Thursday, September 9, 2010

Paul McCartney Up and Coming Tour

“We should go see McCartney.” My lovely wife Kathy was looking at the San Francisco Chronicle’s Pink Section ads. I thought she was kidding. Our music expeditions lately have been either free or very cheap. She had a hunch this show would be a really big one. There were tickets advertised in the fifty dollar range for “The Up and Coming Tour.” I had to admit I had been craving a Big Rock Show. Music tours and shows were taking a beating in today’s economy. Some tours had been cancelled. I went through the phone tree ordeal and got us two in the third deck. Section VR312.

I was always a Lennon fan, so I hadn’t even considered going. This would be Paul’s first appearance in San Francisco since the last Beatles show ever at Candlestick Park in 1966. Since then he had played in the Bay Area, but not in San Francisco.

Why did I have such a loathing for McCartney? Was it because they shot Lennon and not him? That was hardly fair to Macca. Maybe it was the Lordship thing? It was because of Wings. Lennon may have gone off the deep end sometimes with his revolutionary rhetoric, but most Wings songs made me sick. Kathy pointed out it might be a last chance to see a Beatle. I knew he’d be playing Beatles songs. Well, he did get busted for pot in Japan.

McCartney had just caused a minor stir when he visited the White House. He joked that at least this president would know his way to the library. A Republican politician demanded an apology. Sir Paul ignored his request.

Touring can be aggravating, even for a British Lord. There had been a scary incident near Mexico City. After a show there, the tour bus driver got lost and turned off into an area of town they should not have been in. The bus drew attention and a crowd grew. These weren’t Beatles fans. They probably didn’t know who was inside. It was an impoverished neighborhood and they resented what they thought was a party bus full of rich tourists. They started rocking the bus. Those in the bus said it was a scary moment. Federales intervened.

The day approached and we started to get excited. The show was at AT&T Park, where the Giants played. It was familiar territory and we thought we would have a jump on most of the crowd. We’d get there early, park and stop in one of the local restaurants. The demographic for this show was very similar to the crowds at Giants games. So, we shouldn’t have been too surprised that many had the same idea we had. We did find parking, but the local restaurants were jammed.

On the way to the park we saw two Hippie mamas sitting in their car enjoying a joint. Grandmamas really. They passed it back and forth on a big roach clip, oblivious to any legal repercussions. I thought no cop would really want to mess with these two.

We arrived at the park and there was a big crowd around the gates and in the plaza with the Willie Mays statue. Frank Chu was standing on the corner with his sign detailing intergalactic conspiracies. Another sign told us to: “Fear God.” They were ignored. There was more than the usual Big Rock Show excitement in the air.

It was almost seven o’clock and I heard someone say they had just opened the gates. Everyone got the usual search on the way in, but I noticed there weren’t that many people working the lines. It took about forty minutes to get in. It could have been an ordeal, but this crowd was very polite and orderly. Peace, Love and all that.

We got in and there weren’t many people working security or crowd control. We knew where our seats where, but many did not. This caused logjams of people. A few people giving directions would have been great. It was more obvious cost cutting. I think they counted on the peaceful, more mature Beatles fans to do it on their own.

We made the climb to our seats. We were near the top of the upper deck. It was a long walk up the stairs. There’s an awesome view of the Bay from up there. We could see sailboats and other vessels on the Bay. We couldn’t see the sunset, but the water and clouds were a great sight. We could see clear to the other side of the Bay. It had been unseasonably cold in San Francisco. It was cold, but it wasn’t windy. Most of the crowd was bundled up. AT&T isn’t as windy as Candlestick, but you have to be prepared.

To our left were piers with large shipping docks. There’s not too much shipping that goes on in San Francisco anymore, but the huge dry docks are still used for repairs. If McCartney could see this view would it remind him at all of Liverpool?

We were very high up in Section 312, almost near the top. A light tower blocked our view of the grand piano a little bit. They would be dots from up here anyway. There was the now obligatory big screen above the stage.

