McCartney: The rock’n’roll singer

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Back then there was Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Roy Orbison, Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry, Elvis, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley, Little Richard, rising up through a hurricane of sound, an unstoppable force moving out from the backwoods of that massive cultural melting pot, the USA, and slicing out a mighty path across a staggered, awe-struck world. Somebody named it Rock ‘n’ Roll and it rose high, to the heavens in fact, to screaming pitch, then dropped just as quickly, with Buddy dead, Eddie dead, Gene badly injured, Elvis in the army, Chuck jailed, Jerry Lee blacklisted, Bill Haley faded and Little Richard converted. Good Gosh Amighty.   A lot of people gave a sigh of relief. Now they could control it, tame it, package it, write calmer, gentler songs for it. They had been knocked back for a while there. Taken by surprise. But now they had a handle on it. Had a grip. They would keep their beady eyes on those spirited black folks from here on in. That poor white trash who knew no better. No more surprises from the children of Rock ‘n’ Roll. No sir. They had prayed and it had passed.   Good in theory. Unfortunately, all those bullet-headed, red-necked morons should have been looking over in the direction of John F. Kennedy Airport, New York City, 7 February, 1964, as four long-haired boys from Liverpool, England, stepped off a plane onto US soil and all hell broke loose again…   This time for good. Welcome to several decades later and the Paul McCartney’s Summer Tour, where the heart of Rock ‘N’ Roll still beats as strong and as pure as it ever did, where it still gives as good as it gets, and where it still follows the original belief that the audience is just as important as the performer. Something rare these days.   But why wouldn’t it be rare if it comes from McCartney? And why has he always been so underrated as a live performer? Check out The Beatles performing ‘I’m Down’ at the legendary Shea Stadium gig in New York in late 1965, with McCartney on lead vocal and Lennon going berserk on a keyboard, howling with laughter, or some of the early live performances used on the Beatles Anthology, in which McCartney’s ability to rip out Rock ‘n’ Roll numbers still seems to surprise more people than it should.   Famous for their fifteen minutes of drowned-out singing at the height of Beatlemania, even McCartney seldom gets defensive about how good they could be. The Shea Stadium gig, played to around 56,000 screaming kids over a crap sound system, was everything Rock ‘n’ Roll was ever meant to be: fast, wild, spontaneous, humorous, crazed, impassioned, FUN.   Then, after pottering around the studio for a few years, coming up with concepts like ‘Sgt. Peppers’ and ‘Abbey Road’, McCartney’s love of live really took off again with Wings and from that point on there was no looking down. I mean back…   Thursday, 25 March: PARIS BERCY. ‘McCARTNEY: BACK IN THE WORLD’:   I had thought that there would be barriers up; some distance between the fans and McCartney, but there was nothing. My friends and I just moved up towards the front, no problems. The people up in the seats had paid for their privilege. What were they planning to do, sit and think about it?   But it was a long wait for the kick off. Somebody told me that McCartney was waiting for Sting to arrive and take his seat. I told somebody that Sting had arrived on his bicycle and the security guard wouldn’t let him bring it into the building.   When the start did come, it was as a dream. A vision of images: bird-faced giants with huge beaks, oriental dancers, old world folk in big wigs and gold costumes, giant balloons following each other above our heads and around the stadium as a contortionist on stage wrapped her legs around her head and a character from a Maigret painting stood watching in a Bowler hat, with a brolly over his head. It was exotic, surreal, magical… then Paul McCartney appeared.   He was on stage for three hours. He didn’t change costume or rest. He just played, solid. Everything I had ever said—and argued—about his live ability was validated. But there was more. McCartney mixed Beatles songs with solo and Wings stuff, and it proved a lot. A friend once told me that he liked McCartney’s work with the Beatles, but he couldn’t listen to the Wings stuff. Fair enough, but it didn’t make sense. There wasn’t much logic to the statement; more a strange kind of prejudice.   I wish my friend had been there to witness ‘Back In The USSR’ played back to back with ‘Band On The Run’. A natural addition to the classic Beatles double-A side studio tracks, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Penny Lane’, these live rock masterpieces seemed to belong to each other. Back to back. Hand in hand. Rock and Roll. The idea that anybody could have picked one of the two out for special treatment is ludicrous.   He did EVERYTHING… from ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ to ‘Fool On The Hill’; ‘Yesterday’ to ‘Here Today’; ‘Live & Let Die’ to ‘Blackbird’; ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ to ‘Lady Madonna’; ‘Hey Jude’ to ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’; ‘My Love’ to ‘Driving Rain’; ‘Michelle’ to ‘Sgt. Pepper (Reprise)’. It all ended with ‘The End’, the last ever Beatles track from ‘Abbey Road’. Stunning.   The audience were shell-shocked. The big screens pummelled us with images: James Bond movies for ‘Live and Let Die’, which ended in two huge blasts of flame that literally hit the roof and made everybody—including McCartney—gasp. ‘Something (In The Way She Moves)’, for George, of course, with Paul strumming a Uke. Beautiful.   ‘Hey Jude’ went on for an age, the audience refusing to stop the sing-along. McCartney loved it and got a well-earned, if short-lived, breather. It is no exaggeration to say that when it was finally over, the audience were as emotionally drained as they were physically exhausted. And there was no maybe about how amazed we all were by what he pulled off that night.   It’s hard to introduce new material in this way, but Paul McCartney is a live act who belongs wholly to the early Rock ‘N’ Roll traditions; and even though he has spent huge parts of his career breaking those traditions through sheer innovation, he will always return to…
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