When I heard from my sister that Paul McCartney was coming to Fresno, California, I thought it must be a mistake. Why would the former Beatle come to a medium sized town, known mostly for agriculture, in the middle of California? It’s not Los Angeles, it’s not San Francisco. It’s not Silicon Valley.
Fortunately, a friend who is a concert promoter got us three tickets, at the face value price of $250. It’s a lot of money, but it would be the first, and very likely last time I would get to see a musician from the world’s most famous rock band play live. We had great seats, about 12 rows back, then 10 rows up the left side.
Might be the best rock concert I’ve ever seen. Mostly because he played so many iconic songs that I never thought I’d hear live by a Beatle. Never thought I’d see any Beatle, ever.
As we arrived we were talking about t shirt prices, and guessed they would be around $40 or so. A woman was selling counterfeit shirts for $20 in the parking lot, I bought one. Inside, the shirts were $40 to 65 bucks. A knit beanie cap was $40. One of those shiny, lightweight jackets was $125, I think.
My cousin asked what I thought the first song would be. I guessed A Hard Days Night. Would you believe it, that was the opening song. I would learn the next day that McCartney had not played that song live since 1965.
There is something magical about seeing Paul. I felt it as he walked on stage at 8:30pm. It was really one of the Beatles in front of me and I was about to hear live, what all the fuss, for all these years, was about.
The Save Mart Center, on the campus of Fresno State University, was rockin’ from the get go. The show lasted nearly three hours, no breaks. His band was great. The sound at Save Mart is only a C minus, though. Very echoey and weird bass heavy, I could barely hear the snare drum yet the kick drum was overwhelming. Vocals were just loud enough, but slightly buried. Not unusual for a live show. Distorted guitars came through best. I’d call the sound quality muddy.
Still, it was a pleasure to hear a rock band play loud. Haven’t heard/seen that in a long time. My hearing was kind of ringing after the show.
No, he can’t sing like he used to, but the guy was 20 years old some five decades ago. His voice gets ragged near the end of a phrase. He sang several tunes solo on piano or guitar and did pretty well, considering.
Oddly, I thought about Billie Holiday, on what I think is her last LP, Lady in Satin. In its time, it was consistently panned by the critics, but it’s considered by some to be her best record. Billie sang her ass off, even if she couldn’t hit the notes like she had before. I think it’s her best record. It’s her most emotional record.
That’s what it was like to hear McCartney live. You wonder if the guy can live up to being one of a handful of truly legendary artists that are alive. Doesn’t matter if he’s singing “just another silly love song.” I walked out a believer.
He brought up a family to the stage, who were holding signs in the audience. The kids were apparently named after Beatles/Wings tunes. It was all quite unscripted and informal. It seemed like a really nice thing to do. He signed the mom’s shoulder. Not her shirt, but the skin of her shoulder. You wonder if she is ever going to take a shower.
Pyrotechnic flamebombs came shooting out of the stage on one tune, Live and Let Die. I’d heard in advance there would be pyroteks, but didn’t really care about it. But it sure added to the power of the song. They were like power chords from a Gibson SG on steroids, hammering away in synchronization with the beat.
McCartney acted like his hearing got blown out, and maybe it did. From his chair at the piano, he was only a few yards away from the bombs. I don’t think he was kidding when he said something to the effect of it being too loud.
Perhaps what I liked best was you could hear the power of the tunes when guitarists were cranking the riffs on songs like Maybe I’m Amazed, Back in the USSR, and Birthday. Those tunes came across much better live, as much as I like the studio versions. That’s what Marshalls are supposed to do, and the big, powerful guitar amps did not disappoint. I noted what could have been Vox Super Beatles amps were also in use, along with Mesa Boogies. They all lined the back of the stage.
Lead guitarist Rusty Anderson played a number of guitars. Looked to me like a Danelectro with lipstick pickup, a Gibson ES335 (or something very similar), a Gibson Explorer and others. McCartney played his famous Hofner bass, what looked like a custom Gibson Les Paul and on acoustic numbers, switched to a Martin dreadnaught.
I think bassist and guitarist Brian Ray favored a Gibson Les Paul Gold Top and a black SG. He also played a Gibson Hummingbird (or Dove, hard to tell) acoustically. Both guitarists were excellent and fun to watch. Their vocal harmonies filled in very nicely behind Paul’s lead vocals.
Keyboardist Paul Wickens was mostly buried in the mix as was the drummer, Abe Laboriel, Jr. Abe was loud, but at least from my position in the arena, oddly mashed into the overly resonant response that is a basketball venue being used for a concert. The ceiling of Save Mart needed a few thousand yards of acoustic foam to absorb the sonic reflections being created. For you audio freaks, I suspect that all sorts of standing waves and out of phase frequencies were the culprit, aggravating some sounds, while canceling others.
Most of the show consisted of Beatle’s tunes. A handful from the Wings era, and a few modern tunes I did not recognize. Acoustic numbers such as Yesterday and Blackbird were a nice change. The poor acoustics of the arena were less of a problem.
The band closed their one encore with a condensed version of the B side of Abbey Road, one of my favorite LP sides. The tune ended with an exchange of stinging guitar solos, a fitting finale.
Musical tastes have certainly morphed since the Beatles changed the world. Rock ‘n’ Roll has not been the dominant force of pop music for the young for some time now. While most of the audience was probably in their 50s to late 60s, I sat next to a young couple who were probably in their late 20s, maybe early 30s. It’s all a matter of taste, but after seeing and hearing McCartney rock, I have to think that the young people of America and the world are missing out.
Rock. Guitar. Paul. McCartney.