Paul McCartney
On the Run

Last June, when I was at Ringo Starr and his All Starr's Band concert in the Prague Congress Centre, I could hardly imagine that what would follow would be another Beatles show. Of course I mean the second living member of what is considered by many to be the best music band of all times.

No other than Sir Paul McCartney, aka Macca, set out for the second half of his 2011 tour in autumn. The tour was called On the Run and included London on December 5th. Me and my wife – as true Beatles fans – couldn't miss the show. The venue entrance was surrounded by huge billboards with McCartney's face and we immediately imagined something magnificent. All the fans were excited and the tickets for the whole tour were sold out. London was not an exception, we were extremely fortunate to get two tickets for the concert.

The venue opened at 6 pm. The supporting act started at 7. There was a DJ playing original versions and remixes of various songs including Beatles songs, from both the band’s and solo times. After that, a video collage was shown on the side screens, showing interesting shots and montages about McCartney and the Beatles. In the meantime, the 1960’s and today’s teenagers took the seats and the crowd of 20 thousand started losing its patience.
At 8:20 pm the stage fell dark and the side screens showed an outline of the Hoffner Violin bass guitar. The music from the loudspeakers turned into a kind of solemn overture and Sir Paul entered the stage, welcomed by the cheering audience.

At this moment everyone stood up and continued standing throughout the evening. McCartney brought with him the band that had been playing with him for almost 10 years. There was Rusty Anderson on guitar, Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums, Paul "Wick" Wickens on keyboards, and Brian Ray on guitar and bass guitar. All of them are very experienced musicians and great singers too. After a short instrumental sequence in A major the band changed the chords and McCartney started singing in his charismatic voice: You say yes, I say no… And here we are, Hello Goodbye, a famous song from the Beatles era started the show. The opening hit was followed by the melodic Junior's Farm from the period of the Wings with Denny Laine. McCartney then greeted the audience, and his restrained English humor was not left out during the concert. McCartney took off his jacket and counted the beat for another song, the obligatory All My Loving. During this song, the back screens showed scenes from the Hard Day's Night movie. The audience joined in. Everyone on the British islands, or perhaps all over the world, knows the song by heart. Another Wings song, Jet, followed with decent sound. The next song was Drive My Car from the Beatles' Rubber Soul album, another song by Lennon/McCartney. This track opened McCartney's concert in Shea Stadium in New York in 2009. I have a DVD of the show and I wished I could hear this song live. Now there it was! I closed my eyes and imagined John, George and Ringo accompanying Paul. Nevertheless, the musicians from McCartney's band sing very well and are perfectly capable of singing the colorful and tempting Beatles-like vocals. Well, they were trained by the best teacher and surely enjoyed the "classes". The instrumental part was brilliant too, and mostly kept the original arrangement in conjunction with a contemporary sound.

Even though most of the songs were written decades ago, they do not sound old. Moreover, we can feel the joy and the positive energy that was typical for the band and made it timeless. The next song was Sing the Changes from McCartney's album Fireman, where he experimented with contemporary electronic music. One could imagine an effort to keep up with modern trends, but McCartney made use of his magnificent voice and created a great melodic feeling even in this style.

