Penned On The Run: North America #FreshenUpTour 2019 Part 3
And just like that, Freshen Up 2019’s North American run has come and gone. 16 shows in all, beginning with an epic May 23 opener in New Orleans, and coming to a triumphant close with the absolutely next-level unforgettable July 16 tour de force at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
We’ll get to Dodgers in a just a minute, still reeling from that one a month later, but first...
It had been three years since Paul’s last visit to Vancouver, a 2016 two-night stand at Rogers Arena during the One On One Tour—48 hours that included not only the Delta Police Pipe Band (re)joining Paul and the band both nights for 'Mull of Kintyre', but also a surprise guest turn from a visiting Jimmy Fallon who belted out ' Saw Her Standing There' during night two’s encore. All told, the two “intimate” arena gigs were "just as epic as the last time around...” said the VANCOUVER SUN, that “last time around” being Paul’s 2012 return to Vancouver that ended a 48-year stretch since he’d last stepped onto a stage in British Columbia’s biggest city (1964 when The Beatles played their first ever Canadian show).
So here we were, anticipating Paul’s return to BC Place, the same 60,000+ capacity stadium he’d played in 2012 on the On The Run Tour. He’d done Empire Stadium with The Beatles in 1964, gone bigger by a factor of three at BC Place in 2012, and done two “intimate” (air quotes necessary) Rogers Arena, making this his fifth Vancouver performance since 1964—practically a residency!
Rolling into the loading dock of BC Place means taking a right turn at the working personnel entrance to Rogers Arena—the arena literally standing feet (meters?) from the monolithic BC Place Stadium felt virtually connected, as if a residual energy trail from those 2012-2016 shows was awaiting Paul’s arrival on this night.
And arrive in style he did, opening, as in 2016, with 'A Hard Day’s Night' and then taking the tens of thousands in attendance to new and unfamiliar territory alike: Performing 'Got To Get You Into My Life' live in Vancouver for the very first time, 'All My Loving' (coincidentally the third song played that night in 1964 as well as this night in Vancouver), 'Dance Tonight' and 'I’ve Just Seen A Face' receiving their first Vancouver outings since 2012, 'Letting Go' reappearing from 2016 but this time marking the Hot City Horns’ local debut—given the reaction to this one, second number 'Junior’s Farm', 'Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five' among others, the VANCOUVER SUN noted that it would be a night that "gave flight to McCartney’s Wings era and these proved some of the evening’s peaks.”
An undeniable highlight for many if not most of the 60,000+ in attendance was the evening’s rendition of 'Blackbird'. A consistent show stopper every time Paul gives the band a breather and mounts the levitating platform at the stage’s edge, this particular 'Blackbird' was prefaced by a shout out to Nova Scotia singer Emma Stevens, the teenage musician whose version of the song in the Mi’kmaq language, recorded to commemorate the United Nations’ International Year of Indigenous Languages, had become a surprise viral hit. As indelible as so many memories of Paul McCartney shows can be, one can hardly imagine a more memorable moment than Paul describing their rendition of the 1968 Beatles classic as “beautiful.”
A baker’s dozen more tunes including the Vancouver debut of 'Fuh You'—its new ritual of crowds illuminating stadiums with phone lights having obviously crossed the border into British Columbia—a thunderous encore concluding with 'Golden Slumbers'/'Carry That Weight'/'The End' and Paul’s second BC Place was officially in the books—which would include the aforementioned VANCOUVER SUN marveling "there is no one else who can regale arenas with tales of George Harrison’s prowess on the ukulele before launching into 'Something' or still have 'Let It Be,’ 'Hey Jude,' 'Band on the Run,' 'Helter Skelter' and more to come at the two-hour mark in the concert.”
