The bazillion-dollar nostalgia concert industry's offerings run the gamut from blatant cash grab to concert of a lifetime. If you've found yourself, slightly embarrassed, at, say, a Duran Duran concert in, oh, 2008 – you've experienced the former. Backstreet Boys/N Sync 2011? Ditto. The Rolling Stones' 50th anniversary tour, which kicked off Sunday night? This remains to be seen (although reviews from London are good). If you were able to land tickets for the western Canada swing of Paul McCartney's On The Run tour – even if you doled out hundreds, as many did – congratulations: you have just seen – or are about to see – the concert of your life.
For one thing, it's safe to say that for many of us at BC Place on Sunday night, it was a once-in-a-lifetime show: McCartney was playing in Vancouver for the first time since the Beatles played a truncated show at Empire Field in 1964.
"It's been a long time, Vancouver," McCartney told the crowd on Sunday night, rocking the understatement (and that mullet). "It's great to be back."
And it WAS great. But such an event poses a danger, too, in particular when the musician in question is a Beatle (and since Ringo Starr doesn't count, we're really just talking McCartney now).
Perhaps you grew up absolutely enthralled with the Beatles, whose revolutionary presence may be difficult for "kids today" to fully appreciate. Maybe you were one of those crazed screaming girls – or would have been, had you got the chance. Or maybe, as in my case, the Beatles were past tense by the time you started caring about music, but because they were lionized by popular culture – and perhaps older siblings – they became the mythical rock-and-rollers against which all future music sensations would be measured. The Stones may have been cooler, but the Beatles were the Beatles, you know?
So here we have an opportunity to see one of these Beatles performing a spectacular songbook which includes not just a slew of hits with the Fab Four, but with Wings too.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? To whom do I hand over my credit card information?
But what if, instead of that mythical Liverpudlian you have immortalized in your concert fantasies, you are presented with, say, a 70-year old, jowly fellow who is in less than top voice and whose dance moves are awkward in a lame dad kind of way? Do you really want to expose yourself to this, and potentially poison the life-long dream?
The truth is, McCartney is not at the top of his game. He's not even close. But here's the rest of that truth: He's not getting any younger, or going to get any better. Also he's PAUL McCARTNEY. And, even with his obvious voice issues, McCartney amazed. No maybes about it.
McCartney gave his all for nearly three hours – through almost 40 songs – taking no real breaks; pausing for less than two minutes before each of the encores, even. The musicianship of the band was impeccable. There were too many highlights to mention, but among them: Live and Let Die, Band on the Run – and, during the second encore, Mull of Kintyre, backed by the Delta Police Pipe Band. (And I don't even like that song.)
He was hoarse, but he talked and talked – telling great stories, like this one: the Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on a Friday and Jimi Hendrix was so wowed, he memorized it and played it at a show on the Sunday. But one of the guitar moves had a tendency to throw the instrument out of tune. So there was Hendrix, on stage that Sunday, asking at the mic: "Is Eric out there, man?" – "Eric" being Eric Clapton, and, yes, he was there. So Hendrix asked, "Hey man, will you come and tune this for me?" McCartney recalled.
"Great memory, anyway," McCartney told the crowd.
I tend to be cynical about these things; I can't see myself doling out a ridiculous amount of money to see the Stones or the Who again. Both have left me surprisingly cold. On the other hand, Metallica rocked this year, and Aerosmith was an absolute blast a couple of years back. (Full disclosure: when I review a concert, I do not pay for the ticket.)
But I also think there's a time for cynicism and a time to, well, let it be. Being in the same room (okay, giant arena) as McCartney playing Hey Jude was shiver-inducing. Same with Eleanor Rigby – even if it lacked the devastation of the recording – and Yesterday, which he didn't quite butcher.
If you are going into a show like this anticipating an act-at-its-peak type concert, I would suggest you need to manage your expectations. That is a far better option than depriving yourself of the experience (with the giant caveat that the geezer rocker in question holds up his end of the bargain).
Look, seeing an act like McCartney isn't just about checking something off your musical bucket list, or making up for that time your parents wouldn't let you see the band back in the day, or even about simply seeing a great concert. It's about immersing yourself in your own nostalgia, and remembering a time when music was everything – everything – to you, before life got so unpleasantly in the way. Reliving that for three hours and carrying it with you maybe forever? Yes, priceless.
How to rock the nostalgia concert:
Play the hits
Sorry, but we don't want to hear your new material. (Some acts – such as Springsteen – get a pass on this, since they are still making relevant music.)
George Harrison gave you a ukulele? And you're strumming it right now as you break into Something? Yes, that's what we came for.
Play up, don't deny, the nostalgia
The historical Beatles and Wings photos and film clips during the show were amazing, outdone only by the McCartney family home movies.
When McCartney stopped, looked around and appeared to be taking in the fact that some 42,000 people had packed the place to see him, it felt as if it meant something.
Embrace the sing-along
A good break for aging vocal cords, it's also good old fun. And perhaps the only way to really appreciate Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, which, let's face it, was a low point for the Beatles anyway.