FINALLY MEETING ON THAT LONG AND WINDING ROAD

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My mom always used to tell the story that I was listening to the Beatles even before I was born, saying she used to dance to them when I was bouncing around in the quiet, gentle womb in her tummy. Well, that’d be kinda hard given the Beatles didn’t record their first record until about 15 months after I was born.

But suffice to say, their earliest records were constantly spinning on my parent’s record player right around that time and they were easily the first music I remember hearing. I mean, I was learning to talk and walk and run and exist as a human amidst the strains of Love Me Do, I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. I still have a copy of Love Me Do on the obscure Tollie Records label that my folks must have bought soon after it came out, as well as other Beatle 45s and albums they played the grooves off. I know we watched their triumphant appearance together on The Ed Sullivan Show when I was three, I’d be lying if I said I clearly remember that night, but I speak the truth when I say the synapses do have faint black and white TV recollections of screaming girls and four mop topped British boys playing music that no one had ever heard before.

As long as I can remember, the miraculous music of John, Paul, George and Ringo would be woven deeply and permanently into my psyche, always invoking pleasure, peace, happiness and comfort. It mostly reminds me of my late parents, and their unconditional love and nurturing presence, it’s music that always seems to take me back to a  time when I was happy, protected and loved. Beatles music still makes me feel like I am going to be OK, that all will be well.

Fast forward 50 years to last night, July 12th 2013, when I would finally, actually, unbelievably see a Beatle perform live, right in front of my eyes, a mere 500 feet from my wife and I, with another 40 thousand rabid and adoring Beatle fans along for this magical mystery moment. And apologizing in advance for using such an easy song title to put it all in perspective, but the long and winding road Paul and I have both been on for five decades met at a fork last night, and down at that crossroads was an experience I had never had and will likely never have again.

The palpable sense of anticipation and excitement came on at a fever pitch the minute I knew I had the tickets, and would actually be seeing Paul McCartney live.  I always seemed to miss his shows for one reason or another, not being able to go because of previous unmovable commitments or money or something, and each time I was always deeply disappointed to miss another chance to see him. I never saw Wings either, so I knew getting to see him play would be an amalgam of his greatest music with both bands, a real treat considering some of the truly excellent music he did with his post Beatles ensemble.

I was also a bit intimidated by my emotions, something I typically don’t feel. Thanks (I think) to my parents, I am a very emotional soul, wearing my heart very openly on my sleeve, so I was wondering how deeply this show would affect me and if I’d really get hit hard by those feelings. I didn’t want to subdue those emotions, but I wanted to enjoy the show and not be a blubbering idiot throughout.  Mimi was a very welcome and enthusiastic partner on this trip down that winding road on this misty, breezy, starry night at Nationals Park. As the magical hour neared when Paul would begin this so-very-long awaited evening, we both felt the excitement not only within us, but also building around us, so many people clearly feeling those same flitting and  fluttering butterflies, that wonderful, unmatched, special tingling in the stomach when you know something very special is about to happen.

In the palpatating 15 minutes before Paul took the stage, the PA would blare out an eclectically mixed sonically twisted mash of different McCartney sounds, you would hear strains from some Beatles music and then hear that familiar chorus of Let Em In or another Wings radio standard, all the while on both sides of the stage, a 50 foot column of images from his life scrolled by, shots of a young Paul as a baby, as a tween, as a teen, with John after they had just met, with his four new mates who would change the world, to his life with his soulmate Linda, to his time with Wings, and on and on. The unparalelled life of this one in a trillion man soared by us, preparing us for a cascading musical ride through one of the most stunning, brilliant and unforgettable canons in music history.

Then, the PA music stopped, the cheers erupted, and out walked Paul’s uber-talented band followed by, yep, HIM. There he unmistakably was, in his shiny, long black coat, white dress shirt and thin black tie, those eyes that remind me of my father, that same haircut although awash with a faint tinge of gray, he really looked just like I thought he would, and that unmistakable brown bass guitar, yep, this is really him. And the rush I felt powering it’s way through my bones was one I have rarely felt. Sure, Bruce does that to me every time, but this was somehow different, it felt like the guy that influenced Bruce was coming on. Oh wait, that’s what it was. Bruce has often said he wanted to move like Elvis and sing like Roy, but he also wanted to write songs that could change the world like Paul and his Beatle brothers. So this was a biggie. And it surpassed even my hugest expectations.

