August 15, 2009
The Green Concert
Atlanta , GA
(Click on the highlighted links in the review for YouTube videos from this show.)
“This is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. I can't think of a better place to be. The spirit of Woodstock lives on.”
Paul McCartney spoke those words early in the evening of August 15, 2009, soon after opening his massive “Green Concert” (in Atlanta's Piedmont Park) with his old Beatles hit “Drive My Car”.
With Woodstock, what made the concert so legendary was a confluence of timing, sheer scope, daring and artistry. In that way, so this concert will pass into legend for those tens of thousands in attendance.
After all, this wasn't your average concert. Not only did the date fall on the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, but it was 44 years to the day after The Beatles debuted at Shea Stadium in 1965. That show ushered in the era of massive music events and while this date certainly won't end such spectacles, we do seem to be in the waning days.
Not only was this show tied into the ideals of the 1960's by the coincidence of the date and the artist, this gig was a benefit to raise money for the Piedmont Park Conservancy to expand the park. Even more so, this was the “Green Concert”. Car travel to the event was almost completely restricted. To get to this show, you had to really want to be a part of it. It was almost a pilgrimage. (For me, I had to drive nearly an hour from Athens, Georgia to the MARTA (public train system) station, ride another 40 minutes, then walk for maybe another 40 minutes in the sweltering Georgia summer heat.)
Even hours before show time, there was a different mood. I have never seen a wider spread of ages. From little gray-haired couples in wheel chairs to even smaller toddlers, they all relaxed in the sunshine. I guess that in a way, all shows of the magnitude of Paul McCartney are "special", but even so, there was "something more" in Piedmont Park that I hadn't even experienced at previous McCartney gigs.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to see much of opening act, The Script. Certainly not enough to review them. I can say that the Irish group were energetic and well aware of the luck of their circumstances.
Before McCartney took the stage, ominous clouds danced around the park, threatening not only to delay but to possibly cancel the show. The storm seemed to intentionally skirt the event. Everyone was able to watch the storm slide up and slide on by.
When Paul McCartney bounded out onto the stage with a double shot of “Drive My Car” and “Jet”, nothing else mattered. The absolutely enormous video screens on each side of the stage came to life. The backdrop flickered jaw-dropping images and the band sent out contagious smiles as some of the most familiar songs of the last 100 years washed over the rapturous attendees.
Interestingly, the set list wasn't just devoted to the most obvious choices. I was thrilled to hear more recent McCartney gems like “Only Mama Knows”, “Flaming Pie” and a version of last year's “Sing The Changes” that easily bested the studio version (from The Fireman album, Electric Arguments) and featured a hypnotic video that would morph the face of Barack Obama in and out of the scene.
Other surprises included a stinging “Let Me Roll It” that segued into a jam on Jimi Hendrix's “Foxy Lady”. The 1973 deep cut "Mrs. Vanderbilt" was also unexpected and while many people didn't know it at first, by the end of the tune, the whole contingent of 40,000 people was shouting “Ho! Hey Ho!”.
“Got To Get You Into My Life” showed images of The Beatles Rock Band likenesses performing the song on the screen. The whole concert was an emotional, visual and sonic overload. “The Long And Winding Road” and “My Love” were early highlights. There was more than once that I would just walk by someone and see them staring with glazed eyes. To no one, you'd just see their mouths say "Wow".
During “Blackbird”, the skies finally opened up. In the open field of the park, there was nowhere to run. As Paul strummed his left-handed guitar for the acoustic set, the crowd had no choice but to accept the rain as part of the experience.
It was close to a half-hour of being drenched. One well-inebriated guy next to me was dancing madly during “Eleanor Rigby”. He had become a part of the experience, immersing himself. After McCartney appeared to survey everyone in the rain and sang “Ah, look at all the lonely people”, this guy just kept shouting as if he'd been singled out, “Look at me, I'm a lonely people! I'm a lonely people”.
The thing is, no one here tonight was really lonely. We were united in “Something”. We all remembered and missed George Harrison. And then, John Lennon's “Give Peace A Chance” nearly stole the night from Paul's work as “A Day In The Life” turned into the sing-a-long that the crowd kept singing even when it was over. As for hearing "A Day In The Life" live, there really are no suitable words.
