field that he doesn't even bother looking at my ticket or my wristband! So all that for nothing. But it was now 10 minutes to 8:00, and I was concerned I wasn't going to get to my seat in time. The Safeco people, in their infinite wisdom, opened up a total of four aisles for all these hundreds of people to get down to the field.

Finally, after all that, I sat down in my seat at 7:59.

I needn't have worried, as it turned out. The show didn't start until about 8:40. My guess is they delayed the start of the show to compensate for the wristband foul-up, giving everyone a fair chance to get to their seats.

After around 20 minutes, the big video screens on either side of the stage lit up and began scrolling through pictures of Sir Paul in a sort of career retrospective. In addition to all the expected Beatles and Wings shots, I also spotted pictures of Phil Collins, Bob Geldof, and Frank Zappa! Not sure what Paul's relationship was to any of those guys, but there you have it.

By 8:30 or so, the stadium looked to be pretty well filled up, and there was a buzz of excitement in the air. Or was that all the marijuana smoke?

Finally, the lights went down, and the crowd roared as the man himself took the stage, wearing a pair of gray pants and a gray knee-length coat over a white shirt, Hofner bass in hand. The band followed, and they wasted no time getting down to business, launching into the Beatles' "Eight Days a Week" to get the crowd warmed up.

From there it was a great mixture of Beatles, Wings, and solo Paul material.

As the band wound up "Let Me Roll It" and I thought the song was over, they launched into a familiar groove. It took me a moment to place it, but when I did, it was unmistakable: Paul had played a little tribute to one of Seattle's own, Jimi Hendrix, by jamming on "Foxy Lady." From there he told us the story of how Jimi took the stage back in '67 and ripped through his own version of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," just a few days after the Beatles album of the same name was released.

I haven't been to many shows that took me through such a whipsaw of emotions. Fun songs like "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "Lady Madonna," and goofy ones like "All Together Now," had me dancing like an idiot, and there were heavier moments that had me bent over and banging my head. I was singing along at the top of my voice and playing my air guitar during "Band on the Run." The adrenalin rush had me jumping off my feet and hollering my approval after a few songs. Just pure joy. Music is the only thing that can take me to such giddy highs.

Then there were some very emotional moments as well. I never knew Paul wrote his song "Here Today" as a tribute to John Lennon, and hearing him tell the story of the song put the lyrics in a whole new light. Here they are if you're not familiar:

And if I say I really knew you well,
What would your answer be?
If you were here today,
Here today.

Well, knowing you,
You'd probably laugh and say
That we were worlds apart.
If you were here today,
Here today.

But as for me,
I still remember how it was before
And I am holding back the tears no more.
I love you.

What about the time we met?
Well, I suppose that you could say
That we were playing hard to get.
Didn't understand a thing,
But we could always sing.

What about the night we cried?
Because there wasn't any reason
Left to keep it all inside.
Never understood a word,
But you were always there with a smile.

And if I say I really loved you
And was glad you came along,
Then you were here today,
For you were in my song.

Here today.

Paul said he wrote the song as an imaginary conversation with John, a few years after he died. "If you've ever thought about saying something to somebody, but you thought it could wait till tomorrow," Paul said before the song, "sometimes it'll be too late, because the other person might move away, or even pass away." He asked the crowd to give a hand for his "dear friend John," and naturally we all obliged. By the end of the song, my vision was getting blurry. Must have been all the smoke in the air. Yeah, that's it.

The visuals were great, too. Lots of the images at the rear of the stage were from old Beatles and Wings clips, synchronized to the music being played. For "Your Mother Should Know," the backdrop was of the Beatles in their white suits, soft-shoeing to the music, from the Magical Mystery Tour film. Paul -- the current Paul -- sat down behind an upright piano that was painted in a psychedelic burst of colors reminiscent of the MMT album cover.

In fact, Paul bounced around from one instrument to another all night -- bass, grand piano, upright piano, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, 12-string acoustic.

For one song, he even brought out a ukulele -- and with that came the other big emotional moment of the evening. Paul told the story of how George Harrison gave him the ukulele a long time ago, and one day Paul went to visit George and told him he'd learned one of George's songs on the instrument: "Something." Then they played the song together that day. On Friday night, Paul played that song in tribute to his late bandmate, beginning just with him and the ukulele, and eventually adding his backing band, building to a gorgeous climax that served as a beautiful tribute to the Quiet Beatle. When the song finished, Paul looked skyward, raised his hand, and said, "Thanks for writing that one, George." Yeah, more blurry eyes.

"Live and Let Die" was an extravaganza. Roaring flash pots, synchronized with fireworks going off above the stadium, just as the music kicked into high gear. I could feel the heat from the flames, and I was a good 50 feet from the stage.

At the end of the song, Paul stood crouched over the hood of his grand piano, hands over his ears, and I thought for a moment there was a pyrotechnic effect that may have been a little too loud for his liking. After what seemed like an eternity, he rose up and walked back toward the front of the stage, pointing to his ears and shaking his head. Was he just having fun with us? I'm still not sure. Either way, he recovered and kept going.

And he kept going and going and going! With encores included, the show ran for almost exactly three hours -- and Paul never took an intermission! He sent his band off while he performed "Blackbird" all by himself, but he never once left the stage.

Mind you, Paul McCartney is 71 years old. And he OWNED that stage all night. I hope I have half the enthusiasm and energy when I'm 71 that he had that night.

