Freshen Up tour
Where: SAP Arena, San Jose
magnificent catalog for a magical show
In 1970, after the breakup of The Beatles, Paul McCartney retreated to his Scottish farm and, reportedly, wondered if he would ever work again.
He needn’t have worried. On Wednesday night (July 17) at the San Jose Arena he packed the house and played pretty much non-stop for 2 ½ hours — not a bad workout for his 77 years. I got the feeling he could have played there all week, packed every house and, like a favorite radio station, not played the same song twice.
When you’ve been creating music for nigh on 60 years, you have quite a catalog to dig from. And whereas most composers do their best work in the flush of youth, “Macca” has continued to bring the goods into his later years. Not only did he play a few songs written with John Lennon in the pre-Beatles Quarrymen band of 1957, but also a couple of numbers from 2018’s “Egypt Station,” which debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200. While the Quarrymen numbers were influenced by the skiffle and rockabilly sounds of the time, the “Egypt Station” songs were pure McCartney — pop tunes with nice lyrics and great hooks — though “Who Cares?” a song about bullying, delves a little deeper into current youth issues.
So how do you start a concert with 60 years of your own songs to choose from? Easy. The most recognizable opening chord in all that time is of course from “A Hard Day’s Night” (F69/D or G7sus4/A depending on your preference) written for the movie of the same name. McCartney and band launched into the song and San Jose exploded with delight. Of course the acoustics at the arena are pretty muddy up in the cheap seats, but with video footage of ’60s Britain behind him and big screens showing the man himself, the overall experience was magical.
McCartney’s voice, though a little croaky when talking to the audience, actually sounded just fine when he was singing. For the first few songs he played his signature Hofner violin bass, and this, plus the sight of a couple of Vox amps behind him — the unsung heroes of the ’60s British guitar sound — provided strong links to his Beatles past. Songs like “All My Loving,” “From Me To You” and “Love Me Do” took us back to those early years. John Lennon originally sang the lead on “Love Me Do,” but he also played the harmonica part which originally came after the vocal. Paul told the audience that producer George Martin (often called “the fifth Beatle”) wanted the harp to come in on the first beat instead. But John was still singing “Do” at that point so Martin told Paul to take the vocal, which Paul had never sung before. He says he can still hear the nerves in his voice on the recording.
The post-Beatles years saw McCartney expand his repertoire and music in new directions and band variations. He took to the piano for “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which starts out touchingly but leads into a crescendo guitar solo, ably performed by longtime touring band member Rusty Anderson.
But the Wings song “Let Me Roll It” saw McCartney swap his bass for a psychedelic Les Paul guitar and kick out some jams, running into the riff from Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” He told the audience how Jimi had covered “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” at a live concert a week after its release. Jimi, of course, played it his way, with lots of bends and whammies, using a Bigsby whammy bar, which sent the guitar massively out of tune, on the first number. Jimi’s plea to Eric Clapton, who happened to be in the audience, to come up and tune his guitar apparently fell on deaf ears.
Quieting down his fabulous band (Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson on guitars, Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums and Paul “Wix” Wickens on keyboards) McCartney plucked some acoustic guitar, mandolin and ukele, giving us personalized renditions of “Falling,” “Blackbird,” and George Harrison’s “Something.” If you closed your eyes, it was like he had invited you into his living room, sat you down and said, “let’s listen to some old records.” Except they were Paul McCartney songs, played and sung by the man himself.
“Hey Jude” (not “Hey Dude” as someone’s sign read), turned the SAP Arena into a Thomas Kincade picture, the whole crowd waving their cellphone lights, and Paul’s shoutout “Anyone got a birthday?” heralded, well, “Birthday,” of course. A rocking “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was followed by an even rockier “Helter Skelter” from the White Album (written by McCartney to one-up to Pete Townsend’s “I Can See For Miles” as the most raucous vocal and loudest drums he could come up with). It wasn’t all just pop music.
McCartney is genuinely as nice as he seems. He talked to a few of the sign-wavers and when he noticed that one of them wrote that she had sold her Mini Cooper to pay for the tickets to see him (“I had one of those,” he said), he invited her and her friend onto the stage to dance with him. The fact that she happened to be wearing a walrus suit may have helped.
In the same way that “A Hard Day’s Night” is the way to start a concert of mainly Beatles music, the way to end it is also an easy choice. “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” and finally “The End.” We all went home happy, our heads filled with the sounds of our youth. It was wonderful to see so many families and youngsters with moms and dads. They too will buy the re-releases, and hopefully be influenced by the music of one of the 20th century’s most prolific, most tuneful, most loved songwriters and performers.