On June 7th, I had an opportunity to see a living legend, Sir Paul McCartney at Fenway Park in Boston MA. Does Sir Paul still have ‘it’ at age 80? Let’s find out!
Before I dive too deep into this, I want to send a huge thank you to Jillian Condran of Nasty Little Man. Not only did she arrange for me to be at this event, but she also went out of her way to help me after I showed up on the wrong date. Thank you, Jillian, and the people on-site at Fenway Park from LiveNation who helped as well!
The concert started at around 7:15 pm. At that time, Paul and his band casually walked onto the stage, and immediately started playing “Can’t Buy Me Love”. The crowd was electric! Paul played a couple of his newer songs. I hadn’t heard them before the show, but I enjoyed them more than I expected I would. After those initial songs, that was when Paul started addressing the audience. The audience responded with coordinated signs saying “We love you, Paul”.
The last concert that I wrote about before the throws of covid pulled us all away from the events, was Elton John. I kept going back to that in my mind throughout the performance. These are two of the best in the world. How do they compare?
They do have their differences. For example, Elton seems to ‘leave it all on the stage’. He is there to give each performance his all, pouring his heart out. As an audience member, you feel a connection with him. With Paul, it was more like his showmanship was a natural byproduct of who he is. It feels effortless, like his wit and charisma are just a part of who he is; and that reflects in his stage persona through witty banter and fun anecdotes.
Paul’s Persona On Display + A Little Cheese
Moving on, Paul played more of his new songs, then interspersed a couple of Beatles songs in the mix. After some more banter with the audience, Paul stated that “I know the songs you people like the most, I can tell because you all have your lights [phones] up. I know that it’s The Beatles’ songs and not my new songs. But, we don’t care. We’re going to play them anyway”. That elicited a big round of laughter and applause from the audience.
Paul performed “My Valentine”, a song he wrote for his newest wife. However, this part fell a bit flat for me. I’m happy for Paul, and I’m happy for Paul’s wife, but the projector was Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp doing sign language.
I love the idea of integrating ASL into concerts as it allows more people to enjoy it. But, this implementation just was pretty laughable to me, only due to Depp. Natalie Portman was great, but watching Johnny Depp feel the need to hold a guitar throughout, and then play something inaudible that did not correlate with the music that we were hearing… it was just cheesy.
Getting A Bit More Serious
It was starting to get dark, which lends itself well to the brilliant lighting and projector work that was accompanying the performance. The tone of the event changed when Paul started playing “Maybe I’m Amazed”. A beautiful song from his 1970 album, “McCartney”. From here, I personally felt a deeper emotional connection start to form between the performer and audience. The remainder of the concert will forever be etched in my memory.
A Brief History Lesson
He followed that up with “I’ve Just Seen A Face” before the concert stopped and the stage was shrunk down. Large projectors moved from the back of the stage to the front, creating a continuous backdrop that only left around 10 feet in depth from the stage that had just been 60+ feet deep. Then, Paul gave us some history of The Quarrymen.
The group that predated the Beatles included John, George, Paul, and two other people. Paul shared a funny anecdote about how each of the band mates chipped in 1 sterling pound to record the 5-pound album. They agreed that each of them would hold on to the record for 1-week, and they each took their one-week turn. However, when John Lowe had it, he kept it for much longer. They eventually had to buy it from him. This is something I had known about from previous Beatles Documentaries. But, hearing Paul McCartney talk about it in person was just different.
Then, we got “Love Me Do”, and more history of how that song was recorded. Paul shared that he was not prepared to sing the lines “love me do”, which were normally sung by John. But, George Martin said that he wanted the line to start at the same time as the final note of the harmonica part, which was also played by John. The result was a very nervous Paul singing it, and he claims that he can still hear his voice quivering when he hears that on the radio.
Sir Paul’s Solo Time On Stage
Then, the stage began to change again. Everyone except Paul left. Paul was left there holding his upside-down Martin D28 (a guitar that I now feel a need to own. Thanks, Paul).
Paul started performing “Blackbird”. A beautiful song, with a beautiful intention. Paul had recently learned about the recently ended Jim Crow laws in the US, and the civil rights movement. He wanted to create a feeling of hope for people who had been and continue to be disenfranchised. As he sang, the part of the stage that he stood on was rising slowly. By the end, he was probably about 20 feet higher than he started and there was a series of screens on the front of the raised platform. Unfortunately, one of the screens was out, which slightly hindered the effect, but it was negligible in the grand scheme of things.
Balancing The Emotionally Heavy With The Emotionally Light
After that, he played the emotional song “If You Were Here Today”, an emotional highlight that lays out what he wishes he could say to John Lennon. Following this, we had some more Beatles songs with Lady Madonna. At this time, an upright piano was brought out for Paul to play. I thought that it was just vibrant and beautifully designed, but it turned out that the front of the piano was a screen! You will see how it dynamically changed during the songs it was used, it was very cool!
Being For The Benefit Of The Audience
A few songs later, Paul went on to play “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”. This song was accompanied by really cool projector art, it was super enjoyable. That said, while I love the music, and the presentation was fantastic, the only reason I am mentioning it is that I think that there could have been some other songs in this place instead, especially with it being a song that was originally sung by John. The instrumentation and overall presentation was great. I am just splitting hairs at this point.