Our day at San Jose’s SAP Center began with the surprising sighting of a face familiar to touring and local crew members alike. NBC Today Show host Al Roker had rolled into the venue early, with a crew in tow, who would later build a makeshift interview set onstage to film a chat about Paul’s upcoming children’s book Hey Grandude!. Members of our own crew were suitably impressed with the speed and efficiency with which the Today Show folks operated, literally building their set, filming the interview and striking the set all in the tight interval between the end of soundcheck and the opening of the venue’s doors.
With that bit of business--pleasant though it was—out of the way, it was once again showtime. To the surprise of no one and the delight of all, Paul "barreled through decades of hits from every phase of his career” (SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE) on this, his first San Jose appearance since his two-nighter at the HP Pavilion on The US Tour in 2005.
The Bay Area holds a special place in Paul’s performing history. Aside from the glaringly obvious—the bookends of The Beatles final show at Candlestick Park in 1966 and Paul playing the last ever show at the now-decommissioned Candlestick in 2014—Paul’s more recent landmark gigs in the region include 2010 at AT&T Park and his 2013 first ever headline at the Outside Lands Festival in Golden Gate Park (both featuring Paul's rarely played (other than at soundcheck) cover of Jesse Fuller's 'San Francisco Bay Blues' dedicated as ever to our dear departed MFTQ Shelley Lazar).
What distinguished this night in the South Bay from those previous unforgettable near-three-hour experiences was another unexpected appearance, this one from someone decidedly less famous than Al Rocker—but not for long.
As Paul was skimming through San Jose's assortment of fan signs, one in particular caught his eye: “I am the walrus who sold my Mini Cooper to see you.” The sign’s creator was indeed dressed in a full-body walrus costume, later identified as Emily Morenz from Orange County, but henceforth to be known as Walrus Girl.
That car paid for itself and then some, as Walrus Girl and her sidekick (sorry when you’re the pal of the Walrus Girl who sold her car for tickets, you’re kinda' stuck with “and friend” at best) were invited onstage just after 'Birthday' opened the encore. Fueled by equal parts adrenaline and disbelief, the two danced with Paul throughout the entirety of 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)' and 'Helter Skelter'—in fact, the only time their feet seemed to stop moving was when Paul signed one of Walrus Girl’s, to later become a tattoo—here’s hoping all that dancing didn’t sweat it off!
"As the walrus-costumed fan and her friend danced along with inspired abandon to 'Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band' and 'Helter Skelter,' it was obvious that after all this time, it still meant something to McCartney to see fans truly enjoy his music,” witnessed the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE. "In a sense, Wednesday’s experience was as much about who was in the crowd as who was on stage."
And with that, let the record show that I made it this far without a 'Do You Know The Way To San Jose' crack, only to have the Hot City Horns beat me to it, playing Paul onto the bus with their version of the Dionne Warwick classic, after which Freshen Up was Los Angeles-bound.
“How are you doing in the sun, you lot…”
On a scorching, cloudless L.A. day, Paul expressed his concern for the handful of folks exposed to the sun in the sprawling Dodger Stadium. The tailgaters must have kept well hydrated and slathered in SPF 50, as Dodgers would soon be packed with nearly 60,000 of the most enthusiastic, loudest singing fans Paul had encountered in his long and winding relationship with Los Angeles—one that features such touchstones as The Beatles’ historic 1966 Dodger Stadium show and Paul’s 2014 return to headline the same venue, The Beatles' 1964 and 1965 shows at the Hollywood Bowl immortalized in the eponymous live album and Paul’s 2010 return to the Bowl for two nights on the Up and Coming Tour, Wings’ three-night L.A. area debut at The Forum in 1976, Paul’s pair of shows at the Staples Center in 2005 (the same arena where Paul has performed at the GRAMMY Awards alongside the likes of Dave Grohl, Bruce Springsteen, Rihanna, Kanye West, Joe Walsh, and of course Ringo)… to name a few (lest we forget, Paul’s had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame since 2012… but I digress).
