I have felt a vague sense of loss and unease the last few days, since going to the Paul McCartney concert Saturday night.
The concert — even the anticipation of it — prompted a wave a of nostalgia and introspection. Anchored at the root of those feelings were the memories from the last McCartney concert I attended, and the realization that a vast expanse of time (gone forever) and life changes (good and bad), had intervened between the two McCartney shows I have been privileged to see.
The first was in May 1976, when I was a young reporter for The Star, covering the Jackson County Courthouse. On the personal front, I was flailing romantically and still trying to find a sense of belonging in Kansas City.
On the day of the concert, as I recall, then-county assessor Wayne Tenenbaum offered to sell me his two tickets at face value because he couldn’t go. I needed a date, and another administrator, Bob Bosch, fixed me up with the sister of a friend. Bam, bam. Just like that, on a warm spring night, I was headed to Kemper Arena to see Paul and Linda McCartney and Wings. It was the Wings Over America Tour, which followed closely on the heels of the release of Wings’ Venus and Mars album.
My date and I did some pre-concert drinking (and probably a little smoking). From the first song — I don’t remember what it was — I could tell it was going to be a memorable show. Paul was totally focused. He didn’t indulge in much chit-chat. Just song after killer song. His voice — and the accompanying music — was clear, strong and dazzling. I remember, in particular, the soaring strains of “Maybe I’m Amazed” — the lilting “ooooooww, wooo-oo-ooo-ooo, ahahh.” I was dazed, amazed and transfixed.
Not long into the concert, my date was taken ill, undoubtedly from the pre-party indulgence. I was torn as to what to do. I felt an obligation to comfort and attend to her, but, at the same time, I didn’t want to miss this concert. She hunkered in the restroom. I felt bad for her and checked on her a while later, but she sent me back into the arena, telling me to enjoy the show. Her selflessness was remarkable. And, regrettably, she missed the concert of a lifetime. It was our only date.
Analyzing that concert in retrospect, I think that Linda McCartney played a large role in its magic. Even though she did mostly background vocals and percussion, she was the glue, and she was a picture of grace, femininity and professionalism. And everyone realized that she and Paul were a rock solid team, the foundation on which everything was built.
Of course, it was a lot different on Saturday night. Paul is 68, not 34. His star is not ascending; it is holding, at best. And Linda is dead and gone. The four other band members – great musicians, for sure — were all men. To me, Linda’s absence was conspicuous.
Even before the concert started, I realized in my heart that it wouldn’t, couldn’t, measure up to the experience of 1976. Nevertheless, Paul was amazing. He still hits most of the notes, perhaps not with quite as much power, but he gets there. And he played many of the same songs he performed in 1976, such as “Jet,” “Let Me Roll It” and “Letting Go.” They sounded good. Very good. I stood and moved with the music, along with the rest of the huge crowd.
Instead of grabbing the crowd by the throat, Paul stroked and patted, for the most part. As you would expect from a retrospective, he did more talking between songs and exhibited more gestures of gratitude, such as raising the guitar above his head several times and forming a heart with his hands above his head at other times.
There was at least one song, however, when I felt the old intensity. It was “Band on the Run,” the great song about the “county judge who held a grudge.” It’s got that slow, lazy start that segues, seamlessly, into a hard-driving rhythm and culminates with a full-throated guitar chord that socks you in the gut. If you don’t feel it in your gut, your hard wiring is fatally flawed.
Of course, it wasn’t just Paul who had changed, but me, too. I am 64, not 30. And I didn’t arrive at the concert “high and primed” as I did 34 years ago. I was with my wife and 22-year-old daughter, so there was no pre-concert overindulgence, just a couple of drinks at Raglan Road.
And there was a side story. Through a bit of luck, while at the bar, my daughter got a brief audience with the g.m. for a job as a hostess. The g.m. told her he’d call her for an interview. Today, she goes in for that interview….Let youth be served. It’s her generation that is ascending now.