Monday, July 25, 2011

McCartney in Detoit

My brother in-law, Dan, called a while back to have us set aside the night because he had gotten tickets to McCartney at Comerica Park in Detroit. This is the same bro in-law that got tickets for the Rolling Stones a few years ago. Yes. Dan is awesome.

I’ve never been much of a Stones fan, but I recognize the talent and the influence.They are a piece of history from a musical perspective, so it was fun to see them and be able to say, “I’ve seen the Stones.” I can also say, “I’ve seen Stevie Ray.” “I’ve seen Queen.” (Yes, the Freddie Mercury Queen.) “I’ve seen E.L.O.” “I’ve seen Buddy Rich.” “I’ve seen Chick Corea.” "I've seen B.B. King." I could go on, but the point is that I've seen a lot of elemental, essential musical acts over the years. And now I can say, “I’ve seen McCartney.”

And boy have I. This show, I have to say, was unbelievable. Paul is in his late sixties, but he kept going and going like the Energizer bunny. It had a kind of Springsteen gung ho about the whole thing. And he took the time to talk to the crowd. He had gone to see the Motown museum during the day. Which, I have to say, is a bit embarrassing to me because the Motown Museum should be a huge, well put together, amazing attraction. Instead, it’s a bit of a dreary and uninspiring thing, almost entirely because no one seems to want to invest any real money into it. But I digress. I’ll post about that tomorrow so I can finish getting it off my chest. McCartney was kind in not saying anything bad about the museum. He just went on to play hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after...

I’m not kidding. He had a very tight band that played with a lot of energy. And I think he could have still been playing his hits as I write this the next day, but he had to stop because he had played for three hours and people had to get up for work in the morning.

It was interesting to me that people really enjoyed this show on a purely visceral level. It was an event. It was packed with, I don’t know, around 70,000 people? The atmosphere was up and expectant. And the sound, compared to the Stones a few years ago, was great. The Stones show was kind of cavernous and muddy, which I wrote off to the huge outdoor venue. But McCartney’s crew demonstrated clearly that you can produce good sound in the stadium. Not great, but good. I’m not sure great is even possible. They played their butts off and they played all these great songs that most everyone knew. People sang together and laughed at his every little joke and when he did the song “Live and Let Die,” with fireworks popping off all over the place, people were really charged up, and it was all a lot of fun.

But let me tell you what got to me.

Here’s this guy. His name is Paul. He’s a middle class kid living in a middle class town in England. And he really likes pop music. Buddy Holly. The Motown sound. Elvis. That kind of thing. One day he gets a guitar and starts to learn how to play. Then he meets a friend named John and they start writing songs together. John is extremely talented. A little more serious. Paul has better chops but he likes John and John is more of a push things ahead kind of guy. Together, they really have an ear for chord changes and the blending of different genres. They get a band together and play everywhere they can. They start putting a few of their own songs in with the covers at their shows. Eventually, some guy sees them playing, and while they’re pretty rough, not very accomplished, they have a certain energy that he likes, and their songs do have a sense of craft about them. So they get a manager, then a record deal and they release an album that in it’s day, market wise, was the equivalent of the Jonas Brothers releasing an album. They were a “boy band.” But within a few months, their song writing chops, their blending of styles and harmony, all of the careful listening and emulating, started to pay off. Their songs began to take on a very high quality of craftsmanship, lifting them out of the boy band crowd. And, for six years, they recorded those songs. Six years of massive output.

Then McCartney and the others went on to keep writing and recording. And they all had their strengths and weaknesses. But, from a craft standpoint, from the standpoint of being a dedicated and careful writer of popular songs, none of the others came close to McCartney. And the concert last night confirmed this in a huge way. People can argue about this, but the evidence is clear.

As a song writer, it is very humbling to sit through hour after hour of such craft and dedication and talent. And then, when it’s over, you realize he could have kept going with his songs, for many hours. Some lighthearted melodic writing with simple words. Some complex, movement oriented pieces with cryptic lyrics. Some very poetic things with strong counter point and thoughtfulness. All written by an extremely talented songwriter who never learned to read melodic music notation.

There is a reason Paul McCartney is the most successful and wealthy song writer in history. Some estimates are that he is “worth” around 1.5 billion dollars. Which is no fluke, it’s no accident.  It’s easy to see that, as an artist, he doesn’t care so much about the money. In the end, it’s the songs that matter to him. The man can write songs that stick to people like BBQ sauce sticks to ribs.

I enjoyed the show a lot. But, more than anything, I was moved by the sheer song writing talent. This is what can happen when a person, any person, gets passionate about art, develops it and respects it as a craft, and shares it with others.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011


  1. I'm so glad you could go. My GDaughter Becca and her Mom Lisa were there. It's funny but Lisa told Charlie (14) they were going to see Paul McCartney and he said "who's that". What a nice post, Dave. I'm sure it was fabulous.


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