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He is Paul McCartney after all

It started with James Corden.

A few months ago, he hosted an episode of Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney. I don’t know if you are familiar with the concept. Each week, Corden, an actor and TV host, goes on a drive with a singer and they sing the star’s greatest hits, Karaoke style.


The evening I watched, McCartney was the guest. But they did not just drive around aimlessly. They went to Liverpool, wandered through Paul’s childhood home and his haunts and ended up at a local pub where, without any warning, Paul and his band sang all the Beatles classics. The effect, as you can imagine, was overwhelming. People cried and sang along. So amazing was the surprise performance that even I found myself in tears when McCartney played some of his best songs.


   Yes, I know! We old people can be like that! The Beatles have been so much a part of our growing up that every song is loaded with memories. So, as wimpish as it sounds, great Beatle songs have the power to dramatically impact my mood. (Especially when I have had a drink or two…)


   After the Corden episode finished, my wife and I wished we could have seen McCartney in concert.


   Well perhaps we still could, I said. He was promoting a new album called Egypt Station on TV shows across America so presumably, there was a tour to go with the album.


   Oddly enough I have never seen McCartney live though I have always maintained (even when it was deeply unhip to do so) that he was the most talented of The Beatles. But somehow the opportunity never arose. In recent years, I had come to the sad conclusion that unlike say, Mick Jagger, McCartney was beginning to show signs of age. He was terrible at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics (or was it the opening ceremony?) and I decided that like say, Elton John, he no longer had the voice he needed to perform his hits live.


   But the Corden performance got me thinking. Paul sounded great, like a man half his age. Whatever problems he may have once had with his voice seemed to have been resolved.


   Then, unworthy thoughts begun to surface. McCartney is 76. Will he ever tour again? Will his voice hold out? Or will it give in again? Would this be our last chance to see him on top form? Or to see him it at all?


   We decided, on impulse, that we would catch his world tour. We looked up the dates on the internet. It turned out that he was performing in London on 16 Dec. By some coincidence I had promised a friend that I would be in London around that time. This was serendipity at work.


   Or not.


   As we looked at the dates on the net, we discovered that every single show on the tour was sold out. The London show (at the O2 arena) had been among the first to go. There was no way we could buy tickets.


   Or maybe there was…..


   Over the last couple of years. I have moved back to the (Taj-run) St. James Court Hotel in London largely because Digvijay Singh, the General Manager, has transformed the hotel with excellent service.


   I texted Digvijay with the dates. Could his Concierge get us tickets?


   In India, “Concierge” is a meaningless term, reserved for bell captains. But in a good hotel abroad, a Concierge should be able to open every door for you. The Concierge at 51 Buckingham Gate (the apartment section of St. James’ Court) replied. He would do his best, he said.


   We waited a week till Nelson Mendes, the Concierge, got back to me. Yes, he had somehow procured two tickets for my wife and me.


   We were overjoyed. The planets were lined up in the right order! Two tickets to a show we wanted to see in the week we were due to be in London, anyway! Wow!


   Then, one of the planets moved. My London trip got suddenly and mysteriously cancelled.


   We had a hasty consultation. Should we go anyway, just to see Paul McCartney live?


   You bet!


"But here’s the thing about McCartney: he doesn’t have to play the big hits because there are just too many of them."

   And so, on 16 January, we found ourselves heading for the O2 arena to join the wet and drenched thousands who had come to see and hear Paul McCartney. (It was pouring and the approach to the O2 is designed on the bizarre assumption that it never rains in London.) Like good Indians, we reached an hour early, forsook the lounge and bar privileges that were included in the tickets Nelson had got for us and sat in our seats in a state of quiet excitement.


   The show started on time and the first thing that struck me was that McCartney made no rock star-type entrance. He walked on to the stage along with the band he has performed with for several years, acknowledged the applause and then, with the first opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night, set the audience on fire.


