By Grayson Barnes
WICHITA - In spite of the 100 degree heat, the crowd was upbeat at the intersection of Penny Lane and Abbey Road on the evening of July 19. No, we weren’t in England, but outside Intrust Bank Arena. The city of Wichita had renamed Waterman and English streets in honor of Sir Paul McCartney’s first concert in Kansas. Ever.
I have to be honest and say that I have reached the age where an evening at the theatre seems much more inviting than a concert. In fact, I can’t remember the last one I went to that wasn’t a cover band and didn’t require hauling your own lawn chair, but when I heard McCartney was coming I had to go.
My seat was close enough to feel the heat of the stage lights, so I was worried when McCartney came on outfitted in a Sgt. Pepper style jacket. Luckily he discarded that after the first song. His opener was Hard Day’s Night. This struck me as incredibly appropriate, given his history as a performing artist. He’s spent a lot of evenings working the stage.
This is a guy whose music I grew up with. The Beatles had broken up a few years before I was in my teens -- I had McCartney and Wings. I listened to the album Red Rose Speedway until the vinyl almost wore completely through. Today, perched in the back of my closet, it is, literally, unplayable.
As I gazed at what music had traced on his face, I was hyper aware of the years it had been since I peeled the plastic off my first Wings album. History compressed, though, as he reeled out 35 PLUS songs. That’s where my pen ran out of ink. And I did not care.
I was transported back to my high school cafeteria, Helen Wheels booming from someone’s cassette recorder at our table while we deciphered that day’s mystery meat. ALL of us were clad in bellbottoms, platforms, and long macramé vests. Even though we looked like ‘70s-era cutouts, McCartney’s music was different. It was original and energetic.
McCartney manifested both in his performance – spreading his arms as wide as his career and showing us his innovation as well as his fortitude. Unlike many artists, McCartney’s songs don’t often give in to the pervasive Doppler fade at the end that is imitative and indecisive. Instead, he is the king of the “hot” ending, finishing with an incredible pile of sound, or one quiet note. Occasionally this is courageously discordant, but it works, as in Maybe I’m Amazed, where that last flick of the guitar string seems slightly flat, but it echoes the feel of the ENTIRE song – love, anguish, and the absolute acceptance of a smidge of discomfiture. Surprisingly, this song was panned at first (1970), requiring McCartney to write a response to the lambasting. Maybe I’m Amazed went on to ascend the charts on both sides of the pond over the next decade when the rest of the world’s ears caught up.
Another revolutionary recording that opened the musical universe for anthems such as Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (1975), was Band on the Run. Released on the eponymous 1973 album, this was one of the first songs to shift from one musical genre to another (folk, rock, funk) internally. It topped the charts in the U.S. and made it to the top three in the U.K.
After about the 14th or 15th selection, I wondered how long McCartney could keep going. Most concerts are over after the new album and a few standards are covered. He worked for three straight hours up there. He also brought all his musical toys, flipping between an upright piano and a grand. He played about five different guitars and a ukulele. Other band members joined in with accordion and harmonica as well as the requisite drums and guitars.
About two-thirds of the way through, McCartney rolled out Live and Let Die, from the 1973 Roger-Moore-as-Bond movie. During the chorus, pyrotechnics shot from the stage. I was momentarily horrified, recalling the Manchester Arena bombing in May of this year. It took me a second to recognize this was part of the concert and a wee bit longer to slow my trolling of possible exits. How fast COULD we get around 15,000 people OUT of the arena? The place was packed.
Apparently it is a “thing” to bring signs to a McCartney concert. A woman a few seats forward had one that read, “SOLD my husband for tickets, can I give you the change???” McCartney drew five sign holders onto the stage. He autographed their bodies (discreetly) with a Sharpie. One 19-year old was with her mom. The mom confessed McCartney’s signature was what her daughter wanted for her birthday. Then Mom added they were “heading to a tattoo shop ASAP.”
It was truly exciting to hear the history behind some of his works, as McCartney chatted between songs. Blackbird was written for people in the American south in the ‘60s. The Rolling Stones recorded I Wanna Be Your Man as a single before the Beatles did. They were a new band and needed music, so the Beatles gave the song to them. That song as gift from so long ago was one Wichita had the chance to enjoy again, along with many others. McCartney ended with a four-song encore. What a night – what a knight! Thanks, Sir Paul for the best concert. EVER. l