On Friday, July 8, Paul McCartney performed at the Marcus Amphitheater at the Summerfest music festival on a beautiful summer evening along the shores of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee as a part of his One on One tour. It was the twelfth time I have seen the recently turned 74 year-old former Beatle in concert in the 27 years since the first time at the Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena) with my brother-in-law Al in December, 1989. In addition to the recent concert in Milwaukee, I have seen him in Chicago six times (Rosemont Horizon, Soldier Field, Wrigley Field and three times at the United Center), Indianapolis (at the old Market Square Arena and twice at Conseco Fieldhouse, now known as Banker’s Life Fieldhouse), Milwaukee (the old Country Stadium) and St. Louis (the old Busch Memorial Stadium). I was able to see former Beatle George Harrison (on his only U.S. tour in 1974) and Ringo Starr (in 2014), both in St. Louis, but sadly never did get to see John Lennon in concert before he was murdered in 1980.
As I’ve written before, for me, McCartney concerts always stir emotions as no other concerts can, as the songs are really from the soundtrack of my life. For example…..I can remember my Aunt Linda screaming at the television in her parents’ (my grandparents) living room as the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Later in that same home, my brother Mike and I first saw the Beatles Rubber Soul album in our Aunt Cindy’s room. My first single was the late 1963 released Beatles’ two-sided hit “I Want to Hold Your Hand”/”I Saw Her Standing There”, with its black & white cover sleeve with the boys in their “Beatles suits” and McCartney holding a cigarette.
Jumping ahead, I remember seeing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the “White Album” for the first time at our K-Mart. I remember excitedly telling my Mom about Sgt. Pepper when we picked her up from work that night. I had to wait for Christmas 1968 to get the “White Album”, which was released November 22. Do you remember all of the ‘Paul is Dead’ rumors, including listening to “Revolution #9” backwards when it said “turn me on dead man”?
I can remember singing “Hello Goodbye” with teammates on the bus traveling to a 6th grade basketball game, “Get Back” with classmates in junior high school, and talking about the sudden ending to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” from Abbey Road on the school bus in 1969. I listened to the “bootleg” recordings from the Get Back sessions (later released as Let it Be) with a friend; went to see the Let it Be movie with my Dad followed by pizza at our favorite place in town, and seeing the Yellow Submarine movie with my brother. I remember listening in my room to Larry Lujack debut “Lady Madonna” on Chicago’s WLS “The Big 89” radio station in 1968, when Lujack mistakenly said that Ringo was singing lead. And I could go on (and on).
This was Sir Paul’s first visit to Summerfest, which bills itself as “The World’s Largest Musical Festival”, with nearly 900,000 people attending each year over eleven days. Next year will be Summerfest’s 50th anniversary. This was also our first time at Summerfest and we had a great time, including enjoying a round-trip ride on the Skyglider, which provides scenic views of Henry Maier Festival Park, Lake Michigan and the entertainment below.
McCartney played at the Marcus Amphitheater, which is nearly 30 years old and seats about 23,000. Recent reports have stated that the theater will be replaced in the next few years with a venue of similar size. In my opinion, that would be a positive move, as a new state of the art facility, with more refreshment stations and restrooms, better seats (we sat on uncomfortable bleachers), and a better traffic flow would be much welcome. You can’t improve on the setting however, as the venue sits on the shores of Lake Michigan.
McCartney played 39 songs, over two hours and forty minutes, with no intermission, and not even stopping to take a drink of water, playing as he said “some new songs, some old songs and some in-between songs”. He played songs covering an incredible 57 years – from the first song he ever recorded, 1958’s “In Spite of All the Danger”, from when he was in the Quarrymen, the only credited McCartney/Harrison composition, all the way up to the most recent song he’s recorded, his 2015 collaboration with Rihanna and Kanye West, “FourFiveSeconds”, which came off surprisingly well, with the crowd singing along as the lyrics were projected on the video screen.
There was no opening act. A DJ played a mash-up of songs and cover versions of McCartney’s songs set to new background beats, while a scrolling video showed photos of McCartney, the Beatles and others. That culminated with a large image of his famous Höfner violin bass on the screen just before he came on stage, his traditional thirty minutes late. He began the show wearing a blue Nehru jacket, reminiscent of the style the Beatles made famous in the early 1960s and playing his distinctive violin bass. With his retro haircut he looked very, shall I say, Beatle-like.
He opened with “A Hard Day’s Night,” which prior to this tour McCartney had not played live since he did with the Beatles in 1965. Throughout the concert he would dedicate songs to first wife Linda (“Maybe I’m Amazed”), current wife Nancy (“My Valentine”), Jimi Hendrix (“Foxy Lady”), John Lennon (“Here Today”) and George Harrison (“Something”).
He would talk about how he wrote songs in his intros to “You Won’t See Me” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”. He stated that he wrote “Blackbird” to encourage those in the civil rights struggle in America in 1968, and sadly acknowledged that this was a problem we are still dealing with today. He asked how many had tried to learn “Blackbird” on guitar, then slyly saying that they had all gotten it wrong. He talked about seeing Jimi Hendrix playing Sgt. Pepper in concert just two days after the album had been released forty-nine years ago in June, 1967.
The set had vertical screens on the side of the stage so that we could see McCartney and his band, and one horizontal screen behind the band to show some video effects for each song. He performed “Blackbird” and “Here Today” on a platform elevated high above the stage, with cascading waterfall video used for the latter tribute to John Lennon.
The 74 year-old singer did show some strain on a few of the vocals, which would have been hard to hear for most, as the crowd stood for almost all of the concert singing along with joy. Overall, McCartney was in good form as he was backed by his excellent long-time band.
A lot of people bring signs to McCartney’s concerts, and he tries to read some of them, while remembering what chords to play and lyrics to sing. The man below, dressed like Paul from the Sgt. Pepper album, whose sign was chosen, was actually on the bus we road to Summerfest.
Observing the crowd at a McCartney concert is always fun as you see a variety of ages, including a surprising number of young people. Throughout the day I enjoyed seeing a large variety of Beatles and McCartney t-shirts that people had worn to Summerfest in anticipation of the concert. The costs are always interesting too, with $45 t-shirts and very pricey tickets.
Here is the entire set list from the show.
Enjoy these videos of a few of the songs from the concert below:
You can read the review of the concert from the Milwaukee Sentinel here.
You might also enjoy this summer’s new McCartney compilation Pure McCartney. You can read my review here.
And finally, how are we to look at McCartney from a Christian perspective? Unlike George Harrison for example, he has always kept his religious beliefs close to the vest. However, in Philip Norman’s excellent new biography, he states that McCartney has continued to practice Transcendental Meditation since the Beatles 1968 visit with the Maharishi Yogi in India. You can read my review of Norman’s Paul McCartney: The Life here.