Penned On The Run: North America #FreshenUpTour 2019
PENNED ON THE RUN #1
Welcome to the first installment of PENNED ON THE RUN, the U.S. … version? Spin-off? Equivalent?... of 'For Whom The Bell Tells'.
I know I’ve got a lot to live up to, given the standard set by Stuart Bell, but I’ll try my best to capture the local colour—sorry color—of these North American dates, and remain ever in your favour—I mean favor!
For Paul’s first show in the Big Easy since 2014, the 'Freshen Up' tour family was expanded quite literally: Mary McCartney somehow found time to take over Paul’s Instagram at the same time that her Mary McCartney: From the Print Drawer exhibition was opening at A Gallery For Fine Photography in New Orleans’ French Quarter (someone figure out a way to add that rare intimate shot of Paul and the band’s pre-show huddle to From the Print Drawer… stat!).
Speaking of Paul’s extended musical family, the Wings wing of that family held a special reunion in New Orleans: Journeyman sax player Thaddeus Richard, dropped by to say hello to the man he played alongside on the likes of Wings at the Speed of Sound and Wings Over America.
Then it was time for the 'Freshen Up' tour to kick off its first U.S. show of 2019… and what a kick-off it was: For the customary near three-hour set, the Smoothie King Center was ringing with 30+ classics from Paul’s solo works to the catalogs of Wings and of course The Beatles—plus a handful of new ones from Egypt Station which held their own sturdily alongside dozens of selections from the most beloved body of musical work in history.
Wix Wickens, Abe Laboriel jr., Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray were on hand as they have been for more than a decade—meshing seamlessly with the newest additions to the McCartney live experience: The Hot City Horns a/k/a Mike Davis, Paul Burton and Kenji Fenton, who made their entrance from the first tier of seats off the floor during 'Letting Go,' and added heat to numbers ranging from the brand new 'Come On To Me' to 'Let Em In,' 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da,' and, adding even more emotional heft to its climactic singalong (if that can be imagined), 'Hey Jude.'
Paul’s history with New Orleans is a rich one—one that includes The Beatles’ 1964 appearance at Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park, recording sessions for Wings’ 1975 opus Venus and Mars, solo headlines at the Superdome in 1993, the New Orleans Arena in 2002, and his previous show at the Smoothie King in 2014. On this night, Paul’s second show at the Smoothie King Center surpassed the venue’s box office record, a fitting postscript to a magical evening, with many thanks going out to the people of New Orleans and to the Louisiana Economic Development’s Office of Entertainment Industry Development.
And the show didn’t stop with Paul’s exit from the stage: The after-show festivities kicked in on the Smoothie King loading dock, with the Hot City Horns playing Paul onto his tour bus with—what else—'When The Saints Go Marching In'—only to have their tribute turned right back at them when Paul grabbed the trumpet and joined right in!
… which, more or less, made the actual after-party the after-after-party! In addition to the usual spread of vegetarian goodies and top shelf libations, Paul surprised crew birthday boys LeRoy Bennett and Wally Lees with a massive chocolate cake that served as proof positive that a vegetarian diet can still be a decadent one.
You know you’re “a superstar’s superstar” (OK that’s a quote from the NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE, but it’s just too perfect for this Raleigh anecdote) when taking a sip of water onstage makes headlines—and that’s exactly what happened on this historic night in Raleigh. The RALEIGH NEWS & OBSERVER, whose review bore the headline “Paul McCartney’s Raleigh show had singalongs, fireworks and a cool sip of water,” broke the news:
So momentous was the occasion, McCartney called attention to it, and the sip was taken with a drum roll.
“One of the things that people say to me when they’re seeing the show, ‘You didn’t take a drink of water the whole time,’” he told the crowd between sips.
“But tonight I’m going to,” he said.
“A rule is broken. That’s what rules are for.”
