Yesterday – Paul McCartney in Concert

So last night Laurie and I head down to San Jose Arena for the McCartney gig. We’d gone to his first run through San Jose, and she surprised me with tickets to the return engagement.

What can I say? He’s awesome. There’s no opening act (would you open for McCartney? I didn’t think so…), instead, a small troupe of performers (think ‘cirque du soleil bargain basement) wander the audience and the stage, doing a scene that seems to have the subtext “will you all please sit down so we can get Paul out here?”)

It works, too. So finally he shows up on stage, sillouetted on a screen, the performers leave, the band comes out, and McCartney plays for 2 and a half hours without taking a song off. I dunno about you, but his ability to do that at any age scares me. That he’s doing so at this time in his career, in concert, singing what he’s singing, is incredible.

That said, it was clear if you listened carefully the voice was a bit tired, there were a few places where it buzzed, and it seemed to me he was protecting his upper range, shifting down into the octave where the original orchestrations went up. these aren’t criticisms by any means, it’s making best use of the voice as it currently works.

The layout is fairly simple — a plain stage with a huge number of video monitors. most of the video is either pictures of Paul, stock video, or stuff that makes me think flying toasters are about to appear (the primary exceptions are a few photo montages (George, John, and a sequence of important women), which mostly goes to show that you don’t have to get outrageously complex to be effective. it also makes sure the focus stays where it belongs: on the music.

What music. It’s a pretty damn good band: guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, keyboardist and general “my synth will fill in whatever isn’t currently on stage” Wix Wickens, and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr.

It’s a pretty serious crew — one that stays mostly in the background. In the first tour, they were clearly acting as backups. This second time through, they get a little more exposure, but only the drummer really gets what could be considered a solo shot. Laboriel kicks — he’s damn good, and he clearly enjoys his work.

So is McCartney. Heck, so is everyone up there. you almost get the feeling like these guys would be just as happy in someone’s garage, riffing away. It makes for an electric environment, with the artists and the audience feeding each other energy. maybe that’s how he can go 2+ hours without a break.

there are a couple of new songs, which I mostly found okay but not terribly interested (the exception being a piece he said was the first song he wrote for his new wife, heather, a ballad done primarily in minor harmonies (something I find fascinating for a love ballad, given that if your harmonies are even slighly off, it’s going to die a horrible death and sound like a dirge).

And that, to me, sums up McCartney. None of his songs seem all that tough, although he’s a long way from three-chord rock. But once you start listening closely, you see he’s constantly working his way through 5th and 7th chords, and he’s doing a lot with minor keys. And the range of the work is all over everywhere. Any ONE work might not be technically difficult, but the body of work is scary. That’s where his genius really comes through.

All in all, a great time. It’s very nice to see a group of musicians who don’t act like they’re going through the paces, and actually show some enthusiasm for their work… Any time they want to come to town, we’ll happily show up and listen.

It’s too bad San jose isn’t better acoustically. it’s a building that could really use some acoustic work — the corrugated ceiling really buzzes out the treble, and the higher up in the building, the worse it gets. It has dead zones even McCartney’s sound system can’t fix (and if you run into something that uses the arena’s built-in sound system, like a sharks game, give up all hope…). The first time we saw McCartney, we were about mid-arena, 10 rows up. LAst night, we were about 2/3 of the way back, 20 rows up. A fairly minor difference (maybe 50 seats further back, 10 rows up), but listening to the same concert with the same sound system from two places gave me a clear idea just how quickly sound degrades. Given the roof buzz, you couldn’t give me upper bowl tickets in that place. call it, I guess, a C- for acoustics in the place. I’ve seen much worse, but it ought to be better.