   The audience only settled down somewhat when he followed up with Junior’s Farm (a second-string Wings song) but by the third song (the Beatles’ All My Loving), the crowd was rocking again.


   At this stage, McCartney had three choices. One: he could have dug up more vintage Beatles (A Hard Day’s Night and All My Loving were hits long before my wife was even born) and kept the crowd cheering in recognition as each song began.


   Two: he could have done the classic rock set with some get-up-dance numbers followed by a ballad heavy middle section and then an intense, hit-filled heavy final section. And an anthem or two for the encores.


   Or three: he could have thrown away all the rules. He is Paul McCartney after all.


   I wasn’t surprised when he went for option three. What did surprise me was that he played 36 to 40 songs (the number varies depending on how you count the second side of Abbey Road: individual songs or a single suite).The set took three hours and he was never off the stage.


   I haven’t seen anyone else do that. The Stones sets are shorter. Zeppelin would play for three hours but there was always an unofficial 20 minute interval when the tiresome John Bonham would go into his drum solo; the other members of the band would leave the stage (to be pleasured by groupies, according to Zep legend) and the rest of us would go to the loo or hit the bar.


   For a man of 76 to play that long is incredible and though there was none of the Jaggeresque prancing you associate with some rock stars, McCartney moved around a lot and sang his heart out – without his voice giving out.


   When you have the greatest back catalogue in rock history you can go on a 30-date tour and never play a single hit twice. So McCartney is not like the others. If you went to see Elton John and he did not do Daniel, Your Song or Candle In the Wind, you would be asking for your money back. So it is with The Who and Won’t get Fooled Again or the Stones and Satisfaction and Jumping Jack Flash or Zeppelin (in the glory days) and Whole Lotta Love or Stairway.


   But here’s the thing about McCartney: he doesn’t have to play the big hits because there are just too many of them. So, he did not play his best-known song Yesterday. There was no Long and Winding Road.


   Instead, the choice of songs was eccentric. If you had to pick a White Album track, would you pick Birthday? Or Helter Skelter? (Not unless you were Charles Manson, anyway.) If you had to pick two songs from Sgt. Pepper would you pick “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite as one of them? If you were looking for the greatest songs from Band On The Run, would you pick 1985 (the one song on the album that Denny Laine is associated with?)? Would you pick I’ve Got A Feeling from Let It Be?


   McCartney did all that and what’s more, it worked. The audience were not as familiar with these songs as they were with say, Let It Be but in a way, that was good because it gave McCartney a chance to perform fresh versions and to be more than a travelling juke box.


   And anyhow it wasn’t that kind of show. McCartney didn’t bother to only play super-hits. He paused frequently to tell stories (how Jimi Hendrix played Sgt. Pepper as a tribute to the Beatles and was horribly out of tune!)  and give a little history (he played the only song the Quarrymen, the predecessors to the Beatles, ever recorded) and about what it was like to be the first rock star to play in Russia.


   There were effects you would not expect from an artist of McCartney’s vintage. Live and Let Die was accompanied by plumes of fire and bomb-like sound effects.


   Throughout, you had the sense that this was a master, taking his own time to think back on his career, playing songs we may have forgotten, mixing them up with classics and as one of the encores, staging a surviving Beatles re-union when Ringo joined him for Get Back. (Ronnie Wood played guitar.)


   Was I as tearful during the concert as I had been while watching the Corden show? Well, frankly no. I was too excited. But there was a moment when I was quite overwrought when I realized that, for the first and last time in my life, I was listening to Eleanor Rigby sung by the man who wrote it.


   And if you don’t feel a tear roll down your cheek when McCartney begins the suite of songs at the end of side two of Abbey Road with “once there was a way to get back homeward” you might as well go and listen to Kanye.


   Was I glad I came? Had it all been worthwhile? Did I regret the expense?


   Are you kidding?


   This was much more than a concert. It was a reminder of the joys and highs of our lifetimes.


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



Posted On: 19 Dec 2018 12:11 PM
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