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(Pictured: One of our team photographers- Mark Greenawalt – who has been able to have dreams come true over and over with the opportunity to shoot all of his favorite classic rock artists for Burning Hot Events – including the legendary Sir Paul McCartney!)
PHOENIX — Paul McCartney delivered the soundtrack of our lives in a three-hour marathon performance at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The sound was perfect and the light show was amazing, but the magical and elusive ingredient was the way McCartney could make everyone feel the songs. This stop on his “Freshen Up Tour” was an emotional rollercoaster that took a nostalgic journey down memory lane and then ventured back to the more recent entries into the most incredible catalog on earth. The tour kicked off last September in Canada and has literally traveled the world including stops in Asia, Europe, South America, and finally back to North America. Phoenix is so fortunate to be included in such a short list of international dates.
Pulling from a catalog of hits by the Beatles, Wings, and solo material that everyone knew and loved, McCartney modestly proved why he is the world class entertainer all others aspire to. There were happy moments where the audience was giddy and singing along to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” like drunks in an Irish pub. But there were also more solemn moments when McCartney became the storyteller and reminisced about some people that we have lost – people we know as celebrities, but he knew as friends.
There was excitement in the air when the gentle verse of “Live And Let Die” exploded into a shocking display of pyrotechnics that brought out the inner child, wide-eyed and watching a finale of fireworks. At the opposite end of that spectrum was a simple rustic shack stage set for the performance of a stripped-down acoustic set of songs that included Beatles classics “From Me To You”, “Love Me Do”, and all the way back to The Quarrymen song “In Spite of All The Danger.”
There is no denying that McCartney is a class act, and it was evident from the moment he walked on stage wearing a stylish black jacket, white shirt, black pants and wielding the iconic Hoffner bass guitar for a splash of color. The jacket lasted eight songs before he announced, “This will be the one-and-only wardrobe change,” and revealed the white shirt, in stark contrast to the rest of the band dressed in all black.
Cast for the Evening
Paul McCartney – Lead vocals, bass, acoustic guitar, piano, electric guitar, ukulele, mandolin
Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens – Backing vocals, keyboards, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bongos, percussion, harmonica, accordion
Abe Laboriel Jr. – Backing vocals, drums, percussion
Rusty Anderson – Backing vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar
Brian Ray – Backing vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass
Plus guest appearance by 3-piece horn section
The band included the dueling guitar team of Rusty Anderson (on McCartney’s right) and Brian Ray, who takes on the role of playing bass when McCartney transitions to tickling the ivories. Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens was the multi-instrumentalist who was predominantly on keyboards, but also shined on harmonica. Drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. was the highly animated and always entertaining drummer who has been with McCartney since the 2001 Concert for New York City. Laboriel brought some levity and comic relief to the stage as he performed goofy dance moves behind the stoic McCartney singing “Dance Tonight.” And to add icing to the already delicious cake, McCartney introduced a 3-piece horn section that elevated the authenticity of songs like “Hey Jude” while we sang the “Na-NaNa-NaNaNaNa” part and the uplifting “Got To Get You Into My Life.”
McCartney’s narration paid tribute to the late Jimi Hendrix (telling the story about Hendrix playing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” live at a show in England the day after the song was released) and to the late Sir George Martin who is often cited as the fifth Beatle. But the two most touching tributes were to the two fallen Beatles.
He recalls a story of sitting with George Harrison and showing him that he had learned the Harrison hit “Something” on ukulele. He mentioned how Harrison was a great “uke” player and said “Let’s hear it for George.” The crowd responded with a swell of cheers as McCartney raised his hand in the air for a moment of reverence and then started into the song playing a ukulele that Harrison had given him. Any song on ukulele seems light hearted and “cute”, but when the band orchestration kicked in for the guitar solo and the images of Harrison filled the screen the emotions cut deep. Many tears were shed in the audience at that moment. “Thank you George,” said McCartney as the music faded, “for writing such a beautiful song.”