And yet another famous hit – The Night Before. We were in 1965 and were watching Help!, a scene shot on a plain under the protection of the British army. Again we were enjoying the background vocals, the original Harrison solo played in octaves, and above all that we could hear Paul's clear and strong voice. I wonder what the man does to have his voice and music in such a brilliant shape? Going down the playlist, McCartney changed his bass for a guitar and Let Me Roll It from Paul's early solo career was coming at us at a slow pace. Perhaps this was McCartney's answer to Lennon's song How Do You Sleep. If only the two musicians had not entered into those silly disputes. They could have made a whole lot more brilliant music. However, stop speculating and let’s listen to the music again. After the final beat of Let Me Roll It we could hear the basic riff of Foxy Lady by Jimi Hendrix. McCartney himself played the solo on a Les Paul guitar with a colorful, hippie-like finish. McCartney has always been Hendrix’s fan and has spoken about him with respect, considering him one of the best musicians he has personally known. McCartney explained to us later that they released their legendary album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on a Friday night and by the following Sunday evening Hendrix was opening his concert with the title track. McCartney changed his Gibson for an original Gretsch from the sixties and explained that this was the guitar he used while recording Paperback Writer, the song that followed. Another great piece, with all the well-known features. Every time McCartney played the guitar or the piano, Brian Ray played the bass. That was the case with the beautiful Long and Winding Road from the Let It Be album and Come and Get It, McCartney's song from 1969, which was made famous by Badfinger, a band that he formed. Still sitting by the piano, McCartney offered the Wings classic Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five and then Maybe I'm Amazed from the early days of his solo career in 1970. Regardless of the time it was written, the song still has all of its original urgency. With I've Just Seen a Face, a nice acoustic song from the Help! album, McCartney returned to string instruments.


When the audience was not singing with McCartney and the band, they listened carefully and applauded enthusiastically. The mood was perfectly relaxed, the communication between the stage and the audience worked very well and everyone seemed to be happy. The audience responded well to McCartney's witty narrative intermezzos, which made everybody and even himself laugh and relax a bit before another musical masterpiece was served.

I Will from the White Album brought a pleasant acoustic experience and we could not leave without Blackbird. McCartney demonstrated he is not only a great singer but a guitarist too. And what’s more, he was singing and playing Blackbird in front of the audience of 20 thousand all alone. Still on his own, he played and sang the wistful Here Today, McCartney's confession for his good friend and colleague, John Lennon. The song is so powerful that the listeners started to feel melancholy. No wonder, everyone, and McCartney especially, knows about that great partnership, which was destroyed by someone following his own, selfish goals and then irretrievably lost with Lenon's death in 1980. After that it was time to get into a better mood again. McCartney grabbed the mandoline, the band came back on stage and there was Dance Tonight, the first track of McCartney's latest album Memory Almost Full. Another Wings song, Mrs. Vanderbilt, with interesting musical structure and light motifs, yet no trace of any cheap easy going music.

He then brought another lady on stage, Eleanor Rigby. At a concert in 2004 in Prague where I saw him live for the first time, I was astonished when McCartney and his bandmates sang all the well-known vocal parts live. McCartney used his serious British register for the tune that he perhaps wrote himself or with Lennon’s assistance, but in any case a brilliant tune. At the gig in London it was not any different. Eleanor Rigby was without a doubt another jewel of the evening. And after that another couple of hits. Something, a nice remembrance of George Harrison, started in an acoustic way, turning into the instrumental and vocal symphony from the Abbey Road album, which was recorded by all the Beatles. Band on the Run makes it clear again that Paul has always been a skilled and well balanced author and performer who has produced a lot of precise works. And hat's off to the band too! Those gentlemen know exactly what to play and how, and they perform with a lot of enthusiasm and certainty. Thanks to them we can listen to those great tracks not only on records and CDs but live too. What a pleasure!

Following was Ob-la-di Ob-la-da, Paul's funny song that lightened the rather serious atmosphere of the Beatles' White Album. And then Back in the USSR. The audience was boiling at this point, most of the listeners were singing every word of the lyrics, some were even dancing on their seats. The rhythm and the melody was taking us inside, we observed the scene dived in spectacular yet unobtrusive lights, well set videos and most of all fabulous music with ideal sound settings. Another great piece from the best Lennon/McCartney era, I Got a Feeling, with the colour of Paul's voice reminiscent of the final Beatles show on the roof of a building on Savile Row. The rhythm was perfect, the drummer Abe Laboriel really on top of things. What follows is Day in the Life, the closing track from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band that turns into the chorus-like Give Peace a Chance. Well, I admit usually I don’t like John Lennon's songs being sung by someone else. However, if someone really should sing them, then I know that Paul McCartney is the one who knows the story of the song and performs it with a grace and attitude similar to John. Judging from the fact that the audience was singing along with joy and applauded enthusiastically, they would most probably have agreed with me.

