Sir Paul McCartney last visited the Denver Pepsi Center in 2002, where he performed what has now been captured on his album Back in the US. It was the best concert I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been going to major concerts for 35 years. Why was this?
Paul McCartney plays the soundtrack of my life.
He created and plays the music my generation grew up on. It is hard to exaggerate that the Beatles — the group he was in before Wings — was one of the most seminal bands of the last century and changed the face of popular music and culture. Was this concert in November of 2005 as good? I’ll tell you at The End.
What does a $115 ticket buy you? Not the worst seat in the house. No, that was the seat a hundred feet to my left. At this price, it’s BYOO (Bring Your Own Oxygen). To get a seat on the floor is $250 plus fees.
The $30 Tour Program was very sharp, though curiously, filled with ads. Admittedly, there was inevitably a McCartney tie-in. This tour showcases his latest album, “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.”
Did you notice that Paul McCartney’s name on it is the same if rotated 180 degrees?
The show started about 30 minutes late. The Introductory part included a synthesized and amplified compilation of his music driven by a live DJ, with incomprehensible voice-overs by Paul and his wife with some colorful gear animations on the Jumbotron projector screen. Almost Peter Max-esque, like Yellow Submarine. Animation is a penchant for Sir Paul.
This was followed by a video starting with WWII in 1942 and the bombing of England, his birth, and his early life in Liverpool.
Obligatory history trivia: This most successful musician, and the UK’s first music billionaire, was once a choir boy at his Anglican church in Liverpool. When he auditioned at the much larger Cathedral, indeed the largest Anglican Church in Britain, he was turned down as not talented enough. In 1991, he performed his Oratorio there. The story goes (whether true or not) that when he returned, he saw the old priest who turned him down. When Paul asked if he remembered him and what he’d said, the reply was,
“Yes, and because of it, you went on to become a Beatle!”
There were then photos of the Quarrymen then the Beatles at the 1964 Ed Sullivan Show (I remember watching it) and then Wings. Then various tours followed by the 9/11 concert in NY, Live 8 in Hyde Park, London, and his colossal concert “Live in Red Square,” Moscow. (Back in the 1960s, the Beatles had been forbidden in the Soviet Union.)
Yet another history trivia: When Paul performed his previous tour in Rome, they build a stage over part of the floor of the Coliseum. A historical first!
The show began in earnest 45 minutes late, thanks to security scans of all attendees. And it started with a surprise, though a very logical one – as we were asked to Roll Up, Roll Up For the Mystery Tour
- Magical Mystery Tour
This title track to the album of the same name began with a live lighted stage floor lit up like a pinball machine. It was the most high-tech stage I’d seen. It appears to have been a 24 x 24 matrix of square LCD screens that could display colors and even animated pictures on the flat stage that extended to the back and curved up to a vertical backdrop to the drum set. By the way, the Beatles coach (bus) tour from the Liverpool Tourist Information Center is called The Magical Mystery Tour.
Paul introduced the “US” show with
“We have come for many miles to rock you tonight — and rock you we will!”
The crowd went wild.
The next song was:
- Flaming Pie
This song is from his album of the same name.
The bass was overwhelming, even through my earplugs. After too many years of concerts by The Who, earplugs have become required.
Paul then said,
“We’re gonna play some new songs and some old songs. The next one definitely falls into the later. If you remember it, you weren’t there.”
- I’ll Get You (in the End)
This is a song he’s never performed live since the Beatles. He followed this with,
“Here’s one we performed at the Super Bowl.”
- (Baby You Can) Drive My Car
There were two lava lamps next to the keyboard set. Foreshadowing?
“We performed in Rock & Roll and Rhythm & Blues clubs in Liverpool. We wanted to do the cabaret clubs — probably because they paid better. But you had to do a smoochier set.”
So he played:
- Till There Was You
This is Paul’s old cover from the musical “The Music Man” this time accompanied by an accordion! And I thought it was the case: Use an accordion, go to jail. It’s not just a good idea; it’s the law!
Abe, his drummer, said,
“Hello Denver, it’s good to be back. You’re looking good. Are you ready to rock?”
Thunderous affirmative from the crowd.
- Let Me Roll It
Which was followed by a guitar riff Jimi Hendrix “Foxy Lady.” Then:
- Got To Get You into My Life
Where the horns, of course, were synthetic, but every note, which is burned into our engrams was perfect.
A piano appears from below the center of the stage. Paul tells us,
“It comes up out of a hole in the stage. On the second night of the tour, I forgot. I stepped back with my bass and fell in. In slow motion, I thought ‘How deep is this hole?'”
- Fine Line
This is the first track of his latest album, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, which he was careful to point out. Then back to the old hit:
- Maybe I’m Amazed
It’s easier to track the harmonies — a descending progression — with this band for some reason than on the original album. If he can’t hit all the notes anymore, no one minded.
- The Long And Winding Road
Back to his guitar — and he changed guitar between almost every song — for his solo. Back to before the Beatles. A skiffle song. He said how nice it would be to have the 20,000 backing vocals… we were to sing Whoa-aoo-oo-oo.
- In Spite of All The Danger
- (If You Want Me To) I Will
This wonderful song, from the self-titled The Beatles — but better know as simply the White Album — had never been performed live before. He related the story that he’d met a guy in a Mexican restaurant in Pasadena who told about how his daughter had performed it at her school. Paul made a point to perform it live.
