NO MAYBE---FANS AMAZED
By STEPHEN COOKE Entertainment Reporter
Sun. Jul 12 - 4:46 AMMcCartney mines extensive songlist for 2½ hours of musical magic
McCARTNEY ON THE COMMONS
NEVER underestimate the power of a Beatle.
Despite weeks of omnipresent gloom and speculation about ticket buyers waiting until the last possible moment, on Saturday the clouds parted and people turned out in the tens of thousands to fill Halifax’s North Common and beyond, to see if the man we’ve known for all these years, Sir Paul McCartney, still has the power to amaze.
There was no "maybe" about it.
From the Fab Four through Wings and three decades of a solo career that’s been on an artistic upswing of late, McCartney has the greatest catalogue of songs in the world to draw on, hitting as many high points as possible in two-and-a-half hours. No matter what, he’s always going to leave audiences wanting more.
At dusk, McCartney took the stage with little fanfare, clad in a collar-less jacket and clutching his signature Hofner electric bass, pumping out the moptop vibe of Drive My Car
before kicking into overdrive with the Wings hit Jet
, with guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. and longtime keyboardist Paul "Wix" Wickens creating a wall of sound not unlike the roar of a Rolls Royce airplane engine; finely tuned without a trace of rumble or rattle.
"Oh yeah! Good evening Halifax! Good evening Nova Scotia! Good evening Canada!"cheered McCartney, pumping a peace sign in the air. "We’re gonna have a fantastic evening, gonna have some fuuuuuun . . ."
Thankfully, the music made up for the stage patter, with the recent rocker Only Mama Knows
from the autobiographical collection Memory Almost Full
and Got to Get You Into My Life
, which saw McCartney dip a toe into the tougher edge of his voice, with no ill effects. Doffing his coat, he waded in even further with Let Me Roll It
, as Anderson tore off that heavy old Denny Laine riff and McCartney let that raw soul sound of his pour forth, before performing some fancy fingerwork of his own on a psychedelic Gibson during a few bars of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady
Imagine the inner 16-year-olds of a field full of women of a certain age shrieking in unison and you’ve got a good idea of the crowd reaction to the curlicue melody of All My Loving
, with Ray putting his own spin on George Harrison’s sound on a vintage Gretsch. The innocence of that song soon gave way to a sombre Long and Winding Road
, with McCartney at the grand piano against black and white images of a bleak landscape, sounding even more wistful than when he first sang it 40 years ago.
The introspective mood continued with a solo acoustic set as McCartney introduced "a song I wrote a long time ago, at a time when there was a lot of strife, particularly in America with civil rights, imagining the plight of a young black girl dreaming of a better life." A touching rendition of the White Album’s Blackbird followed
, with its wish for hope echoed later in the set by 2008’s rapturous Sing the Changes
(off McCartney’s Fireman project, Electric Arguments
) as a digital image of Barack Obama elicited cheers across the crowd.
A generous outpouring of audience reaction also greeted McCartney’s tribute to his former partner John Lennon. "I wrote this for John after he passed away, I was imagining a conversation between me and him," said McCartney, before playing 1982’s Here Today
, a realistic appraisal of their sometimes tenuous relationship that doesn’t dwell too long on the impossible-to-answer "What if?"
Harrison also got his share of affection, with McCartney pulling out the vintage Gibson ukulele that The Quiet One had given him years before, holding it aloft before strumming the intro to Something (incidentally, the first song I ever slow-danced with a girl to, so there were more than a few chills felt).
Eventually the band merged into the second half, with Anderson adding a little extra filigree to his take on Harrison’s original solo, admirably tackling the unenviable task of making it both familiar and fresh.
While McCartney was rarely anything other than a smooth pro onstage, he did get caught off guard during Calico Skies by
a fan holding up a sign saying "Will you sign my arm so I can get it tattooed."
"Here I am trying to remember the tune, trying to remember the lyrics, and someone holds that up in front of me," he says in mock exasperation. "It’s quite a distraction, it’s hard not to look at that!"
Of course he had to oblige the young teenage fan, who proceeded to leap up and down in a state of excited shock, hugging McCartney, and the rest of the band for good measure before being escorted offstage.
After nearly two hours, the end of the road was signposted by a medley of A Day in the Life
and Lennon’s anthem Give Peace a Chance
, and Let It Be
, with McCartney’s voice showing no sign of flagging, before a truly explosive Live and Let Die
, with rockets bursting overhead as the crowd erupted with exuberance.
Leaning on his piano for a breather, McCartney just wagged a finger and gave the audience that familiar puppy dog look before leading a 50,000-voice choir through a Hey Jude
that reached the heavens.
Normally that would be the emotional highlight of any McCartney show, but it’s hard to imagine any eyes didn’t turned misty during the encore of Mull of Kintyre
, as he was joined by the skirl of 78th Highlanders pipes and drums, in front of a big screen Nova Scotian tartan backdrop. It’s a special treat he reserves for Scottish and Canadian audiences, and it was heartily appreciated.
Paul McCartney - Mull of Kintyre. (6:10 minutes)www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7LoXtTLWvM
Looking out at that sea of singing faces and waving arms, thinking about those ads promising the concert experience of a lifetime, one has to admit that once in a while there’s truth in advertising.
Wearing a grin as wide as the massive outdoor stage and a Perez-pink shirt, Joel Plaskett proved his mettle as one of Halifax’s most successful exports with an expanded version of his band the Emergency, playing "in front of the biggest audience we’ve ever seen on the greatest night of our lives."
The pride of Lunenburg, Clayton Park and Dartmouth—who joined fellow McCartney fans on a harbour ferry ride to get to the venue—was a beacon of energy reaching across the sea of faces singing along with Love This Town
and bopping to Fashionable People
"Let’s go make some history before we fall apart," sang Plaskett on Lonely Love
, summing up the evening’s combination of music and madness as well as anybody could.
Nova Scotia-bred quintet Wintersleep brightened up the afternoon with their spectral, turbulent songs that may have left older audience members shaking their heads, but resonated with the heartier crowd braving the crush at the front of the stage. Radio hits like Weighty Ghost
got the biggest reaction, but the set was also spiced with a new song tentatively titled Experience the Jewel
with stormy East European overtones, and the thundering set closer Nerves Normal Breath Normal
, with Loel Campbell’s blustery drum rolls pulsing through the air.
A surprise addition to the bill for many was 19-year-old Winnipeg singer and fiddler Sierra Noble, visiting Nova Scotia following a trip to Canso’s Stan Rogers Folk Festival. Accompanied by guitarist Jordan McConnell, from the Grammy-nominated Duhks, Noble’s songs have a sweet, vulnerable quality, especially a co-write with Plaskett called You Always Come Back to Say Goodbye
. But it was her fiery Metis fiddling that really got the crowd’s attention, as she whooped with delight and put a dent in the stage with her feet in time to hearty reel.
Halifax Pipers Join McCartney on Stagewww.cbc.ca/canada/nova-scotia/story/2009/07/13/ns-mccartney-halifax-pipe.htmlthechronicleherald.ca/Front/1131947.html