A weird Macca party tape played while images from the Sixties rolled on the big video screen. There were 45 RPM record covers, photos of celebrities of the time, lunch boxes, ads for shows, concerts and sock hops. They were relics of a distant past. The items scrolled across a background of what looked like psychedelic wallpaper for a kid’s bedroom. It was very Yellow Submarine. Icons of the Sixties rolled by including Eric Clapton and Frank Zappa! There were even a few bars of Michael Jackson songs in the mix tape. It was strange considering the bitterness after Jocko bought the Beatles’ song rights.

The Union Jack flew next to the American flag in center field. Was it just a friendly gesture, or was this some kind of requirement when a Lord of the Realm was present? A large Coast Guard cutter circled in the water beyond the center field scoreboard. Were they just cruising, or was it a security precaution?

The music tape and the pictures kept circling. There was an hour wait. An opening act would have been nice. Was this another cost cutting measure? It could have been a big gig for someone.

The crowd was like a Giants baseball crowd. There were a few more geezers. Some came huffing and puffing up the stairs to section VR312. Some leaned on canes. Most paused for a breather. A few looked like they might not make it. There’s no other way to say it, some of this crowd is elderly. There were family groups. The parents were taking their kids to see a Beatle. They were passing the torch and hoping the kids could experience some Sixties magic.

It’s finally show time and the band takes the stage. They open with a couple of Wings songs. “Venus and Mars/Rock Show.” (I’ve listed the Wings song titles from the San Francisco Chronicle account.) “Jet.” The band does sound great. The response of the crowd shows there are obviously many Wings fans in attendance.

Paul is in a Nehru style tuxedo. He works the crowd a bit. He says it’s his first time here since the Candlestick Show. “We couldn’t hear ourselves. Everyone was screaming then,” and on cue there is a chorus of female screams. “Now they have these loud things.”

Macca says he “wants to take this all in” and walks around the front of the stage looking at the cheering crowd. “We have to do all these things up here,” like play the chords and remember the words. He says it can be hard, especially with all the distracting signs in the crowd. He reads one: “Remember me from Cow Palace 64?” Paul laughs, but then he says, “Oh yeah, I remember you now.”

It’s the first Beatles song of the night: “All My Loving” and just like that, it’s all worth it. The song brings a flood of memories for most of the crowd. Over forty years ago. This song came out before they were condemned by many after Lennon said they were bigger than Jesus. It was before they smoked pot with Dylan. Before LSD. It was before Paul died. It was before the Maharishi. It was before they sent Charles Manson messages on The White Album. Paul might have been “the cute one,” but he’d survived some weird scenes.

There was some animation of the Fab Four on the video screens. I assume it’s from The Beatles’ version of Rock Band. It looked a little creepy as they bounced around in the background.

Rusty Anderson plays lead guitar on most numbers. He looks familiar and I learn later he also toured with Ozzy. Brian Ray switches on and off with Paul. If Paul puts on the bass, he puts on a guitar. If Paul plays guitar, he fills in on bass.

“All My Loving” really cranks everything up a notch. It reminded me how in the old days bands would play a Beatles song in their set, especially if things weren’t going well. A Beatles song at least livened things up a bit, and many times it saved the night.

There was another Wings song, “Letting Go" and Paul says, “We thought it would be hot here.” It was amusing to think of Sir Paul making the stereotypical San Francisco tourist mistake. He said he didn’t bring his overcoat, “I’m keeping the jacket on. This kind of weather builds character.”

He looks great, spry and energetic. He is sixty-eight and his hair is dyed, but he still has the Beatle charm. Sometimes he looks like a bloke just going out for a good time. It’s also obvious he’s enjoying playing for a live audience.

“Got to Get You Into My Life” is another Beatles Rocker. There are no horns, but keyboardist Paul Wickens fills those in with his synthesizer. Every Beatle song takes us back. The nostalgia fest is on!