For his age, his voice has lost almost nothing. I've heard lots of singers whose voices in their old age are pale imitations of what they used to be. But not Paul. I noticed that he transposed a few songs down a bit, including "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "Lovely Rita," but he didn't hold back in his delivery at all. In fact, he howled through "Maybe I'm Amazed" with all the raw emotion he gave it on the original recording. He couldn't quite hit that high F on the "ever help me" line, but he tried mightily to get there.

Paul naturally had a great rapport with the audience, too. At one point he commented about how he loved seeing all the handmade signs people had brought to the show, but he said he always has to tell himself not to actually read the signs while he's playing, because he'd lose his place. But he said he just couldn't help noticing some of the signs in the crowd -- "like this one over there: It says 'Paul, please sign my butt.' Well, let's have a look, then!" (I couldn't see whether the fan played along.)

Or when he finished playing "Blackbird": "Everywhere I go in the world, I find people who've picked up a guitar and learned playing 'Blackbird.' How many of you here have done that?" [A surprising amount of cheers.] "And you all learned it wrong."

Or playing "Back in the USSR" in Russia about a decade ago, after never being able to perform there with the Beatles: "I got to meet all these government officials. One came up to me and said [putting on a thick accent], 'First record I ever buy was 'Love Me Do.'' Another one shook my hand and said, 'I learn to speak English from Beatle records. Hello, goodbye.'"

Great stuff.

And then as the evening started to wind toward its conclusion and the moon peeked out above the top of the stadium, Paul sat down at his piano and began the epic track that always leads to the grandest singalong of them all: "Hey Jude." It's really something to have 40,000 people swaying, arms in the air, and "na-na-na-na"-ing right along with you.

Paul wished us well and left the stage, and we all waited with excitement for the encore. The stadium erupted when the band came back out and launched into a spirited version of "Day Tripper."

And then, the surprise of the night.

"Hey, Seattle," Paul said. "We have a very special surprise for you tonight. Would you please welcome to the stage … Mr. Dave Grohl!"


"And Mr. Krist Novoselic! … And Mr. Pat Smear!"


Paul told the story about how he met Dave before the Hurricane Sandy relief concert and worked on a new song with him, not knowing that he was putting himself in the middle of a Nirvana reunion. The song they performed at that concert, "Cut Me Some Slack," was absolutely astounding -- no less than a "Helter Skelter" for the new millennium.

On this night, we got to hear it again. Paul's band left the stage, Dave climbed up behind Abe Laboriel Jr.'s drum kit, and "Sirvana" was off and running.


After that, Paul's band returned, Dave strapped on a guitar, and everybody jammed on a great version of "Get Back" to close out the encore.

Well, I could have died happy right then and there. My only regret was that I would have liked to hear "Yesterday" and "Helter Skelter," but there had been so much great music, I couldn't really complain.

But then, damn if Paul didn't come back out and play "Yesterday" and "Helter Skelter."

And he didn't just play "Helter Skelter." He played "Helter Skelter" with both his band and the Nirvana survivors. Are you kidding me? I just about lost my mind.

Before I had a chance to recover, Paul was sitting down at the piano and regretfully telling us that all things must come to an end, as he began to play "Golden Slumbers." Wow, what a treat. I wasn't expecting to hear that at all. Just like on Abbey Road, he moved from that song right into "Carry That Weight." And then, at last, "The End." You know that awesome guitar bit when the song is reaching its climax, right? The one where Paul, John, and George swap two-bar solos and they all blend together into one killer solo, right? Well, for "The End," Dave Grohl and company came back out one last time, and Krist Novoselic stood to one side and held down the bass line while Paul, his two guitarists, plus Pat Smear and Dave Grohl, all stood clustered together and swapped the solo five different ways. Man, they could have kept jamming all night. The whole show had been highlight after highlight after highlight, but it was hard to top the complete and utter awesomeness of seeing Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl trading solos with three other guys at the end of the last song the Beatles ever recorded together.

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

That last little gorgeous guitar solo, and the final resolving notes.

Fireworks exploding overhead. Confetti flying through the air. Goosebumps on my skin. Tears in my eyes.

I will never experience anything like that ever again.

What an amazing night.

Thank you, Paul.    



Eight Days a Week
Junior's Farm
All My Loving
Listen to What the Man Said
Let Me Roll It / Foxy Lady
Paperback Writer
My Valentine (dedicated to his wife)
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five
The Long and Winding Road
Maybe I'm Amazed (dedicated to Linda)
I've Just Seen a Face
We Can Work It Out
Another Day
And I Love Her
Blackbird (Paul solo)
Here Today
Your Mother Should Know
Lady Madonna
All Together Now
Lovely Rita
Mrs. Vandebilt
Eleanor Rigby
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La, Da
Band on the Run
Back in the USSR
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
Hey Jude

Encore 1:

Day Tripper
Cut Me Some Slack (Dave Grohl on drums, Krist Novoselic on bass, Pat Smear on guitar)
Get Back (full band plus Novoselic/Smear/Grohl on guitar)

Encore 2:

Long Tall Sally (full band plus Novoselic/Smear/Grohl on drums -- Abe Laboriel Jr. on guitar!)
Helter Skelter (full band plus Novoselic/Smear/Grohl on guitar)
Golden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End (full band plus Novoselic/Smear/Grohl on guitar)