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Monday, August 17, 2009

Live review: Paul McCartney at Piedmont Park Sat., Aug. 15

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Shortly before Paul McCartney appeared on the Death Star stage at Piedmont Park Saturday night, I carved a path through the huddled, peasant masses on a B-line to the VIP hillside. McCartney’s people know how to do it right, and when the sluggish Will Call attendant handed me an envelope marked “VIP,” I wanted to kiss him. Instead I figured I should get to where I need to be.

Getting through the crowd was an epic journey that felt something like a battle scene from Lord of the Rings. Bodies were strewn about the lawn in disarray as slack-jawed tourists, and weekend warriors of various stripes meandered in a daze of dim eyes and sports T-shirts -- torn between getting in line to buy $7 cans of Bud Light or trying to get a jump on porta potties. I made it to the illustrious VIP vista which overlooked the filth and smog of the general admission pit below. There I was treated to a catered tent where they were handing out free beer, wine, hot wings, wraps, brownies and baklava.

Before the show a co-worker texted me to complain that she had been standing in “the longest line in the world” for the portapotty. She was one of the unfortunate commoners on the other side of the great wall (fence) that separated us from them. So I went to investigate my restroom options. The restrooms were actually air-conditioned trailers, complete with attendants, multiple facilities, sinks with soap and best of all, no waiting. There were even private stalls if you needed them. This is truly how the other half lives.

Seeing Paul McCartney perform is like seeing Beethoven. No one alive today has altered pop culture and rock and roll as profoundly as Sir Paul, and when he started the show with a spot-on performance of “Drive My Car” I thought,"hmmm… I am truly in the presence of greatness."

Jumbotron screens that flanked the stage broadcast Sir Paul’s image across the landscape. At the ripe old age of 67 McCartney looked great as he powered through a two-and-a-half hour set that was rife with Beatles songs, spanning everything from “I Saw Her Standing There” to “Helter Skelter.”

His band looked like a cast of stunt doubles from The Matrix as they sprinted to keep up, and just when the show was hitting stride sheets of rain fell on the crowd. I ran for the catered tent along with everyone else. The roar of so many people overpowered the sounds from the stage, but I could still see McCartney in the distance, silently mouthing the words to “Band on the Run.” The smell of Baby Boomer B.O. and hot wings filled the air as I weighed the options, should I stand in the rain and hear the show, or stay dry and endure the stink. A well-to-do cougar to my right turned to her husband at one point and said, “I bet this is just what Woodstock was like!” I milled it over for a second and thought, ‘lady, the brownies at Woodstock probably weren’t free, nor did they have air-conditioned restrooms.’ But rather than speak up I went for the rain. Just as I emerged from the crowd the rain subsided with the opening jet wash of “Back in the U.S.S.R.”

While leaving the tent I came to realize that I had never seen so many affluent-looking people with so much barbecue sauce smeared on their shirts. Some sort of survival instinct had come over the masses during the storm and the juxtaposition of so much savagery on the ground with the elegant and iconic Sir Paul on stage was profound.

His performance of “Live and Let Die” was an absolute show stopper, complete with pyrotechnics on stage and a dazzling fireworks display. “Timeless” is a word that many writers toss about without much regard for the real connotations of such verbiage. But with Sir Paul the word truly applies. He has outlived Elvis, Janis, Jerry, George and John, and he’s still rocking mass-audience without pandering to the modern pop forces of a world that he shaped with his own voice.

Images from the Paul McCartney's performance at Piedmont Park.

(Photo by Perry Julien)

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