Monday, 21 April 2003


Venue: Earl's Court, London - "Back To The World Tour"
Reviewer: MMT

Three hours, give or take, and he still didn't play "The Frog Chorus". Anyway, I'll get to that.

As Bis advise, though, I will open with a Statement of Intent. I love the Beatles, love 'em. My dad loves 'em too, and my childhood was filled with tapes in cars, guitars in houses, tunes from somewhere else. The White Album is one of the best works of art of any genre ever. The drumming on "Strawberry Fields Forever" is one of the best examples of drumming on record ever. The Beatles, The Beatles, The Beatles. Cor, they're good. Okay, they had their arse moments too - "All Together Now", on Yellow Submarine is appallingly bad, but the man behind it, Sir Paul McCartney, was in fine form this week at Earl's Court.

He does get a pretty bad press, probably mostly just because he's still alive. If John hadn't been struck down by Mark Chapman in 1980, he would have released some godawful rubbish in the intervening decades. But you can't argue with much of the back catalogue on display from Macca here. He's always been legendarily reluctant to delve too far back into the Beatles era in the past, but obviously is feeling pretty mellow at the moment - this was definitely a sixties-heavy set, all three hours of it !

I've never actually been to Earl's Court before, and the sheer size of it made me dizzy as Helen and I emerged from the warehouse-style exterior to the stadium interior. Meeting various other members of my family there, we realised that in fact the proceedings had just about started - outlandishly dressed figures paraded their way through the audience to the stage as a twenty minute piece of theatrical mime to a building ambient track succeeding in making tens of thousands of people think "I wonder when Sir Paul will be coming on"...

Once he did, though, I was impressed. I've not been to many of these enormo-gigs before, just Bob Dylan and Steps (together at last!) at the Birmaham NEC, but this was the first one where I've seen the massive video projection screens used to their full potential. They went up and down on big chains, they sashayed into postions and provided both live footage from the tiny figures of Paul and his musos for hire, and also videos and mood pictures. Which all actually helped keep the attention, to be fair, no mean feat in such a massive arena.

Obviously it wasn't all rock history in the flesh, there were a few duff numbers, notably a sappy song about John written post-80 (although I'd forgive him even that), and a couple of current numbers included, one feels, to say "Hey ! I'm still releasing records, me!", but other than that he clearly seemed to be enjoying the celebration of his life's work, hammering into tracks like "Can't Buy Me Love", "Back In The USSR", "Birthday", and "I Saw Her Standing There" as if he had something to prove. He has to live among some pretty big shadows, after all.

The accusation levelled at him most often is that he was the sappy balladeer to John's caustic politicist, but that's lazy. True, his big guns were nearly all wheeled out : "Yesterday", "The Long And Winding Road", "Let It Be", a rousing singalong of "Hey Jude", but even these seemed to have an added poignancy live - these are not the versions we've heard over and over on record, these were fuller with life, rawer. Even this cynical old heart was moved by "Let It Be", one of the highlights of the evening. And don't forget, Lennon wrote the now somehow cringeingly naive "All You Need Is Love", and try having a listen to "Dear Yoko" off of Double Fantasy sometime ! Shooooo...

My main gripe, to be honest, was the buffoonish posturing of his apparently Nu-Metal drummer, a man-mountain with spiky goatee, who, although clearly an excellent drummer, didn't miss any opportunities to come out from behind his kit in the quieter numbers and sway like the singer out of Creed before delivering the admittedly spot on falsetto harmonies. So that's not much of a gripe, but still - I could have done without it during the only time I will ever see "She's Leaving Home" (SHE'S LEAVING HOME !!!!) sung live. Paul was very sure to introduce all of his band, not least so he could move from guitar to grand piano and back again a couple of times, or even to a kind of keyboard / piano box which was painted in a kind of Yellow Submarine-style style.

And of course, the man wasn't just in one multi-million selling band like yer Lennons and yer Harrisons (unless the Traveling Wilburys count), he was in two. Wings were very much in evidence on the night, from "Jet" to "Band On The Run" to "some soppy one about Linda I don't know the name of". There was also one I'd never heard before, but which a short bit of research revealed to be a Wings single (a Wingle ?) from 1976 called "Let 'Em In". Which was pretty good. And of course an explosive (literally - pyrotechnics a-go-go on this one song only !) version of surely the weirdest James Bond theme ever, "Live And Let Die".

But despite the Wings-hand-symbols (think Wac-A-Wave, youse Eighties kids) and scarves in the front rows, it was Beatle Paul people had come to see. And in that sense, at least, it was an excellent occasion. How often do you see A Living Legend in the flesh, let alone A Living Legend Who Wrote "Eleanor Rigby" singing it live? And it didn't stop there, either - for three hours ! Here's a plaintive "The Fool On The Hill", there's a foot-tapping "Lady Madonna". You fancy an acoustic plucking through of "Blackbird"? You betcha. Ukelele-played version of "Something" in memory of George? Absolutely. Astonishing.

Few people, certainly few people currently alive, could pull this off. And certainly few would come on for the encore wearing a "No More Land Mines" t-shirt. In a career spanning forty years (the oldest song here, "I Saw Her Standing There" is older than that !), you've got to expect a few blips. Even Bowie has his "Laughing Gnome", his Tin Machine. So I'm not defending "Ebony and Ivory" (also not played live! Boooo!), all I'm saying is that this isn't the sort of concert you get to go and see very often. And I'm glad I can say I was there - and that unlike the kids in the Sixties, at least I could hear the words...

Eight thumbs up. Keep on a-rockin' Sir Paul. You rule hands down over Sir Elton, Sir Cliff and Sir Not Sir Mick, which is all I ask from any rocker over 50.