How does someone who has grown up worshipping the Beatles reflect on seeing one of them live in concert? Are there any words too grandiose for describing the experience of seeing a knighted member of the world’s most influential band in history?
For the first time ever, Sir James Paul McCartney was in Austin, Texas and I was among the lucky thousands who got to experience it.
From my seat on the floor of the large arena I was surrounded by media types, wealthy businesspeople who were being schmoozed by company tickets and old veterans who came adorned in McCartney memorabilia. As a DJ played revamped Beatles’ remixes from the stage in the minutes before the show, we all buzzed about excitedly.
However, by the time the lights dimmed, the entire arena was transformed into a screaming mass of 1960s teeny-boppers all consumed by a potent dose of Beatlemania.
Two large, vertical screens on either side of the stage came alive with images of a young McCartney. Early Beatles song “Besame Mucho” started off a musical history of McCartney’s work that accompanied the steadily rolling images that brought us closer to the modern-day McCartney who would be performing that night.
When the real life McCartney appeared on stage, I was completely taken aback in awe and reverence. There, maybe 100 feet away from me, was a living Beatle. He is one of two who remain, and one of the four who existed.
Here was one of the men that filled Shea Stadium in 1965. Here was one of the men who stood by John Lennon when he said the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” in 1966. Here was one of the men behind Rolling Stone’s greatest album of all time – the 1967 released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
He began his 38-song set with Beatles song “Eight Days A Week” and the arena filled with an electrifying energy that remained for the duration of the performance.
It is hard to say what was more remarkable about that evening: the fact that I was graced with the presence of a living legend for almost three hours, or the fact that I was singing along to my favorite songs with thousands of other strangers in the Frank Erwin Center.
The set included 25 Beatles songs, including “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Blackbird,” “Eleanor Rigby” and, of course, “Hey Jude.” McCartney’s voice may have deepened since the late 1960s, but the performance was so lively I expected to find John, George and Ringo up on stage with him.
McCartney had the presence of someone who has spent a lifetime on a stage before thousands, despite one minor mistake at the beginning of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which only reminded us that he was a real human.
His between-song banter ranged from incredible stories that included people he knew personally, like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, to touching memories of his close relationship with the late John Lennon. Everything McCartney said reminded us more and more that a living piece of history was standing before us, and none of us felt worthy.
Fireworks and flames illuminated the stage during the performance of Wings song “Live and Let Die,” and afterwards, though the parting smoke, McCartney appeared behind a Technicolor piano to lead a chorus of thousands in “Hey Jude.”
The band returned twice more after that for a much-appreciated double encore. Every minute of performance time felt invaluable.
Unfortunately, all good things must eventually end. Luckily for us, Sir Paul McCartney knew exactly how to end a show without leaving everyone wanting more.
As he took a seat behind his grand piano for the last time of the evening, he began playing the famed Abbey Road medley, a collection of songs that begins with “Golden Slumbers” and, rather appropriately, ends with “The End.”
The ground floor of the arena was showered in red, white and blue confetti and McCartney took a final lap around the stage, graciously thanking everyone for coming to his show.
As I walked out, I watched as excited guests scooped up pieces of confetti and stuffed them in their dresses and pockets, all trying to take some of the magic home with them.