Rockshow! PART 2: Paul McCartney Live at Hersheypark Stadium, Hershey, PA July 19, 2016 (A Concert Review)
It had been almost three years to the day since I last saw Paul McCartney live in concert on his Out There tour in 2013, and it still sticks in my mind as one of the greatest shows I've had the pleasure to have seen. When he announced a show for his new One on One tour literally two miles down the road from my house here in Hershey (where I've lived since we moved a couple of years ago), there was no way I was going to miss the chance to see him again, especially as I wanted take my wife (who is also a big Beatles fan) with me. Since I've been signed up for Paul's fanclub for many years, I was able to take advantage of the presale for members and I scored a couple of nice tickets for us. We got them in the mail in early May and since then, we'd been waiting and waiting for the night to finally arrive. My appetite was further whetted when I saw that at Paul's show at Fenway Park two nights earlier, he was joined by the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir (he'd just played Fenway the night before), while Rob Gronkowski, one of my favorite players from my favorite football team (go Patriots!) got onstage to "sing" and play air guitar during "Helter Skelter." Knowing that had we not moved away a couple of years ago that we would've been at that show, it left me wondering what (if any) surprises might await us two nights later here in Hershey. Well, the big night came and went and even though there were no special guests, my assessment is the same as it was after I saw him in 2013...it was the best concert I've ever been to.
(As an aside, this was Paul's first show ever in Hershey and Hersheypark went all out, renaming the street leading to the park "Paul McCartney Avenue," renaming (for the day) some of the rides after his songs, and playing his music throughout the park all day which was a cool little touch).
|There was a banner and flags all around the stadium welcoming Paul|
After putting in a full day at work, I raced home and changed into shorts and a Beatles t-shirt before my wife and I headed over to Hersheypark. It's only a two or three minute drive from our house and since we have seasons passes to the park, we were able to get into the parking lot (usually concert parking is in the fields across the street). Because of this, we were only a short walk from the stadium and when we got out of the car we could hear the soundcheck going on (we heard the last two songs). Doors were due to open at 6pm and we'd been warned via an email from Hersheypark earlier in the week that security was going to be tight and that we should allow at least 45 minutes to get in. However, after queuing up for less than a minute, we were through security and the gates. After waiting a few more minutes for the stadium doors to open, we were finally inside and got to our seats. They were almost dead center, just a bit to the right and next to the mixing desk. After waiting for almost an hour, a DJ came onstage and played a mix of Paul's songs with the Beatles, Wings, and solo, in mostly remix or cover versions. Around 7:30pm, which had been the announced starting time for the concert, the pre-show film started. Unlike the vertically scrolling banner from 2013, this was a rotating column, but equally as cool, mixing in photos and short video clips from throughout Paul's life and career. At 8pm, the orchestral crescendo from "A Day in the Life" began as the image on the video screens morphed into Paul's famous Hofner bass guitar and he and the band strolled onstage to begin the set. And what a set it was!
|Dr. and Mrs. Chemist waiting for the show to begin!|
From the beginning of this tour back in the spring, there had been concern that Paul's voice was finally giving out and that this would and should be his final tour. I'd heard clips and seen videos and admittedly, his voice was in rough shape so I was a bit worried at what he'd sound like. I needn't have worried, though, as he was in fine voice, strong and clear and with almost all of his range. There were a few wobbly spots when he tried to go really high in his chest voice but otherwise he absolutely nailed the entire show. "Maybe I'm Amazed," which is a ridiculously difficult song to sing for the best of singers, was spot on and by song's end he was feeling it, throwing in some screams and falsetto that elicited loud whoops of approval from the crowd. There was thus no concern over his voice and certainly none over his musicianship or that of his band. Abe, Rusty, Brian, and Wix were their usual stellar selves and seemed to have had a blast onstage (as did Paul)...it's no wonder they've all been together for so long; Paul's very lucky to have formed this great band and kept them together. Also, the sound mix was excellent and in particular the bass guitar was mixed nice and upfront so you could really hear Paul's great bass playing. With that out of the way now, let's get to the music (as well as the pictures that I took that are worth sharing). First, the set list...
