Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney :: Hammersmith Apollo, London, 18-12-10

My feelings towards Paul McCartney are subject to change. He gets on my nerves sometimes; the nice-guy act, the fake humility, calling for the 100 Club to be saved… YOU save it; you’ve got half a billion quid in the bank. In the ‘80s and ‘90s he seemed to be in a perpetually defensive place; having a fight with a ghost, about who wrote better songs, was a battle that took him years to realise he couldn’t win. Then he caught a bad break with Heather Mills, a preying mantis, and I felt for him. But still, there it is, nagging away, the feeling that so much of what he does is rehearsed, contrived and insincere.

In some ways, he’s the very opposite of John, who put everything out there: good, bad and ugly. He was a work in progress and didn’t shy away from everyone knowing it; being incomplete, being painfully flawed, always searching for something, not even knowing what to look for half the time, was part of who he was and when he tried to be a better person, finding success or failure, he would never hide the journey. A confessional genre was born out of him, but Paul has never been like that. There are songs about heartfelt love, yes, but few (aside from Flaming Pie, when he didn’t know what else to do) about human flaws and personal frailty, which I always took as rather unappealing. Not that all singer songwriters must be confessional but, for me, if you’re not connecting with your audience on a personal level, there’s something missing. While songwriters with nothing to say can’t write words worth thinking about and self-absorbed lyricists mask deficiencies in song-craft, the perfect balance is one who can communicate on both musical and lyrical levels and I felt McCartney was sometimes lacking in the latter.

George would always talk about the Beatles as ‘them’, knowing the construct of pop culture iconography was something that shouldn’t be believed, something that shouldn’t stop you from looking for more. Paul, only half joking, once said that sometimes he would walk past the mirror and think, ‘you’re him!’ He and Ringo (who should be grateful, frankly) are satisfied with the tangible, whereas John and George always yearned for more. As such, with all the misgivings I have about his personality, I felt like a blank canvas as I trudged through the snow to Hammersmith to see him live, excited but wary.

After all that, you can guess what happened. He’s Paul fucking McCartney and he will work his arse off to make you forget every doubt you have about him, even if just for those two and a half hours on stage.

Some days I love the Stones more. Some days I love Led Zeppelin more. But they cannot make me feel what I felt last night. The Beatles are woven into the fabric of this country in a way that no other band is. These songs are your life; they’re in your DNA. I saw teenagers, hipsters, mid-30s couples, I’m-still-cool 40-year-old dads with their youngsters, record-fair guys like my dad pushing their late 50s and a collection of sweet old couples in their 60s who might even have seen him play this venue before, long before. And to a man, woman and child, every one of them laughed and cried and sang their hearts out, a deafening roar greeting every song. Strangers looked each other in the eyes with recognition of the moment. Those songs… there are so many - with that back catalogue, how can you go wrong?

The stars even aligned to the point where I ended up closer to the stage than my ticket allowed. I had a balcony ticket, but I was lucky enough to get to use what I call the ‘Arcade Fire trick’, only because I first did it for them at Brixton Academy a few years ago. You need two friends with standing tickets. They go in together. One comes back out with both tickets. You walk in with the spare. Simple. And thus, I ended up 10 rows back from the stage. Good work. Everyone was ready and wide-eyed, thrilled to be in such a small venue, thawing out from the snow, ready to feel or stay young, how they felt when they first heard, or their parents first played them, a Beatles song.

And not just Beatles songs either, there’s a lot of love for the 70s solo/Wings stuff – Band On The Run, Let Me Roll It, Jet and Maybe I’m Amazed were warmly greeted before massive explosions and fireworks, which I thought might set the roof alight, blasted out alongside Live And Let Die.

You simply lose yourself. There is no resistance; you can’t help it. These songs are part of who we are and, as you stand with a crowd of people who have come from all over the world, there’s an inevitable, inescapable, joyous, Englishness about every single person there. The Beatles make you feel, or rediscover, what it is to be English. Fifty years worth of people have grown up with this music in their head and, even in another fifty years, it’ll still mean as much. Undoubtedly, we’re in a lucky position now, to be able to hear these songs performed live. I saw him at Earls Court in 2003, a small figure in the distance, and it was a great show. Then I saw the next night and he came out with the same schtick, verbatim, between songs. I know your game, I thought. Everyone likes to think the gig they’re at, no matter who is on stage, is like a snowflake. Just for you, with your own touches and unique events on the night you went. And sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s not. And yet, with McCartney, despite yourself, it's just one of those things that you let simply float away with the opening bars of Magical Mystery Tour.

We got ‘em all – the innocence of youth (I Saw Her Standing There); Hard Day’s Night Beatlemania (Drive My Car/All My Loving); a Dylan-influenced lyrical move forward (Eleanor Rigby); solo in everything but name late-period rockers (Get Back/Back in the USSR), a little bit of quirky rubbish with good humour (Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da), weepy tributes (Here Today/Something); and so on and on and on. Songs you’d forgotten about completely, songs that remind you of being a kid, hearing them at home. Songs that you want to be the last songs you ever hear on this earth. And just think of some of the songs he can afford to leave out: Penny Lane, Can’t Buy Me Love, We Can Work It Out, Things We Said Today, Fixing A Hole, Fool On The Hill, Hello Goodbye, I’ll Follow The Sun, Here, There and Everywhere, Day Tripper, Lady Madonna…

He has everything to offer and, even if he knows it, it is irresistible. One need not be filled with humility when you can say you wrote Hey Jude and Yesterday. Hey Jude in particular is a tune we’ve all heard and over-heard. It goes on forever but, having lived through nine fake endings of Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World, I could take it. So I sang and waved my arms and knew it might be the last time I’d get a chance to do it. Arenas and stadia are not for me, this was my night to have, to remember, to thank him for what he’s done. I sang Yesterday, and wept. And just when you think neither you nor he has any more to give, he plays Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, followed by The End and, with everyone joined as one, the meaning strikes home: and in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.

Magical Mystery Tour
Got To Get You Into My life
All My Loving
One After 909
Drive My Car
Let Me Roll It/Foxy Lady (snippet)
The Long and Winding Road
Maybe I'm Amazed
Here Today
I'm Looking Through You
And I Love Her
Dance Tonight
Eleanor Rigby
Hitch Hike
Sing The Changes
Band on the Run
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Back In The USSR
A Day In The Life/Give Peace A Chance
Let It Be
Live And Let Die
Hey Jude

Encore 1
Wonderful Christmas Time
I Saw Her Standing There
Get Back

Encore 2
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
The End