Paul came to the piano again to play another "national anthem", Let It Be. No need to talk about this one in detail, everyone knows it. And the show reached its top with the James Bond theme Live and Let Die. This composition is great by itself, and even better when performed by Paul. From the introductory notes to the well-known expressive parts that must be played with all available power. Add in a fire show that caused the stage to nearly explode and the first rows to feel the flames, and the impression was fantastic. James Bond would surely like it. Without any doubt, this type of show requires the highest coordination and professional competence from everyone involved, from the technical crew to McCartney himself.


And the finale arrived. Well, the first one. Paul came back from the black grand piano and sat down at a nicely painted piano that appeared in the front of the stage. The ecstatic audience was enjoying the first tones of Hey Jude. The whole London O2 Arena was singing every word and the endless closing choir.
However, the show could not end like that. Paul would not be allowed to leave. After a couple of minutes he and his band appeared again and we were savoring the encores. The band played The Word by Lennon/McCartney. The solo part of this song was sung by John on the Rubber Soul album. But John didn't turn up this time so Paul took the lead, paying a brilliant homage to his late friend. This is strengthened when The Word turns into All You Need Is Love. Day Tripper followed and McCartney and his boys were really making it heavy. As if McCartney and Lennon wrote this song the day before, it sounded fresh and electrifying. The people were screaming with joy and Paul introduced another song that should have something in common with the Rolling Stones. And indeed, Ronnie Wood, one of the Stones, in the flesh. He entered the stage with his guitar around his neck and all the musicians enjoyed Get Back. What terrific ammunition for the finale! The guitarists are swapping solos and we can feel the humming of the long-distance train again. This song should be the very last piece of the evening. But the audience wants even more. The visitors applaud on and on until Paul gets back on the stage, this time accompanied only by the keyboardist Paul Wix Wickens. And the hall hears the immortal Yesterday. I thought this was the real finale but I was wrong, and found myself glad to be. Abe Laboriel, Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson came back and Paul with all his boys switched on the high voltage. This is the art of contrast. We hear Helter Skelter with such power that even Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple in their golden era would not consider this a bad idea. Can there be anything more? Of course, Paul and his mates do not seem to be thinking of rest. They serve the symphonic medley from the Abbey Road album, which means Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, The End. Well-built melodies again, a drum solo to remind us that Ringo Starr never was only the man in the back, and the closing (now indeed) guitar session played in a heavy way. Paul McCartney says his Thank you from all involved to the grateful, continuously applauding, audience. Something like a paper firework blew up and in the paper rain Paul McCartney, Paul Wix Wickens, Abe Laboriel, Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray were leaving the stage, this time for good. Well, gentlemen, there is a lot to thank you for. From the first note played to the very last one the concert lasted 165 minutes. What a piece of authentic and quality work. A well-known American musician David Crosby stated in one of his interviews: "When I was a lad and visited a concert of The Beatles, I felt so good I danced all the way home." Recently, one fan who visits almost every Paul's show claimed: "He who likes music and does not visit Paul's concert is a crazy man." I share the feelings of both the gentlemen and I completely agree. The ex-Beatle Paul is by no means an old celebrity who reminisces about the good old days. He is a strong guy with a lot to say. He proved that during the almost 3-hour show. We must agree with The Times, which stated What else could we want…
If there is someone today holding the flag of timeless quality, artistic and human ideals and values, giving out joy and positive energy and not slipping into pervasive negativism and commercial mediocrity, it's Paul McCartney. I am not aware of the requirements for receiving a noble title by the Queen. But I know for sure that Sir Paul McCartney really deserves it.

Martin Koubek
January 2012 (c) Novy Popular
photo: Universal