The other tribute was, of course, to John Lennon. One can only imagine the loss that McCartney felt when he lost his co-writing partner and friend to a senseless act of violence that brought the world to a standstill in 1980. Reflecting back on their time together he shares a message with the audience that sometimes we don’t tell friends what they really mean to us. If you have something nice to say about someone, say it. He advised, “Sometimes it’s too late and you wish you had said it.” As he introduced a song he had written for John shortly after he died, he called it a “conversation that they never got to have.” Then with just an acoustic guitar and his emoting voice he delivered the beautiful tribute “Here Today,” and everyone old enough to remember Lennon alive recalled all of those precious memories.
At 77 years old, you might expect him to have the feeble voice of an old man. Although there may have been a few moments where time revealed itself on the vocal cords that have been singing songs like “Helter Skelter” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” for decades, his voice was still powerful, eloquent, and mesmerizing throughout the three-hour marathon. The focus of the show was on the songs, so the physical stage antics were kept to a minimum, but this doesn’t mean that there was any loss of showmanship. McCartney commanded the stage as he glided from bass on songs like the opener “A Hard Day’s Night” to the Yamaha grand piano for an epic rendition of “Let It Be” that could be described as a spiritual experience.
Even the casual McCartney fan knows most of the songs on the setlist from “back in the day,” but McCartney has continued to produce music that hasn’t necessarily made it into heavy rotation on radio stations. McCartney said they know which songs the audience wants to hear by looking into the audience and seeing a sea of cellphone lights when a classic Wings or Beatles song begins to play. “When we play the new songs,” he said, “It’s a black hole.” Then with a cheeky grin he said they are going to play them anyway as they dove into “Fuh You” from the album Egypt Station released last year. Not sure if it was guilt or just some brilliant power of suggestion, but before the first verse was complete, there was a sea of cellphone lights illuminating Talking Stick Resort Arena. Brilliant.
A Hard Day’s Night
Can’t Buy Me Love
Got to Get You Into My Life
Come On to Me
Let Me Roll It
I’ve Got a Feeling
Let ‘Em In
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
Maybe I’m Amazed
I’ve Just Seen a Face
In Spite of All the Danger
From Me to You
Love Me Do
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
Carry That Weight
The setlist contained 38 songs, and each one was worthy of a paragraph in this review, but for the sake of relative brevity, here are just a few highlights. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” with it’s spooky carnival melody has some of the most visual and strange lyrics. McCartney said he’s often asked where the ideas for songs come from and he said for this one they quite literally saw a poster for an upcoming circus with the tagline, “Being for the benefit of Mr. Kite there will be show tonight on trampoline…” Earlier in the show, McCartney dedicated the song “My Valentine” to his wife and mentioned that she was there in the audience with us in Phoenix. This song also has a hauntingly beautiful melody and the jumbo screen played a black and white film of Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp doing sign language while the song played. Another highlight was for the song “Black Bird.” The stage rose several stories high and revealed a video wall of a starfield of lights in the form of an animated bird on a black background. At the top of the stage, high over the audience, McCartney delivered the song that has inspired singer/songwriters all over the planet to pick up a guitar and learn to play these challenging chords. To be present this night and hear it straight from the source was truly moving.
If you were there, you understand there is no way to put into words how wonderful this show felt. You may be able to find clips or maybe even the entire concert on YouTube, and that might give you a glimpse of how the songs sounded and what was generally happening on stage, but there was an immersive blanket of sound and laser lights that just can’t be captured on any media. Sir Paul McCartney was talking to us like we were his friends and passing down stories like an elder might share with the youth to keep the stories alive for future generations. The end of the night was drawing near as McCartney addressed the audience saying, “We’ve had a great time, but there comes a time when we’ve got to go home…and it ends up the same time you’ve got to go home too.” He took a moment to thank the traveling stage crew, many of them he even thanked by name, and then closed the night with the apropos medley of “Golden Slumbers”, “Carry That Weight”, and “The End”.
(Author’s Note – I used to sing “Golden Slumbers” as a lullaby to my kids when they were babies, so this song was very special to me.)
The last lyric of the night seemed to sum up the overarching positive message from Paul McCartney to the world:
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Amid a rain of red, white, and blue confetti and streamers the show came to a physical end, but the memories of this chance encounter with a legendary icon will live on in our hearts and minds.
Photographer: Mark Greenawalt
Paul McCartney – Talking Stick Resort Arena 6-26-19