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How would it begin? It began with the familiar building guitar strains of a Beatles hit from 1964’s Beatles For Sale album, a song title inspired by a Ringo malapropism, Eight Days A Week. Great start, right into the Beatles catalog, wham, we’re in. Paul sounds strong, the band is dead on, the sound overall was a bit muddled but that’s what happens at these vast stadium shows, it sometimes takes a couple songs to adjust, and it did. But it was unmistakably Paul — “Ooo I need your love babe, guess you know it’s true” — and we were off and running. Ironically, it’s a song John Lennon termed “lousy” and the Fab Four would never play it live. But it started things off just right. Next up was the Wings FM radio nugget Junior’s Farm, a minor surprise to some die hards and one of eight Wings tunes he would roll this night.  Back to a very early Beatles standard All My Loving, and it made sense, love was surely in the air, The adoration this man has gained though his magnificent personality, skill and talent was dripping from the furthest stanchions of this vast venue and All My Loving was a perfect love note from him to us and back at him. The next two songs, Listen To What The Man Said (1975) and Let Me Roll It (1973), both excellent Wings tunes, reminded us what a stroke of both skill and luck it was for Paul to go from the biggest band in the world to a really damn good band featuring one of the guys from the biggest band in the world. Can you imagine trying to go out and do any music after being with the Beatles? Well, leave it to Paul for striking gold with Wings and sustaining it for years to come. Next up was one of my favorite Beatles tunes, 1966’s Paperback Writer, a song driven by Paul’s bass riff and it really soared. Paul tossed off his main bass and, oh by the way, donned the real bass he wrote the song on. Nice touch. Just hearing Beatles songs live was absolutely stunning, but to hear the ones you love most was all the more amazing. My Valentine followed, one of two originals on the mostly covers heavy 2012 solo release Kisses On The Bottom. It showcased Paul’s infamous crooning, his smoky jazz-rock sensibilities, and was written for his recently betrothed third wife Nancy Shavell, one of easily the luckiest women on the planet. Sweet, syrupy, yes, that’s part of Paul, too. Least he didn’t play Silly Love Songs, but even that is such a period piece, its sappy goofiness is still Paul’s sappy goofiness, and somehow that’s OK.

The show began to really hit its stride with the bouncy Wings tune Nineteen Hundred Eighty Five, which closes 1973’s Band On The Run. The band really began to gel here, with everyone taking solo turns and really getting this McCartney driven engine up to speed. Paul then said a few brief words, sat down at the piano, and launched into probably one of my Top 5 Beatles songs, although that’s almost an impossibility to make a best of list for them…it was The Long and Winding Road from Let It Be. It is said that he wrote this about the troubles the Beatles were having at the time, but can also be easily transposed as a desperately touching love song. Uh oh, those tears started to well up, but they would stay largely sitting on the rims of my eyes for most of the night, until later. But The Long and Winding Road was gorgeous, true to the original, Paul’s voice in superb form. I hoped he would do this, knew he probably would, and was in awe as he glided though it. The sweet yet powerful Wings tune Maybe I’m Amazed followed, which appeared on his first solo album, 1970’s McCartney, and was written for his wife Linda, largely thanking her for helping him get over the breakup of the Beatles. So this two song arc meant sense in a pretty profound way. Although he played every instrument on the album version, Paul stayed behind the piano and his voice absolutely soared in what was possibly, overall, my favorite song of the night.  His wild and wonderful “yeah yeah yeah” vocals in the song’s final crescendo blasted through the stadium, and must have echoed off the US Capitol dome just up the street. Definitely…I was amazed.

