Monday, May 27, 2013

Paul McCartney, Memphis, May 26, 2013

If last time was a pilgrimage then this time was a homecoming.  It was a homecoming because this was the first opportunity in twenty years for me to see Paul here in Memphis, and it was a homecoming because I literally had to come home for it – I left a group of my closest friends from college in Austin, Texas, to finish out our eight-years-in-the-making reunion weekend without me.  

I was parallel to the second row, six rows up on the right-hand side of the stage.  Right was where the piano was; it was also the side where Paul and the band entered and exited.  I was close enough to make eye contact (!) and, unlike those on the floor, high enough to look out over the entire crowd.  It was the best seat I’ve ever had for any major concert in my life, and all it took was $252-plus-fees, a rescheduled plane ticket, roughly a decade of battled experience working online ticketing systems, and two-thirds of my life in devotion to the man in question.

There are a lot of times when I feel little more than exhaustion from my compulsive inability to do anything half-assed, but in terms of Paul McCartney concert experiences, I’d say last night was proof positive that there comes a point at which there is equal repayment for what you put in.  It wasn’t good this time because I was floundering through life and needed an awakening (2010, Nashville), or because it was the first time I’d seen him in my adult life, (2002, Atlanta, two nights in a row), or because it was my introduction to the entire concept of concerts (1993, Memphis). 

It was good because instead of amping the surrealism, being that close made Paul McCartney seem like a real person.  Not an untouchable icon, not a symbol of personal or cultural significance, but a man who lives and breathes, and who has had an incredible life, yes - transforming society itself in ways immeasurable - but who is a human being, mortal, real, and corporeal.

He was just Paul to me last night, and I think that’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen on a concert stage – the person behind the persona. 

He mixes it up tour by tour, but there are things that stay the same year after year and knowing them,
not being distracted by the newness of much, there’s more time to observe.  Like the group of girls in front of me who couldn’t have been older than fourteen but knew every single word to every single song.  Like the family behind me who had someone take multiple pictures of them because the kids thought this was “so much better than going to the lake!”  Like the way the crowd collectively said “awww” at the opening notes to “And I Love Her.”  Like the way Paul nimbly ran up the stairs to the stage for both of his encores even as my own legs were killing me just from standing.

“All Together Now.”  “Lovely Rita.”  “Hi Hi Hi.”  Feeling the heat of “Live and Let Die.”  Seeing myself (briefly) on the monitor during “Hey Jude.”  “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”  Still turning around at the end of “Something” to pay respects to George (always).  “Maybe I’m Amazed” replacing “My Love.”  “I’ve Just Seen a Face.”  “Junior’s Farm.”  “Your Mother Should Know.”  Three hours.  Close to forty songs.  Eighteen thousand people screaming along with me. 

I will remember an arena filled with happiness.  I will remember thinking not a single person had a better seat in the house. 

And I will remember thinking about that eleven-year-old girl who saw him the last time he was in Memphis, whose parents got up early to wait in line at Cat’s Music to pay $32.50 a piece for three floor seats at the Liberty Bowl.  The whole world has changed since then…

…but somehow this hasn’t.  And maybe that’s why last night felt so much like home.  Two decades later, he’s still redefining the standards, still putting on the best damn show I’ve ever seen.  What a night. 

What a concert.

Picture of Paul on stage from The Commercial Appeal.