The band starts “Highway.” There’s feedback and the piano squawks, out of control. Paul stops the band. “It would be easier if this was on tape. This is LIVE!” Paul is always the crafty entertainer. He makes light of the technical problems. They’re going to happen. At the end of “Highway” he breaks into the riff from “Foxy Lady.”

Paul takes a seat at the piano. He talks about Jimi Hendrix. It was a privilege to have known and played with him. “Hendrix was a nice guy. He was shy.”

He tells a story about Hendrix and the release of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. “We always released on a Friday back then.” That Sunday Paul went to see Hendrix play in a London club. Hendrix opened the show by playing Sgt. Pepper’s. It was an amazing tribute.

“Back then we had whammy bars,” Paul tells us. Using the whammy bars would knock the strings around and put the guitar out of tune. Hendrix was looking for Clapton. “Is Eric here?” he asked the crowd that night, “I want him to come up and tune my guitar.” Paul says Clapton hid.

There’s not too many that can tell a story like that. It made me think of all the scenes McCartney had seen.

“The Long and Winding Road”

I didn’t realize you could see the lights of the Oakland Coliseum from VR312. I thought the lights came from some industrial docks. I was only sure it was The Coliseum after I saw the lights of the large electronic marquee in front of the stadium through binoculars. It was fireworks night. So we did get an extra fireworks show. There were tiny dots in the sky across the Bay.

“Nineteen-Hundred and Eighty-Five.” “Let ‘Em In.” I’m starting to squirm a bit. There are too many Wings songs. Maybe Paul is too good of a songwriter. He writes peppy and happy, positive songs. They stay in your head like commercial jingles.

“Here’s for the Wings fans,” “My Love.” Yuck.

“I’m Looking Through You.” I remember listening to this and the rest of Rubber Soul. We had a copy we listened to so many times it turned white.

Paul dons an acoustic for “Two of Us.” Maybe most of the Wings songs are behind us!

Paul says they were aware of the Civil Rights conflicts going on in America at the time. He said they wrote "Blackbird” to send some kind of encouragement to the people in the struggle. This would have been pretentious for almost anybody else. “Things are better today,” Paul says and it sounds a bit ironic in the Bay Area. There had been tension in the East Bay after the Mehersle verdict a week ago. There were few Black people in this crowd. Tiny dots of light swirl around on the screen behind the band. They spin around and coalesce into the head of Obama.

They do Paul’s tribute to John Lennon, “Here Today.” It’s what Paul never had a chance to say to Lennon. I’m sure they were mates for a long time. It’s hard to imagine what it was like to be a Beatle. We thought it had to be the greatest thing ever. We didn’t know The Beatles were trapped. It’s been a long time since Lennon was killed. Maybe it’s my bitterness that he’s been gone so long, but the song left me feeling flat.

Back to more Wings with “Dance Tonight” and “Mrs. Vanderbilt.”

They play “San Francisco Bay Blues.” It’s a nice touch and a great sentimental favorite here, with a great view of the San Francisco Bay in front of us!

Paul talks about George Harrison. He still misses him. “Not many people knew that George was a great ukulele player.” They often played ukuleles together. He asks the crowd to look skyward and say Hello to George and everybody does. They play George’s signature song, “Something.”

“Sing the Changes” “Band on the Run.” How many Wings songs are there?

Paul says they’re playing the next song for the first time in San Francisco. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La Da” Wait a minute, aren’t almost all of these songs “the first time in San Francisco?” Most of them are being played for the first time in America.

The drummer doesn’t have much to do on a couple of songs. He’s a large Black man, Abe Laboriel. The few times he’s not needed he grabs a tambourine and sings along with great enthusiasm.

“Back in the USSR” One of the expected highlights. The band sounds great, and they do a great job on the Beach Boys harmonies. The crowd rocks out. It’s hot enough on stage by now that the big jacket Paul wore is now gone. At the end Paul raises his bass over his head in triumph, exactly like he did with The Beatles.