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The next amazing nine song run was Beatles heavy yet sprinkled with Wings, with I’ve Just Seen A Face, We Can Work It Out, Another Day and And I Love Her all performed exceptionally, true to the originals but with that Macca live flair. Then he donned the acoustic, and you just knew, yep, Blackbird, by himself, no band, just Paul and guitar. Dedicated to “those who struggled and continue to struggle,” after all these years it still gorgeously and resoundingly trumpets the trials of the oppressed and discriminated against, but also, well you know, urges them to “take these broken wings and learn to fly.” Paul totally nailed it, and the adoring screams and cheers were deafening at the end, not throughout the song like when The Beatles did those first stadium gigs where the screaming drowned out the music. Here Today, another sweet love song from Tug of War, was followed by a really nice nugget from Magical Mystery Tour, Your Mother Should Know. “Let’s all get up and dance to a song that was a hit before your mother was born…”, the rollicking melody was great fun. Lady Madonna and All Together Now preceded another gem of the evening, Lovely Rita from Sgt. Pepper’s. Didn’t expect this, and the “Lovely Riiita, Meeetah Maid” choruses were fabulous. Really nice fun quirky roll.

After the Wings tune Mrs Vanderbilt, a neat song from Band On The Run that interestingly enough was one of a few off the album that Paul recorded in Nigeria, began one of the greatest song runs in my concert life. Bruce has those often, a freight train of great songs all in a row that take the breath out of you. The Dead did it all the time, as well as others like the Allman Brothers and similarly legendary bands with voluminously good catalogs. And tonight would be no exception.

So here it goes: Eleanor Rigby (wow, and yep, definitely a few tears), Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite (unexpected, plus the psychedelic calliope part was really great), a totally wonderful surprise roll of George’s Something (dedicated to George that started with Paul on ukelele and then wafted into full band beauty), Ob La Di Ob La Da, Band On The Run, Back in The USSR, Let It Be (couple more tears), Live and Let Die (complete with bonafide fireworks that rocketed from behind the stage) and…na na na na na na na….Hey Jude to end it. I mean, come ON. A miraculous brushstroke of Paul’s whole career in nine pheonemenal songs, from Revolver to James Bond, from Sgt Peppers to Abbey Road, from the White Album to Let It Be, from the four lads to the band on the run, a whirling dervish of absolutely perfect music from his whole amazing career.  Hey Jude came to a rousing singalong finish, and we were floored. But wait, there’s more. Five minutes of cheers brought back Paul and his band for encore #1, a ripper of Day Tripper (“Got a good reason?”), the then-controversial Hi Hi Hi from Wings in 1972, and then a song my own cover band has made a recurring standard, yeah Loretta, your mama’s waiting fo ya, a great version of Get Back. Then Paul and the band joined hands, bowed in unison kinda like the Beatles used to, and walked off.

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But, I told Mimi, he didn’t play IT yet. My father’s favorite song of all time, the song that evokes so much about his life, and eventually also my life, a song so stunningly honest and tragic, yet beautiful and real. He HAS to play it. And man, he did. For encore #2, Paul came out by himself, thanked the crowd for their love, and played Yesterday. This was a crystallizing moment, when in my mind, my Dad left his eternal sleep, joined my hand on the trip down that winding road, then kissed my cheek and walked back off into the ether. Absolutely amazing to hear Paul do this so perfectly live. And probably the emotional highlight of a deeply emotional show. After a headbangingly mesmerizing version of Helter Skelter, and to officially end the evening, Paul would leave us with the classic trilogy that ends Abbey Road —  Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight and The End. There ya go. They all bowed again, yet Paul lingered, waved, blew a handful of kisses, and dissapeared off stage.

“And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love…you make.” So true, so very true, especially on this profound night, when my lifelong love of The Beatles would come full circle. Paul and I slapped an imaginary high five, and headed back down the long and winding road on our very different courses, but both somehow better off for this once in a lifetime night. 

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5 Responses to “FINALLY MEETING ON THAT LONG AND WINDING ROAD”

  1. My feelings exactly from the concert in 2010. I warned ya. Well written and explained. I too loved that he ended it with, “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.” How powerful a statement and admonishment. Glad you got to experience this guy’s truly magical talent. Plus he’s a nice guy and relates to the audience in a way I have not seen very much. He makes me feel young!

  2. Beautiful, Steve…couldn’t have written it better myself! So glad you had a wonderful experience! Rock on.

  3. There is certainly a great deal to learn about this issue.

    I like all the points you made.

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