“The dying art of rock posing! Captured here!”
You said it, program hawker. This sad little insight tucked into the pitch of the kid on a milk crate outside Fenway last Wednesday night was worth more than the program itself. (Which is saying a lot.) There was a time when a man with an armful of Beatles-related swag risked losing that arm in a frenzy of commerce. But Wednesday’s crowd (massive, mixed, pre-beered, and single-minded in finding their seats) washed past the vendors with the indifference of a river. People lately are a lot more interested in the experience than in the artifact, so though a $25 glossy program or a $40 adjustable Paul cap might have seemed exorbitant, the $205 seats and $8 drafts did not.
However people go about justifying an expensive rock experience — whether laundering it through nostalgia, taking it as a sound investment in one’s pop-culture equity, or writing it off as a de facto co-pay toward rock’s fast-failing status quo — a Paul McCartney show just seems . . . different, excusable, maybe even compulsory. Such an aura of obligation can sour anyone’s excitement, but unless you’re just awful, your cynicism is no match for this kind of expertly executed, gleamingly loud, sometimes explosive (“Live and Let Die”) two-and-a-half-hour jaunt through 50 years of rock’s finer moments — I don’t care how long the “Give Peace a Chance” coda tacked onto “A Day in the Life” goes on.
McCartney was careful to balance his role as custodian of a treasured legacy — inviting lengthy applause before tributes to John (“Here Today”) and George (“Something,” performed on his old uke) — with his signature ham factor. He leapt out of his buttoned coat to reveal red suspenders, then stuck his tongue out to suggest he might have just polished off a matching lollipop backstage. He led the crowd into a gibberish-parroting session for two full minutes; he egged thousands of moms into resuscitating the screams of their girlhood; he fanned black smoke out of his face and rolled his watering eyes at his own pyrotechnics. But though the mood shifted as quickly as the lighting rig, the performance was one vast expanse of solid. Guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray did tone dorks everywhere proud with faithful recitations of heavily policed solos. Keyboardist Paul Wickens drew wicked soul from his unfortunate bank of pre-sets. And drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. ran the spectrum from gentle to mental.
My “points off” page was barely touched. I did wish they’d splurged on real brass instead of shitty MIDI horns in “Got To Get You into My Life.” And when, during “Let It Be,” they superimposed the night’s big, glowing moon (for which McCartney had summoned a round of applause earlier) on a close-up of his face, he looked like one of those wolf T-shirts they have at the gas station.
But see? No rockist tooth gnashing from me. A flawless solo run of “Blackbird” destroyed each of us one by one. “Calico Skies” inspired widespread wife hugs. “Band on the Run” prompted drifts of parental pot smoke. “Paperback Writer” sported a hazy montage of Richard Prince’s “Nurse” paintings, and “Dance Tonight” gave everyone a chance to grab a pretzel. Hate him if you want, but dude wasn’t there to let people down.
When I darted out onto Van Ness during the second encore to catch my commuter rail, the sidewalks were teeming with ticketless listeners — kids with brown bags, couples in cars — softly singing along to “Yesterday.” A street full of strangers singing in unison can count as a musical or a miracle — and I’m leaning toward the latter. As easy as it is to grouse over ticket prices, parking prices, pretzel prices, and whatever else, it’s worth considering that as much as Macca’s given the world for free, we might owe him one. (Or 200.)