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Paul McCartney proved he could still play, sing, and shake it at his show in St Louis last Saturday night. Looking loose and sounding in fine voice, McCartney was clearly having a capital time with the capacity crowd at Busch Stadium. And–almost unbelievably, given the high winds, lightning, and sheets of rain of the preceding night–it didn’t even sprinkle.
In most respects the 38-song setlist reflected the kind of Beatles-heavy mix McCartney has favored in recent years. It included 23 Beatles songs, 5 Wings songs, and 6 solo songs. But the setlist also included two surprises, which proved to be the show’s chronological bookends. “In Spite of All the Danger” was the Quarrymen’s first (unreleased) single, cut in 1958. It’s also the only song ever credited to McCartney and George Harrison. “FourFiveSeconds,” co-written by McCartney and released by Rhianna, Kanye West, and McCartney, was released 57 years after the Quarrymen’s day in the studio.
For me, high points of the show included some songs I’d never heard McCartney do live before: “Letting Go,” “You Won’t See Me,” and “And I Love Her.” (During that last one, McCartney did a few full turns at the microphone, wiggling his hips in a jokey, “I know how to put on a show” way). Given my affection for “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” and the critical drubbing it often receives, it was a great pleasure to see how it energized the crowd and got folks up and dancing. And the familiar favorites received strong performances as well. At this point in his career McCartney plays each song — “Blackbird,” “Let It Be,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Band on the Run,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” etc. — as if it may be the last time he gets that chance. He seems genuinely to enjoy the audience’s enthusiasm and to be invested in its satisfaction, as he says in this recent New York Times interview.
The overwhelming majority of us in the crowd were clearly having a fabulous time, judging from body language and the volume of sing-alongs. I’d like to give a special shout out to two people a few rows in front of me who were great fun to watch, who I thought of as Wings Sign Guy and Rock On Woman (see photos). Hokey as some may think it, I always find it moving to see and hear a crowd of tens of thousands responding joyfully to the music.
McCartney couldn’t get a positive review from everyone, of course. After the show, local paper Riverfront Times ran this blog piece about the concert experience of Mark Richman. Richman was 20 when he attended the Beatles’ St Louis show in 1966 and took these pictures of the performance. At McCartney’s show, Richman wasn’t happy with his seats on the field, with the way people stood up and blocked his view, or with the drunk guy dancing near him. He had this to say about the setlist:
“He said he’d do a bunch of Beatles songs. That’s what I was waiting to hear. But he left out about twenty of my favorites. He’s shifting his music to a younger audience, trying to sell more albums. My suggestion would be that on the next tour, he’d announce he’s doing nothing but Beatles songs. He’d sell out in five minutes.”
It’s highly doubtful that McCartney’s concerned about selling out stadiums any faster than he already is — he’s added second nights at some venues on this tour in response to demand. But Richman’s comment highlights the dilemma that McCartney faces with every performance. Does he turn the show into a pure nostalgia act, playing nothing but Beatles songs? Does he play only new songs, like Bob Dylan on his current tour? Being McCartney, it’s unsurprising that he’s chosen the middle way, sampling songs from his entire career. More than wanting to sell albums, I suspect that he adds new songs to the setlist because he enjoys playing them and wants to remind himself, and us, that he’s still creating. He’s known for a long time that nothing he does could ever top his work with the Beatles, and he seems to have made his peace with that without giving up on doing new things. That’s an attitude I can only salute.
Many of the problems weren’t due to Sir Paul himself. Richman was annoyed by the size of the patrons near him, which rendered seating a bit too close for comfort — a problem not helped by the fact that seats on the field, where he was sitting just twenty rows back from the stage, were zip-tied together so people couldn’t adjust them. He was also annoyed by the way the crowd took to its feet, and stayed there throughout the show, blocking his view — and the 6’5″ drunk dancing wildly in front of him.
The biggest annoyance for Richman was being seventy years old instead of twenty.
Good point, Sam. And as someone who’s been in field seats at a stadium show, I can understand that kind of annoyance. It’s the comment about the set list not having enough Beatles songs in it, when McCartney did 23 of them, that I find dispiriting.
Yeah, it’s pretty silly (and drives me nuts) when people “demand” that artists only play old hits. But it certainly can be a little frustrating when they play a bunch of songs that few people in the crowd are familiar with. So this is definitely the way to go. I prefer to see artists who aren’t bored and going through the motions.
Looks like you had a great time. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend this tour, but I have seen Sir Paul several times over the years and always have a great time. Next time for sure.
Paul just did a cool new Rolling Stone interview if anyone’s interested:
More than wanting to sell albums, I suspect that he adds new songs to the setlist because he enjoys playing them and wants to remind himself, and us, that he’s still creating.
This is spot on Nancy. I really don’t think he expects to sell the volumes he did when he was younger. This does not stop him from continuing to create new music. I personally think his later albums like New and Electric Arguments are really great. I’m still bowled over by New. If people aren’t buying these great albums in the same numbers that bought Beatles and Wings albums then all I can say is, “In my opinion, you are missing out on some of his best music.” I’m a first generation Beatle fan like our friend Mr. Richman but as much as I worship the Beatles, I don’t want to go to a nostalgia show. I would welcome hearing his recent material mixed in with my favorite Beatles songs. I would be disappointed if he played only Beatles songs, but to each his own. I do sympathize with him however, that he got stuck sitting near people who spoiled his enjoyment of the show. You pay top dollar to see your favorite artist, not a view of people’s backs and a dancing drunk.
“But he left out about twenty of my favorites”
This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.
I’m so glad y’all made it back! Thanks Nancy for sharing your Paul concert experience.( Lucky you)
Sounds like a good time was had by most except for the poor guy whose experience was marred by those who got into the groove and stood up to dance throughout. Growing from a 20 year old, into a cantankeous curmudgeon who complains about those “who stood and drunk happy danced” sounds like the 2016 equivalent to “Couldn’t hear because of the screaming girls of mid 1960s”. It is dispiriting that he’d complain to the newspaper about the setlist of all things. Oh well, maybe he could feel somewhat better if he yelled at the neighborhood kids to “Get off my lawn!”
Thank you GuitarSpotting for the Rolling Stone referral. Very interesting
Here’s another one for the Phillip Norman files.
In 1989 Phillip Norman wrote a teleplay called Words of Love. Biographical account of his school days. The action switches back and forth between his awkward British adolescence and the ill-fated Winter Tour that ended the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson. It actually isn’t bad (as these things go), and the actors did a respectful job portraying the doomed stars: