70-year-old Paul McCartney tripped and fell face-first from his piano riser onto the stage at the Scottrade Center. It was halfway through the 35th song of a three hour set. He sprang back up, struck a pose like a cartoon thief caught in a spotlight, strapped on his guitar and started trading solos with his two guitarists.
Sir Paul has a reputation as the frivolous Beatle. When he wanted to speak out for those fighting for their civil rights in America in the late '60s, he wrote the pastoral "Blackbird" to comfort and encourage them. And he's spent much of the past half-century perfecting the art of arena sing-alongs.
But for all the silliness of his songs and his affable demeanor (he never would have tripped if he weren't practically skipping down the steps in the first place), Paul McCartney is deadly serious about his performances. When someone flubs a solo, as Rusty Anderson did during "And I Love Her," he makes him do it again so all these people who bought tickets hear the thing the way it was meant to be played. And when the most youthful grandpa on the planet falls down, he hauls himself up without so much as a wince.
I got there really early. The lines for concessions were short; the lines for merch (Just $95 for a zip-up hoodie!) were enormous. Two middle-aged women asked me to take their picture in front of a stand with a "Fresh Nuts" sign. The first few eager fans to their seats were treated to meditative sitar music. It was raining and cold, not that the weather was going to keep away any of the people who bought tickets to the instantly sold-out show. "This is a very special night to me," said someone Paul's age sitting just behind me. "I don't care if it were raining or snowing, I was gonna come." Paul works hard for us; we work hard for him.
Chris Holmes of very modern hippie band Ashtar Command did a half-hour DJ set with vocal tracks comprising entirely Beatles samples. He was wearing velvet cloak-type garment I would describe as "wizard-like." If you were uncomfortable with the idea of hearing Paul McCartney's voice over thumping bass tracks as a prelude to a Paul McCartney concert, you wouldn't find respite even after Holmes took his leave some forty minutes before the show actually started. A scrolling McCartney timeline played in a loop on the video screen to much the same soundtrack. Did you know the guy about to take the stage was a Beatle?
For many people in the audience, this was more of a pilgrimage than a concert. After all, the St. Louis show was the first of only two United States stops on this leg of the tour (the second is later this week in Houston). One fan came from Staten Island, Sandy be damned -- I know because she had a sign saying as much. There were lots of signs in the crowd: Pleas for sweaty hugs and signatures to be turned into tattoos. One fan took the time to write in huge letters on a highlighter yellow poster, "Need Pic With You 4 Facebook." Maybe that seemed like a less paltry appeal before whoever brought it saw the competition for Paul's affections, which included at least one couple who named their kid Jude.
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