Paul’s first show in Raleigh NC since his 2002 stop on the 'Driving World' tour broke records as well as rules, setting yet another box office record for the PNC Arena. As for the show itself… Paul took Raleigh on a magical mythical tour that moved the local WRAL to remark on its “surpassing amount of effort into songs he’s sung 1,000 times,” adding that “none of Monday night’s show felt the least bit rote… And what did he close the show with? The album-ending Abbey Road suite concluding with ‘The End,’ of course, and it could not have been more perfect.”
And I can’t offer a more perfect account than that. Onward and southward we go…
To describe Paul’s debut appearance in Greenville SC at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, as the GREENVILLE NEWS did, “a show for the ages” would have to be an understatement in the eyes and ears of the packed-to-the-rafters crowd.
There’s a particular euphoria to a sold out crowd having its first in the flesh Paul McCartney experience—the energy that kicks in from that first magical chord of 'A Hard Day’s Night,' the swooning to 'All My Loving,' 'Maybe I’m Amazed,' and 'Love Me Do,' the hushed reverence during 'Blackbird,' 'Here Today,' and 'Something,' the warm welcome to the Hot City Horns on 'Letting Go,' the thrill of the new that comes with 'Come On To Me,' 'Who Cares' and 'Fuh You,' the joyous sing-alongs of 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da' and 'Hey Jude,' the bittersweet final swell of emotion that greets the final strains of 'The End'… Some might—and did—describe that feeling as “tears of joy” (SMOKY MOUNTAIN NEWS), but as anyone who’s just seen Paul for the first time can attest: There are no words.
A stretch of more than a quarter century between shows came to an end with Paul’s return to the Rupp Arena in Lexington KY for the first time since 1990.
Prior to the show, Paul had the occasion to get reacquainted with Babydaddy from Scissor Sisters—who was in his hometown of Lexington visiting family—including his father Phillip, once a young attendee of Beatles shows who finally got the chance to express his gratitude for Paul’s music in person. Of that once in a lifetime experience, Babydaddy’s daddy said:
“I was able to go see them at a concert at Busch Stadium in St. Louis in the rain, in 1965… I have every British and American Album and have two early Beatle full band autograph sets.
I had not been able to see Paul McCartney again since that concert in 1965.
When I heard he was coming to Lexington with this concert tour, I decided that it would be great for the whole family to go. Our three boys are also big Beatle fans. As you know Scott (a/k/a Babydaddy) was in a pretty famous band called the Scissor Sisters and he had been able to meet Paul at Live 8 in 2008.
Because of his connections, he was able to take me to meet Paul when he came to Lexington last week.
This was an amazing thrill for me. It is not often that you get to meet one of your heroes. Paul was friendly and down to earth, just as I would have suspected.
He talked with us for a few minutes and accepted a book that one of my other son's best friends had written. The book concerned a horse that was bred in Lexington and led to Pete Best's mother winning money enough to build the Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool where the Quarrymen played.
Paul was very interested and held the book up when we took photos. It was overall a great experience. And by the way, the show was amazing. Probably the best rock concert I have seen.”
… this from someone who saw The Beatles in 1965! I can’t come close to topping that, so… on to five consecutive first ever Paul shows in…
Funny thing you’ll notice over a decade or so of touring with Paul McCartney: The loudest roars often come from the smallest towns. Not that a 10,000+ throng could be considered small by any measure—unless you’re talking about the biggest arena in a city sandwiched between 40-60,000 capacity sold out South and North American stadium gigs.
And this most intimate stop on the first U.S. leg of 'Freshen Up 2019' made a mighty noise indeed as Paul stepped onto a Fort Wayne stage for the first time ever—generations of hoosiers bellowing approval from opening trifecta of 'A Hard Day’s Night,' 'Junior’s Farm' and 'All My Loving,' and maintaining top volume all the way through the perpetually tearjerking final lines of 'The End.' THE FORT WAYNE JOURNAL GAZETTE raved that it "will be long remembered by anyone who was there”… and we certainly haven’t forgotten a note.