“Something” Extra Special
Paul went on to retrieve the Gibson ukulele that had been gifted to him from George Harrison. I knew what was coming next. However, there were surprises in store for me. Paul started playing “Something”, but after the first verse, the rest of the band joined in. I had heard him do the whole song solo with the ukulele, but this was nice. It was one of the highlights of the show for me. It was emotional and touching, and you could hear the love in Paul’s voice.
The Emotional Balance
Paul knows how to build a great setlist, so after something that heavy, he knew we would need something light and fun. Something to remind us that life goes on. What was that? “Ob La Di Ob La Da”, of course! I don’t think anyone in Fenway (or the surrounding block) was not singing along. Paul’s energy radiated to the audience.
A Legend Caught Off Guard
Then something unexpected happened. The entire stadium erupted in a rendition of “Happy Birthday”. McCartney is turning 80 on June 18th, so it was appropriate. This allowed me to see Paul’s banter in a way that was not planned. Even though his wit and charisma seemed so natural, for all I knew, it was still rehearsed to some extent. This disproved any notion of that. Paul was taken aback by this but went on to express his gratitude.
From there, he went on to inform us that the next song would be one that he had never performed live. He started singing, “out of college money spent, see no future, pays no rent”. I nearly lost it. I am so moved by Abbey Road, and the medley (kicked off by “You Never Give Me Your Money”) is a huge part of my connection with that album. As one small gripe, it’s not the first time he’s played it live. However, it might be the first time that he started it in media res. That, I do not know. He followed with “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”.
He Said It, That’s The Title!
Next, we got “Get Back”, an awesome song that has been on the mind of anyone who watched the recently released “Get Back” film by Peter Jackson (highly recommended). This was of course interwoven with the pristine-looking footage that was released in that series. This was followed by Band On The Run. A fun, lighthearted Wings song performed with exceptional energy. After this, things got more serious again. It was time for Paul to do his finale.
This started with “Let It Be”. Again, everyone in Fenway was singing. How could they not? We were all collectively a part of music history. Seeing one of the most fundamentally important figures in music history, and singing along with him in one of the most iconic songs ever written, was something you would have to experience to understand.
We got a little lighter again with “Live And Let Die”. But, it was accompanied by intense and impactful pyrotechnics. It was powerful! The only time that I’ve seen more intense pyrotechnics is at the two Kiss shows I attended (1999, 2019). Surpassing the bar set by Kiss is an unrealistic expectation to ever have. But, in this one song, it’s a more than worthy second place. When the chorus was about to start, there were 10 foot pillars of flame, so hot I could feel the heat on my face. There were also explosion sounds. A loud BANG that made me happy I was wearing earplugs (side note always wear earplugs at concerts).
A Sing Along For The Ages
Then, without any time wasted, we hear “Hey Jude”. You could feel the collective emotion swell. People were crying, people were laughing, and people were experiencing it. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it was magical. When I say that the entirety of Fenway erupted to sing along with Ob La Di Ob La Da or Let It Be, that still wouldn’t compare to this. It felt like all of Boston was singing along with the outro. People had signs (they always do at Paul shows) and there was a handful of people who each had a “Na” sign. I then noticed myself on the jumbotron and realized I was sitting right by former presidential candidate John Kerry, pretty neat I guess.
The Expected Encore – Slava Ukraini!
The song concluded, but everyone knew that an encore was incoming. Paul returned to the stage waving a Ukrainian flag. His bandmates followed suit with a Ukraine flag, UK flag, US flag, pride flag, and Massachusetts flag. I’m glad that the pride flag and the Ukraine flag were included. He could have easily chosen to omit them, and while they are small gestures, it’s better to have them than to not.
The show went on. I thought the last chunk of songs was the climax, but I was wrong. It kept getting better!
The True Climax – John Performs
First, we got something I did not expect at all. Paul performed “I’ve Got A Feeling”, and admirably hit the high notes that were tough for him in his 20s with “all these years I’ve been wonderin’ around”. But then, John was on the jumbotron. They had isolated his vocals from The Rooftop Concert, and he was singing his part in the song. I nearly broke down. John died before I was born, but there are few that I hold in quite as high regard as him. This was the closest I will ever get to experience him live, and I got to see it alongside Paul McCartney. Again, magical. Don’t care if I am cheesy anymore.
Classic Paul knew that he had to lift people up again from this emotional performance, so we went on to another fun track from The White Album, “Birthday”.
He then surprised me again by rolling right into “Helter Skelter”, another fantastic White Album song. And, another impressive singing performance from an 80-year-old singer. You could tell he didn’t backtrack himself, and he could have gotten away with it if he wanted to, but he didn’t, and I respect him that much for that.
“In The End, The Love You Take, Is Equal To The Love You Make”
I already mentioned how much the Abbey Road medley means to me, so it was a boon when he started to play Golden Slumbers. This transitioned into “Carry That Weight” and “The End”. A most fitting end to the performance.