As the sun began its descent and the clear blue sky deepened—and the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Emma Stone, Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde, Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, Pierce Brosnan and various other L.A. bold face names stealthily slipped into their seats—it would soon be time for Paul to return to the stage at the same stadium where The Beatles played their second to last live concert.
Any and every Paul McCartney show is a singular experience, a once (or if you’re fortunate a few times) in a lifetime nearly three hours and three-dozen-plus songs worth of musical memories—memories of the past and the ones created in real time during the show. This night at Dodger Stadium may well have been one of those magical nights where the latter outweighed the former. Something ineffable was in the air, something that kept building without letting up for a millisecond. Magical is no exaggeration, moreover it’s the only way to explain what happens on a night like this: Paul’s vocals soaring up through and out of the stadium and into the surrounding Elysian Park, in perfect sync with the band firing on all cylinders, every note ratcheting up the chemistry between the music and the people on stage and everywhere from the first few rows to the dizzying highest tiers of the cavernous bowl… It’s impossible to do justice with the written word—music is its own language after all, and Paul’s music is the most beloved dialect of all—and even Paul and the band would be hard pressed to isolate the X factor that catalyzes a show like this one.
As impossible as it is to divine the source of the first two hours or so of musical magic throughout the first two hours or so of Paul’s third visit to Dodger Stadium, it was much clearer what made the night’s encore beyond unforgettable:
“OK… Now we’ve got a surprise for us, a surprise for you, a surprise for everyone. Ladies and gentlemen… the one and only… Ringo Starr!”
“Ready to rock! Peace and love, everybody!”
“Alright brother! I love you, man!"
The applause levels went beyond deafening to a mix of high pitched teenager-esque screams and full throated roars, Ringo took his place behind his own Ludwig kit, and the closest possible thing on this Earth to a Beatles reunion tore into 'Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise).' Nearly 60,000 voices sang along in sheer elation, blissfully echoing Paul’s “We thank you!” through smiles, laughter and tears of joy.
But there was more where that came from, as Ringo stayed on his kit for a journey from Sgt. Pepper… to The Beatles aka "The White Album", as he and Paul formed the nucleus of a shredding rendition of 'Helter Skelter' (At press time, there was no confirmation as to whether or not Ringo had blisters on his fingers at the end of this performance).
As if that wasn’t enough, minutes after 'Golden Slumbers' signaled the coming close of Freshen Up 2019, there was time to squeeze in one more mind-blower… in the form of the legendary Joe Walsh joining the guitar army (guitarmy?) of Paul, Rusty and Brian for expanding the guitar duel of 'The End' into a four-way volley. "We didn’t have a clue what we were doing,” Paul quipped at the end of 'The End'… Whether or not he and Joe and the band knew what they were doing, it worked on everyone in attendance…
… as did virtually every minute of the show—but if you still don’t take my word for it or, more likely, you’re tired of me repeating myself, have a quick look at what the attending media had to say:
“Definitely we’re amazed by Paul McCartney’s Blowout Dodger Stadium Show… The almost three-hour set made fans feel like they were living in the '70s”—VARIETY
“One of McCartney’s most energized performances”—LOS ANGELES TIMES
“An epic, three-hour concert…”—BILLBOARD
“Magical… took the more than 50,000 fans on a journey only he can at this point in time… Watching more than 50,000 fans sings the 'Na-na-na' refrain in 'Hey Jude' is the most spine-tingling moment you will likely ever experience at a show.”—FORBES
“Wow. After several decades now of writing about music and facing the perpetual challenge of translating what is beyond words into understandable language, that’s the best I can muster.”—AMERICAN SONGWRITER
“It was glorious.”—OC REGISTER
"McCartney poured his heart out, allowing everyone in that stadium to feel as if we were the only person he was singing to. That is the magic of Paul McCartney and that is why there is no one like him.”—L.A. RECORD
We can’t imagine a more perfect conclusion to Freshen Up 2019—well, unless the show had ended with the announcement of the next leg of the tour for 2020… Here’s hoping!