Earlier in the week, Generation Z rock revivalists Greta Van Fleet were on stage at the nearby Breese Stevens Field headlining their own gig. But this night, they were reportedly fans at the Kohl Center receiving the master class in rock n roll’s potential as spiritual communion that was Paul McCartney’s first-ever show in Madison.
Indeed, a Paul McCartney show is always the consummate near-three-hour rock show, a perfectly paced journey through dozens of hits, deep cuts, and new tracks that stake their place in this cavalcade of musical history.
As such it’s a constant well of inspiration for anyone and everyone from the 2010’s classic rock freshman valedictorians to the regular “mix of ages, from kids with their parents to one veteran fan who claimed to have seen McCartney play 123 times,” said THE CAPITAL TIMES.
And cheers to that same CAPITAL TIMES for making a rare novel observation about our Paul:
“Icon, god, legend — the words seem inadequate to describe the impact McCartney has had on popular culture and the effect he has on a room. They’ve made recent movies about Elton John (Rocketman) and Queen (Bohemian Rhapsody), but McCartney’s presence is so large in the world that they’ve made a movie about what it would be like if he didn’t exist (Yesterday).”
As for the show, Madison ecstatically received yet another near-three-hours of sheer brilliance--with a NEW twist or two: 'Save Us' gets its first airing of this run in the second song position before Paul introduces a, erm, not as NEW third number, 'Can’t Buy Me Love.' This was a crowd that had waited decades for Paul to rock them with 'I’ve Got a Feeling,' 'Helter Skelter' and 'Back in the USSR,' to move them to tears with 'Something,' to soothe their souls with 'Let It Be' just prior to blowing back their hair with the concussive pyro of 'Live and Let Die,' to lead them through the na-na-na-na’s of 'Hey Jude'…
As always, it’s impossible to describe the emotional electricity in the air as Paul promises to see his tens of thousands of new friends again sometime, so the words of the WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL will have to suffice: “No glum faces were seen in the crowd at the end of the show.”
“Hey Lambeau… Let’s go!”
From the time the 'Freshen Up' touring platoon rolled into Green Bay—did we pass a downtown street rechristened Abbey Road? Yes we did—it was clear Green Bay had been buzzing for months about Paul McCartney’s first ever concert in the Packer City. The local media were packered—ahem—packed with everything from the routine --traffic advisories-- to the above and beyond: dueling Beatles tribute bands along the banks of the Fox River, anticipatory stories ranging from locals barely containing their excitement, to an Anchorage, Alaska woman venturing to the lower 48 to gift her father with Paul’s show for his 89th birthday, to a Michigan mother taking a 10-hour road trip with her teenage son to share their first live McCartney experience together.
And now, the fourth major concert at Lambeau Field in the 62-year history of the iconic home of the Green Bay Packers was finally upon them all: Lifelong Green Bay residents, those who’d made the trek from here, there and everywhere, those who’d seen The Beatles at the Milwaukee Arena in 1964 as teenagers, to kids of all ages seeing Paul for the first time in the flesh… It was time to Freshen Up old memories and make lifetimes’ worth or new ones as Paul took the stage.
And what new memories they were… 'Got To Get You Into My Life' into 'Come On To Me,' from 'Dance Tonight' into 'Love Me Do' to hushed reverence for 'Blackbird' and 'Here Today,' then back onto their feet for 'Queenie Eye' and 'Lady Madonna'… Nearly 50,000 voices screaming their approval of every note and every syllable—not least of which when Paul caught sight of read a fan’s sign proclaiming “1 2 3 4 5 6 7 All Good Cheeseheads Go To Heaven.” “That’s true,” Paul remarked—though everyone fortunate enough to snag a ticket to Lambeau that night was already there.
