By Tom Siebert
A Paul McCartney concert cannot be reviewed without first considering the magnitude of the man. He is the most commercially successful singer/songwriter of all time, whose songs helped change the course of culture and music itself.
That stated, Sir Paul gave his all in measuring up to his mythical musical status before more than 25,000 fans spanning three generations Tuesday night at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in suburban Tinley Park, southwest of Chicago.
From the iconic opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” to the seven-song encore, the former Beatle sang, played, joked, mugged, and regaled the jubilant crowd with behind-the-music stories for three hours, during the first of two local concerts on his yearlong, One On One world tour.
Those backstories included references to Paul’s friends and fellow music luminaries Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards. He even mused topically that the reported rivalry between The Beatles and Rolling Stones was “fake news.”
We learned further from Paul’s personal discography that legendary record producer George Martin asked him at the last minute to sing the opening verses of “Love Me Do,” which became The Beatles’ first hit single. And that the song “Blackbird” was designed to give the hope of freedom to African Americans who were still suffering under Southern segregation in the 1960s.
But for those of us who grew up with McCartney’s music, it was the personal songs of love and loss that moved us most back then and even more now. Introducing his solo mega-hit “Maybe I’m Amazed,” he said simply, “This is a song I wrote for Linda,” a reference to his late wife with whom he founded the band Wings a few years after The Beatles broke up.
And he dedicated “My Valentine” to his current spouse Nancy Shevell, who was among the 11,000 fans in the reserved section of the amphitheater. Another 17,000 or so sat on blankets or beach chairs in the sprawling lawn area, aided visually by giant screens on each side of the stage that featured graphics and photos from every phase of the performer’s incandescent career.
Some songs needed no introduction, like “Yesterday,” the Beatles classic that has been covered by more than 2,200 artists, the most ever. When he got to the line “Yesterday came suddenly,” I could not help but think back to Dec. 8, 1980, when Paul’s band mate and songwriting partner John Lennon was senselessly shot to death by a deranged fan outside of his New York City apartment high-rise.
Lennon, for those who may not know, was a visionary musician, feminist, and peace activist. The world has yet to catch up with him. At the Tinley Park concert, Paul paid tribute to his friend from boyhood with the haunting “Here Today,” afterwards reminding the audience to tell their loved ones how much they mean to them while they are still alive––a sentiment that he never got to share with John.
There was also a poignant homage to the late Beatles guitar genius George Harrison, who died of lung cancer in 2001. McCartney played a ukulele given to him by George at the start of Harrison’s “Something,” which no less than Frank Sinatra once called the greatest love song ever written.
Paul’s savvy acoustic guitar set included the brilliant “Eleanor Rigby,” whose compelling lyrics were deemed worthy of study by my college poetry professor.
The official sing-a-along of the night was “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” from the so-called White Album. But many of the teary-eyed fans also sang the words to such standards as “And I Love Her,” “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude.”
Paul wrote “Live And Let Die” on spec for a James Bond movie, but the song became one of his biggest solo hits and was the concert’s show stopper, replete with dazzling strobe lights and bombastic fireworks that caused McCartney to plug his ears during one particularly loud blast.
In addition, Paul showed that he still has the gift of delivering catchy hooks and clever lyrics when he performed three more-recent songs: “New,” “Queenie Eye,” and, “FourFiveSeconds,” which he wrote with Kanye West and Rihanna.
McCartney’s backup band does an astonishing job of recreating his Beatles, Wings, and solo songs with note-for-note accuracy. You should know their names: guitarists Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr, and keyboardist Paul Wicken.
The other Paul played the keyboards, too, as well as the grand piano, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and his trademark Hofner bass. And for the record, McCartney is a 21-time Grammy winner, has written or co-written 32 No. 1 songs, and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as both a Beatle and solo artist.
But despite those stratospheric accomplishments, he appeared to be a pretty down-to-earth guy. He asked the audience members to raise their hands if they were from Chicago, from somewhere near the city, or from out of town. He surveyed the Beatles shirts and signs in the crowd, but chose to single out one sign that read “Chicago nurses are the best.” The man knows what’s important.
He also took note of the fact that The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, widely acclaimed as the most innovative and influential album of all time, was released 50 years ago. Moreover, two lines from the album’s title-track reprise were the perfect touch as the concert neared its epic climax: “We hope you have enjoyed the show…we’re sorry but it’s time to go.”
Then came the thrilling trilogy––”Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” and “The End”––from The Beatles’ last album Abbey Road, concluding with the immortal lyric: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Paul McCartney gave a lot of love to his fans Tuesday night. And the adoring audience gave it back in kind.