Paul talked about playing Russia a couple of years ago. The Beatles grew up in the Cold War era and never imagined visiting Russia, never mind playing Red Square. He met the Russian Minister of Defense. “He was younger than me!” Many in Russia learned English by listening to Beatles records. Paul is glad and honored this happened. Another high ranking Russian official told Paul, “I learned English by listening to your records! Hello Goodbye!”

They do a great version of “I’ve Got a Feeling.” The band gets to let loose.

“You may wonder why we change guitars so often up here... We’re showing off!” There’s a reason for bringing this guitar out for this song, it’s the guitar Paul played when they recorded the next song: “Paperback Writer!”

“A Day In the Life.” To me it sounds eerie, especially in the beginning. It’s more drama for Beatles fans. Did they ever do this one live? Anywhere? They tack on a little bit of “Give Peace a Chance” at the end and the crowd sings along.

Paul goes back to the piano for “Let It Be” a song many have been waiting for. It’s a moving moment. How many times has Paul played this? He knows how much it means to the fans who have paid to come out and see him. It’s like the first time we heard it.

Fire pots onstage explode to start, “Live and Let Die.” It’s still hard to believe this one was covered by Axl Rose. The band rocks and we get a much closer look at our second fireworks show of the night. Are we getting near the end? Paul is shaking his head and has a smug look on his face. No, it’s not going to end like this. There’s much more to come.

A smaller piano is brought center stage for “Hey Jude” The crowd is already singing, but Paul leads them in a sing along. Macca calls for just the men to sing and does some exaggerated macho posturing. Come on guys, loosen up. The women do sound louder, but the men do sing.

They leave the stage for a short time and the cigarette lighters come out. They come back with “Day Tripper.” Paul goes back to the piano onstage and rips into “Lady Madonna.”

The piano revolts before the next song. “It’s gone crazy,” Paul says and goes back to the baby grand. “I like this one better anyway.”

“Do you want more?” Paul asks. The crowd does seem to be fading. McCartney and the band seem to be gaining energy. It’s amazing, considering his age. It dawned on me. No wonder. This isn’t the original Paul! The Walrus really was dead! If this was the second cloned “fake” Paul, he was still quite the trooper. Even the second Paul has been around for over forty years. The crowd cheers when they recognize “Get Back” They’re really churning them out now.

They leave the stage again, and come out for a second encore. Paul names some of “the greatest crew in the world.” We don’t know how much goes into a production like this, he tells us. I don’t think he ever named those in the band. “Believe it or not, we have a pyrotechnician named Shakey!”

It was a Saturday night, but big outdoor shows get complaints by the NIMBYs in all parts of San Francisco. Even a Lord of the Realm has to answer to the dread Entertainment Commission. Eleven o’clock is the usual witching hour for big outdoor shows at AT&T Park, but the show went on.

I found myself wondering what’s left? What have they not played? How could I forget? “Yesterday.” I remember hearing it on TV that first time on Ed Sullivan. I was suspicious because it wasn’t a Rocker, but knew it would be a huge hit. It was another song many had come out to hear.

Next was one of the big surprises of the night: “Helter Skelter.” The screens behind the stage showed animated roller coaster footage. Just in case anyone thought the song was about leading a violent overthrow of civilization with dune buggies. This song reminds us that The Beatles were a great Rock and Roll band.

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” We can feel things winding down. The band plays a great version of “The End” the jam that ends Abbey Road. They do a great version on a song most of this crowd knows note for note. Abe Laboriel plays great drums.

It’s been a long show with many Beatles hits. The crowd does seem to be pretty well spent. They do the last lines of “The End,” “The love you get is equal to the love you make.” The crowd is happy, upbeat and buzzing as they walk down the catwalks on the way out.

Local political columnists Mattier & Ross reported there were only three phone calls complaining about the McCartney show. Two were from the same guy saying it was too loud. The third was from a woman sitting on her deck complaining that it wasn’t loud enough.