Lest we forget that this was a rock concert, McCartney and his amazing band dished out “Paperpack Writer”, “Day Tripper”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, “I've Got A Feeling”, “Lady Madonna”, “Back In The U.S.S.R.”, “Get Back” and on and on and on. The crowd was on its feet. Years and even decades melted away from faces. Troubles faded, if only for a moment. Lost family members and friends felt present. Time seemed to have reached a crossroads and Piedmont Park was right in the middle of it.
During the only song played at both The Beatles' Shea Stadium show and tonight, “I'm Down”, the place was nearly delirious. Keyboard player “Wix” Wickens even imitated John Lennon's elbow-playing keyboard solo. How else could you capture the chaotic joy?
Following the lighter (and cell-phone) waving, “Let It Be”, the scale got even grander. During “Live And Let Die” a pyrotechnics display dazzled the crowd (and probably everyone outdoors within 20 miles). I wondered if people flying over in airplanes could see the enormity and intensity of it all.
The main set ended with the biggest sing-a-long anthem of all-time. If you've never been amongst tens of thousands of people joining in on “Hey Jude”, it's almost impossible to convey the simplicity and beauty. It's a ritual. It's darn near religious. It's certainly uniting and transformative for those moments that it lasts.
At this point, it seemed like there were no other tricks that could be pulled from the bag. And yet in two consecutive encore songs, Paul McCartney showed the depth and width of his influence and ability. First, a chill-inducing “Yesterday” seemed to make the trees around the park wave in time. What year is it again? As if to counteract the impact of such beauty, the next song was a dizzying “Helter Skelter”. It was brutal. Footage of roller-coasters filled the screen as the band relentlessly chugged along to McCartney's pounding of the Hofner bass and his shrieking, manic vocal.
From whimsy to pure love to mind-expansion to terror and confusion to time travel and back to love. This show was everything that it could be. The 67-year old Paul McCartney has surely been through it all, but to see it condensed into a little more than 2-hours and translated to (and through) more than 40,000 people was, to say the least, an unreal experience.
When the “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band (Reprise)” served notice that the night was soon ending, it was in some ways a shock. The lyric “we hope you have enjoyed the show” was almost jolting. At this point, this didn't seem like merely a show. This was "something other". Paul's words brought us back to the realization that even this must end. And so the song, fittingly, transformed into “The End”. The last Beatles song recorded for the last Beatles album. I managed to beat the crowd to the side of the stage in the hopes of making a cleaner exit. It was strange. By the time the final stanza was sung. I was behind the stage and I was alone. I was leaning against a tree near the media area. I couldn't see anyone else, but I could still hear. The thing was, since I was behind the stage, I also had that massive audience singing towards me. I won't forget that strange feeling of such a huge and diverse crowd sharing this moment, all of them shouting, singing and sending their energy in the same direction. Now I was relaxed and by myself with a wide smile on my face as we all sang, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”.
That saying has long since passed into cliche, but tonight, its meaning came back to me and (no doubt) to tens of thousands of other people that shared in a very special summer evening in a Georgia park.
Review and all photos by Chris McKay / concertshots.com
Paul McCartney Set List For Atlanta on August 15, 2009
(Click on the highlighted links in the review above for YouTube videos from this show.)
1. Drive My Car
3. Only Mama Knows
4. Flaming Pie
5. Got To Get You Into My Life
6. Let Me Roll It / Foxy Lady
8. The Long And Winding Road
9. My Love
11. Here Today
12. Dance Tonight
13. Calico Skies
14. Mrs. Vanderbilt
15. Eleanor Rigby
16. Sing The Changes
17. Band On The Run
18. Back In The U.S.S.R.
19. I'm Down
21. I've Got A Feeling
22. Paperback Writer
23. A Day In The Life / Give Peace A Chance
24. Let It Be
25. Live And Let Die
26. Hey Jude
27. Day Tripper
28. Lady Madonna
29. I Saw Her Standing There
31. Helter Skelter
32. Get Back
33. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band (Reprise)
34. The End