Paul’s performance continued from peak to peak; 'Band on the Run' played 45 years to the day that it hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, 'Fuh You' igniting a sea of tens of thousands phone lights that illuminated the Lambeau bowl--a spectacle that repeated for 'Let It Be,' the penultimate 'Live and Let Die' augmented with a particularly torrential barrage of a stadium scale fireworks and pyro tour de force… “As good as it gets… unforgettable,” said the local media, once more getting it exactly right, this time the GREEN BAY PRESS GAZETTE: “It’s hard to imagine what more any fan could’ve asked from a night that was all about love and togetherness, a marathon of unmatched musicianship, the sweetest of nostalgia and a music history lesson come to life — except for maybe three more hours.”
“McCartney concert to make QC history…”
Every Paul McCartney show is a moment in musical history. Then there are those shows that are event that affect and embrace entire populaces of geographical regions—people who never imagined that Paul would be playing within driving distance, let alone in their very backyard.
Such was Freshen Up’s stop in Moline, Illnois. Moreover, Paul’s first visit to the Quad Cities: Davenport and Bettendorf in southeastern Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline in northwestern Illinois. Though the concert itself would take place at Moline’s TaxSlayer Center, this was a night that belonged to everyone in the Quad City region.
And what did the locals have to say about Paul’s QC debut? “It’s a new day for a new knight atop my ‘best concert ever’ pedestal,” said the GAZETTE. “No one will ever come close to toppling Sir Paul McCartney from my personal pinnacle.
"I’ve never heard anyone play 38 songs in concert, nonstop, for three solid hours…
"Every song was greeted with the same enthusiasm at the downbeat, whether it was a hit for The Beatles or for Wings. His new music off the recently released Egypt Station album is just as captivating…
"Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the event — and it was an event — was McCartney’s vocal stamina. A lesser musician would have front-loaded the concert with the songs that showcased his soaring tenor. Not Sir Paul. He saved ‘Hey Jude’ for number 32…
What an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime event. My 5-year-old self was transported, beginning to end.”
As the lights came up, local TV coverage was instantly abuzz with chatter about everything from the show’s record-breaking box office take to the windfall it generated for local businesses. Truly a life-changing event for everyone in earshot… and in CQ history.
“Texas! Lubbock! Buddy Holly!”
With that shout-out, Paul dedicated a soundcheck salute to the Lone Star legend: a rendition of Buddy Holly’s 'It’s So Easy' that, like most everything else played at soundcheck, made it apparent we were in for a scorcher—literally and figuratively.
By the time the sun had begun to sink low enough to offer the slightest reprieve from the sweltering heat, it was official: Every single show on this first U.S. run of Freshen Up 2019 had shattered box office records. In the case of Arlington Globe Life Park, however, Paul’s show set the record: It would be the first ever major concert event at the home of the Texas Rangers.
As the DALLAS MORNING NEWS noted, the timing of Paul’s first steps onto the Globe Life Park Stage “created powerful memories in Arlington concert on a week when rock music needed them”: Two days earlier a New York Times expose’ revealed the extent of the loss of classic master recordings in 2008’s first at Universal Studios’ storage facility in Los Angeles. With so much musical history having gone up in smoke, a performance like Paul’s at Globe Life Park seemed all the more precious, and perhaps offered some solace to those in attendance mourning the destruction of those vaults’ worth of master tapes.
Paul’s Arlington debut however was a celebration of the memories being created in the here and now. 'A Hard Day's Night', 'Can't Buy Me Love','Let Me Roll It','Maybe I'm Amazed', the Quarrymen proto-Beatle classic 'In Spite Of All The Danger','Love Me Do','Blackbird', 'Eleanor Rigby'… every note a reminder of how integral and essential these songs are to our every memory—from the kids and grandkids being brought along to their first concert to young lovers to one-time Beatles and Wings concertgoers reunited with Paul for a night.
Even when Paul wasn’t saying it outright, as in the intro to 'Here Today', for nearly three hours he reminded us repeatedly that music and love are gifts to be treasured and shared.
And with that… what more is there to say about Freshen Up’s abundance of memories, but stay tuned for more when we pick it back up with Paul’s return to Petco Park, San Diego!