It was déjà vu, but it’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into.
When Paul McCartney’s Halifax concert was announced back in May, there was a bittersweet tinge to its timing for me. Here was a performer who’s been near the top of my Halifax concert wishlist for years, finally playing our city a mere three months after I’d traveled to California to the Coachella music festival where the headliner was…Paul McCartney.
Given how his performance was the talk of the festival, you’d think I’d be jumping at the chance to see the Beatle again. But unlike the Springsteen concert I saw on the same trip – which made me feel like I was part of a unique moment – Macca’s show felt like a perfectly-calculated experience, with each moment carefully planned for maximum impact. I presumed that McCartney was treating Coachella as a warmup for his summer tour and expected few – if any – changes to his routine. Was it worth $135 to repeat the same experience? I thought no.
I’d like to say that my change of heart was an intellectual decision; that I carefully decided that the opportunity cost of missing another (and likely, final) chance to see McCartney in concert was one I wasn’t willing to pay. But the real reasons are more shallow and selfish. For one, hearing my friends and coworkers get excited about the show made me feel a bit out of sorts, and I began to worry that I might be missing out on one of the major shared moments that our fair city will see this year (I wasn’t alone in that – 50,000 showed up to the Commons). For another, I was a bit too far away from the stage at Coachella to get photographs up to my usual standard, and I wanted a great shot or two of the Beatle for my collection. And finally, I held out hope that the one or two twists that McCartney would work into his setlist would be spectacular enough to warrant another go.
In the end, those changes were minimal. McCartney switched “Jet” and “Drive My Car” at the start, opening with the latter, and he dropped “Honey Hush” for the Beatles classic “All My Loving” (smart move), but otherwise the main set was exactly the same. The second encore was a note-for-note repeat as well. The only significant changes were to the first encore: instead of “Birthday” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” we got “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Daytripper,” which MaccaBlog reports was being performed by McCartney for the first time since the Beatles broke up (cool, eh?). Oh and we also got “Mull of Kintyre” with a local pipe band on support, which the Nova Scotians stereotypically geeked out for (I still think the song is a bit boring).
The rest of the experience was akin to watching a great movie for the second time: because you know what’s going to happen, the element of surprise is gone and the excitement level dips accordingly. That doesn’t mean, though, that one can’t appreciate the craft and artistry involved. McCartney’s set is impeccably constructed to allow him the freedom to be a bit self-indulgent – playing some tracks from his Fireman project, for example – but quickly bouncing back to the classics that everyone came to hear. He’s been playing with his band for most of this decade, and it shows in their flexibility whether they’re moulding themselves to sound like Wings, the Beatles or just plain ol’ Paul McCartney’s backing band.
But the show’s coup de grace – and the reason why Haligonians in attendance are still buzzing over 24 hours later – is the reverent treatment that McCartney and his band give to the Beatles material. I’ve been following Macca’s setlists for a few years now, and the amount of Beatles material he plays has grown and grown. It’s almost as if he’s realized that with George Harrison’s passing (and Ringo, well, being Ringo) that the responsibility for curating the band’s legacy rests with him and him alone, and he’s determined to make the most of it. Out of context, the idea of McCartney playing the other Beatles’ songs – Harrison’s “Something,” Lennon’s “A Day in the Life” and “Give Peace a Chance” – seems ludicrous, but it makes complete sense within the context of the show. He knows people are going to his concert first and foremost because he was a Beatle, and he’s not only okay with that – he embraces it.
After the break, the setlist and a collection of my photos of McCartney and opening acts Wintersleep and the Joel Plaskett Emergency, along with a couple of (not by me) videos.
Drive My Car
Only Mama Knows
Got To Get You Into My Life
Let Me Roll It (w/ Foxy Lady outro)
All My Loving
The Long And Winding Road
Sing The Changes
Band On The Run
Back In The U.S.S.R.
I’ve Got A Feeling
A Day In The Life/Give Peace A Chance
Let It Be
Live And Let Die
Mull Of Kintyre
I Saw Her Standing There
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
Watch: “Drive My Car” (live at Halifax Common)
Watch: “Blackbird” (live at Halifax Common)
Watch: Paul McCartney invites young fan on stage who held up sign asking the Beatle to sign her arm for a tattoo. Adorable freak-outs and hugs ensue.