You Won't See Me
Love Me Do
And I Love Her
The Fool on the Hill
Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Band on the Run
Back in the USSR
Let it Be
Live and Let Die
Hi, Hi, Hi
Carry That Weight
The first thing I want to point out is that there were *fifteen* songs that were different from the last time I saw Paul, so the set felt very fresh and new. Yes, he still plays a lot of the same staples, but anyone who thinks they're not going to hear "Hey Jude," "Let it Be," "Band on the Run," and other songs like that, well...I don't know what they're thinking! When Paul came onstage, the roar was deafening and they got right into the set with THAT chord...the entire crowd was on their feet dancing and singing along, as they would for most of the show. I will say right now that I was disappointed that during the songs from his NEW album (which I really like), "My Valentine," and some of the more obscure album cuts ("Temporary Secretary," "Letting Go") that huge chunks of the crowd went to get more drinks or just sat down. I stood for the entire show and loved every one of the songs. "Letting Go" was a particular favorite of mine as it's one of my favorite songs from Paul's time in Wings and they played a really sexy, grooving version with some tasty guitar licks. Paul told most of his now-familiar stories and banter between songs, but even having heard most of it before I still smiled and laughed. His introduction to "Here Today," telling the crowd to let the people they love know how they feel before it's too late, was even sweeter and more poignant than when I saw him do it in 2013 and that song honestly brought a tear to my eye when he was finished. In fact, "Here Today" and "Blackbird" might have been my two favorite moments of the entire show. Just Paul singing and playing acoustic guitar all alone on the rising stage. He nailed both songs, both instrumentally and vocally, and it was so quiet in the crowd that you could hear a pin drop. Everyone stood throughout and cheered rapturously after...very cool moments. As for highlights, there are so many to mentions, so I'll just list them out...
- "Letting Go:" As I said, this has long been one of my favorite Wings songs ever and this version was a bit slower than the album version with a very sexy, slow groove and great guitar licks from Paul and Rusty. Most of the crowd didn't seem to know it and either sat or went to get more drinks, which is a damn shame as it was a killer performance.
- "Temporary Secretary:" If a lot of fans sat or left their seats during "Letting Go," even more did during this song! I think me and the guy next to my wife were the only ones in our area who knew the song and were excited enough to cheer when it started. Great version although the backing synth track was a bit too high in the mix.
- "I've Got a Feeling," "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five:" Two more favorites of mine, both done perfectly. There was a nice little jam coda tacked on to the end of "I've Got a Feeling" that I'd not heard before.
- "Maybe I'm Amazed:" One of the great ballads of all time, and usually very taxing on Paul's voice, especially in recent years. He absolutely nailed it here...I couldn't hear a single bum note, his screaming was dead on, and he was feeling it so much that he added some extra screams and falsetto near the end that were so good that the crowd around us cheered loudly in appreciation. Stunning version.
- "In Spite of All the Danger," "Love Me Do," "And I Love Her:" I was skeptical as to how "In Spite of All the Danger" would work since it's such a simple, early song and only fans who have heard it on the Beatles Anthology CDs would know it, but it was great! Very sweet and they played it again after it was finished so that the crowd could sing the "oh oh oh oh!" answering part. "Love Me Do" was definitely a fan favorite, as was "And I Love Her." The last song had an added treat for the ladies in the audience who cheered and whistled when Paul turned his back and shook his bum a bit during the solo in the middle.
- "You Won't See Me:" I absolutely *loved* this version of the song...after telling a story about how he was inspired to write the melody from a guitar figure he came up with, they played a fantastic version that was driven more by the acoustic guitar than the studio version is. It was just brilliant and it's little nuggets like this that keep his shows interesting and fresh.
- "Blackbird" and "Here Today:" See above...stunning, both of them.
- "Something:" Yes, he's been doing this tribute to George, complete with the story and the intro on ukulele, for years, but it's still incredibly touching and a great version of the song. VERY well received by the crowd.