His next song was:
- Jenny Wren
This is an unusually beautiful song from his new album, reminiscent of his earlier Blackbird. In a previously published interview, Paul said he’s tried to avoid writing songs that sounded like his Beatles music, but no one else does. If they can rip him off, he can do it too. This one was done to beautiful effect. For this song, he was joined by Abe on the drums — a simple beat — and Wix on the accordion.
He told us it was sometimes to remember the words to his songs when he saw banners being waved in the audience. He mentioned one in particular:
“My mother saw you at Shea Stadium.”
Back to the piano, Paul began to sing A love that should have lasted years.
- For No One
- Fixing A Hole
Here he did a nice solo, with some modifications — it seemed to avoid some high notes. But nobody minded. This was followed by an introduction to one of the prettier songs from his new album:
- English Tea
In it, he mentions, “Miles and miles of English gardens.” Veddy British.
“I am proud that I worked in the word ‘peradventure.’ I looked it up in the dictionary. It means ‘maybe.’ You don’t expect to come to a show like this and learn something like that. I understand that the word is now sweeping the nation.”
“I remember writing the following song in our little place in Liverpool.”
- I’ll Follow the Sun
He did the last line 3 times
“It’s such a short song that I need to do it again,”
so he did.
but the crowd wanted more, so he did it yet again.
“I’d like to dedicate this next song to my lovely wife and our child.”
- Follow me (you lead me to places I’ve never been)
While this sounds like a very personal song, I couldn’t help thinking that it also sounds like an Adam Sandler tune. Nevertheless, the LCD floor fired up with sparklers cascading in the back.
“Back in Liverpool, George and I would play this song. It was semi-classical. It was actually classical, but we made it semi. It was by J.S. Bach. I took it and years later turned it into this”
As he sang and played, one could see on his left wrist he wore two white “Lance Armstrong” style bands.
- Eleanor Rigby
- Too Many People
- She Came In Through the Bathroom Window
The crowd went crazy for this last tune. Then he related that with this next song, NASA woke up the space shuttle with the following song:
- Good Day Sunshine
Since this concert, his Anaheim concert was beamed into space to entertain the international space station, ISS Expedition 12, to share with them this song and “English Tea.” However, this time the astronauts were awakened from sleep not by recorded music but by live music, a first.
- Band on The Run
I noticed that each front stage performer had 2-floor monitors — unusual in the day of in-ear monitors — but Paul had 3.
- Penny Lane
Penny Lane is a street in Liverpool where John and Paul were once waiting in a one-story building in the middle of the roundabout (rotary for us Yanks) and saw a “banker on the corner” and “a barber.”
This was followed by:
- I’ve Got a Feeling
“Oh, I got a feeling…”
Paul said, and when the jet sound came up, and you just knew it was going to be:
- Back in the USSR
“Those Ruskies love their Rock. We did it in Red Square,”
During the concert, it was more sad than amusing to watch two hyperactive middle-aged women, whose lack of rhythm was rivaled only by their inability to dance, stand up in front of me to rock and/or roll.
Back again to the piano, where they started to sing:
- Baby Face
The crowd seemed confused until it abruptly ended with,
“Sorry, wrong tune… Here it is:”
- Hey Jude
Many in the crowd came to their feet for the chorus. Paul asked for participation in singing from the top, the floor, men only, women only, then everyone.
But last time, everyone was on their feet singing. The real crowd-pleaser followed:
- Live and Let Die
with real multi-colored flames. Shades of the Wizard of Oz. What a way to end a show.
Obligatory movie trivia: At his Denver concert in 2002 there were 007 photo clips including Sean Connery, despite the fact that this was a Roger Moore Bond movie. It is ironic that Paul McCartney wrote the theme to a James Bond movie. In 1964’s Goldfinger, Sean Connery chides his golden girl Jill Masterson when the champagne loses its chill with “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!”
He left the stage, only to return for his first encore:
- Get Back
with the whole band.
“Thank you, Denver. I’ve got a feeling you still want to rock.”
- Helter Skelter
Another encore had Paul returning to the stage in his red t-shirt, “No More Landmines.” The band was waving flags: US, Colorado, and others.
- Please Please Me
But it was not like the original harmonies with John Lennon.
Paul then took down house lights and lit one candle on the piano to sing:
- Let It Be
They ended with a fabulous:
- Reprise from Sgt Pepper/Abbey Road Riff/The End
A satisfying show ended at 11:30 pm. But was it as good as the last concert in 2002? It may have rivaled it, but it did not compare. This one was a home run. But the previous concert, the best I’d seen, was a grand slam. But a home run isn’t bad. I could have used more of his Beatles music. But couldn’t everyone?
Perhaps you can only see Paul McCartney for the first time once. This concert had fewer “off” songs than the previous concert. “C Moon” what was with that? And the new songs from his new album were not only almost consistently good but, in a few cases, rivaled the quality of his writing from the days of The Beatles.
At 63, it is understandable that Paul’s higher range might not be what it used to be, but I hope he comes back next year and sings to us “When I’m Sixty-Four.”
We’ll still need him, we’ll still feed him, when he’s sixty-four.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood Beatle maniac