- "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da:" Have you ever wondered what 30,000 people singing the chorus to this song would sound like? If you were at the concert, now you know. For a song that is supposedly one of the worst the Beatles ever released (according mainly to critics and the devout Lennon contingent of fans...I've always liked it), it seemed as though EVERYONE in attendance knew all of the words and sung along lustily throughout.
- "Let it Be:" I don't know how you can listen to this song and not be uplifted and comforted, even when everything is going great in your life. Lovely version.
- "Live and Let Die:" A great song, and always accompanied by fabulous pyrotechnics and fireworks. I knew what was coming having seen it before, but it was still cool. Even better was seeing the reaction of my wife and the other first time fans around us marvel in awe when that first blast went off.
- "Hey Jude:" My favorite Beatles song and one of their most recognizable and popular songs of all time. I proudly sang along to every word, as did Mrs. Chemist and everyone else around us. The "na na na na" chorus at the end is must-sing and if you've never experienced being in a crowd with tens of thousands of fellow fans singing and waving their arms to that, you've missed out. Even the well-worn "first the guys...now the girls!" instructions from Paul are fun as hell no matter how many times you've done it.
- Encores: Nothing too surprising here, but still lovely, and ending with the final song ("The End") from the final Beatles album (Abbey Road) and that iconic final verse ("And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make") is beyond shrewd. Before "Birthday," Paul brought two fans onstage whose signs caught his eyes: the first was a girl who was probably 13 or 14 who asked Paul to sign her poster. She was clearly shy and a bit overwhelmed with excitement, but very sweet and cute (our oldest daughter is around the same age so she reminded us of her). After she left the stage, Paul brought on a teacher who wanted him to sign her so she could "show and tell" with her students when school gets back in session next month! He signed her shoulder and then she asked for one on her wrist. He cracked a joke about her "pushing it" and that they'd be there "all night" and then gladly obliged. I'm sure she was off to the nearest tattoo parlor first thing the next morning!
|The intro film|
|Paul walking onstage and waving to the crowd|
As usual, there was a wide mix of ages in the crowd, from first generation fans in their 60s and 70s to second generation fans my age (30s and 40s), down to teenagers and young children. It was also nice to see a lot of fans of different races, showing that Paul's music has wide appeal across all barriers. The weather was gorgeous, always a plus for an outdoor rain-or-shine concert...warm but not too humid, a nice breeze, and once it got dark, a beautiful full moon that even Paul stopped to point out (including telling the moon that we were having a heck of "a party down here on Earth!"). One thing my wife and I both discussed on our walk out to the car was how Paul and his band not only performed brilliantly, but had great interactions with the crowd. They clearly have a ton of fun onstage and there are lots of little in-jokes that keep them smiling and laughing...that, coupled with the fun they convey and Paul's own gestures and comments, make for a concert that is not only musically brilliant, but a joyous experience.
Once we got back to our car, it took us a little over an hour to get to the road. This made us laugh since we live literally five minutes away from the stadium! To put it in perspective, the show ended right around 11pm (after nearly three continuous hours of music) but we didn't get home until well after midnight. Of course, being so wired from the concert, it took us a while to wind down and fall asleep. I was pretty tired the following morning, although unlike 2013 where I had a stressful hour-and-a-half commute into Boston for work, my current twenty-minute drive to work on back farm roads was much easier! Mrs. Chemist and I both decided that the next time (and hopefully there *is* a next time!) that Paul tours and plays nearby, we're going to take our kids...they're all huge Beatles/Wings/solo Paul fans and would absolutely love the concert. Not only is it amazing that Paul is still out there touring at 74 and putting on fantastic shows, but music from his entire career still resonates with fans of all ages in a way few, if any, performers can claim. Irrespective of his status as a former Beatle and one-half of the most famous and successful songwriting partnership in the history of popular music, Paul McCartney is a living legend who still delivers top-notch and high quality performances and if you haven't seen him yet, try to get to at least one show before he stops for good.