Wednesday, January 13, 2010

CD Review - Paul McCartney - Good Evening New York City

I can divide what any long-standing artist plays live into three categories:

1) The songs they feel that they HAVE to play. These are the hits that the majority of the audience wants to hear but that long-time fans are probably tired of.
2) Songs from the catalog. Not the hits but the stuff people have probably heard if they are fans.
3) Deep cuts – obscure songs or new songs that the majority of attendees have likely not heard.

Striking the proper balance between these three categories makes or breaks the concert. For example, the last time I saw The Who they had just put out a new album and they leaned so heavily on these category 3 songs in their set that they had no time for category 2 songs. This would have been great but I hated their new album and so had to suffer through those new songs live plus all the weathered warhorses like Behind Blue Eyes, Pinball Wizard and Baba O’Riley. What I missed was cat 2 stuff like Slip Kid, Relay, Bargain, I Don’t Even Know Myself – hell even Another Tricky Day would have been sweet.

On the other hand, Rush did a great job on the last tour. Doing seven songs from their brand new album (category 3), most of the cat 1 hits like Tom Sawyer, Limelight, Spirit of Radio, etc, and lots of category 2 gems like Natural Science and Force Ten, and even a handful of more category 3 rarities like Digital Man, Entre Nous (never played live prior to that tour) and Circumstances. Great balance, and reviews of the tour were positive overall.

Some bands who have been around forever unwisely do nothing but category 1 songs. That’s OK until you have seen them a few times and then it gets old fast. Come to think of it, The Who have fallen into that rut for me as well! Sucks ass because I love The Who!

One guy who could for sure fall into the category 1-only doldrums is Paul McCartney. I mean come on. The guy could do two hours of Beatles and Wings hits and be done with it. Look at his last few live albums. Stuff like Hey Jude, Yesterday, Live and Let Die and Band On The Run are on every single one of them. Do we need five identical live versions of Let It Be? No.

But McCartney is a smart cookie and knows how to vary it up with category 2 and 3 songs. Take his new CD, the double disc/DVD Good Evening New York City. Yes, he rehashed all those cat 1s again but digs way deep into 2: Drive My Car, Paperback Writer, Got to Get You Into My Life, Let Me Roll It, I’ve Got A Feeling. And I’d say there are many, many category 3 songs here. He does two excellent songs from the recent Fireman album (Sing the Changes and Highways). I’d venture to say that after hearing these two songs live, they stand up with the best of McCartney’s work. And boy, a few years ago I would not have bet that that was possible.

(Oh, and a shout out to Bob’s Bloggery, who reviewed this disc and is the reason I bought it. Thanks, Bob!)

Other newer gems are Calico Skies and Flaming Pie from Flaming Pie – again, I think that the live versions stand up really well with the rest of the repertoire. He also dusted off some great old nuggets – Mrs Vanderbilt (from Band on the Run – has he ever played that live?), Day Tripper, Helter Skelter, and I’m Down. A couple of other songs (Only Mama Knows and Here Today) are nice but don’t go over as well. I love Here Today because it’s an open letter to Lennon, but it just doesn’t have a great melody.

Now that he is unshackled from Heather Mills, he can dust off My Love again – a song I love despite its schmaltzy-ness. PS – next tour bring back Maybe I’m Amazed, Paul!

Anyway, the secret sauce to pulling all of this off is his latest band. These guys totally rock. Let’s start with the drummer, Abe Laboriel Jr. Huge black dude who beats the ever living shit out of the kit. No way could Paul do Helter Skelter with any of his previous drummers. He is a powerhouse and he drives the band big time. And he sings harmony to boot. Actually, everyone in his band sings, which comes in handy for stuff like Eleanor Rigby and Paperback Writer.

Guitarist Rusty Anderson and guitarist/bassist Brian Ray fill out the front line. Anderson has all the licks down but plays them with his own style and it’s very fresh. Ray is a smoking bass player and he not only has Macca’s parts down pat, he has the feel as well. So when Paul picks up the guitar or moves to piano, it’s Ray that holds down the bottom end.

Rounding out the five-piece is Paul “Wix” Wickens who has been with McCartney for more than 15 years and plays keyboards, harmonica, accordion etc. The jack of all trades that makes it possible to do stuff like A Day In The Life.

What? Oh yeah, Paul pays tribute to three members of the Beatles family who have departed – Linda with My Love, as noted. And he does A Day In The Life, which morphs into Give Peace A Chance. Very cool. That, along with Here Today is a very nice way to remember Lennon. For George, Paul does Something on the ukulele but then the whole band comes in just in time for the solo. Ray absolutely nails Paul’s bass part to a T here.

The other neat thing is that the show is in the new Citi Field, which was built next door to the recently demolished Shea Stadium. So on the DVD there is all sorts of banter about the Beatles’ 1965 gig at Shea. Paul keeps referring back to that gig and even notes that I’m Down was played there. In the DVD, the audio and video switches back and forth between the Beatles 1965 Shea performance of I’m Down and the 2009 Citi Field one. Kind of jarring at first but it’s kind of cool. That is the song where Lennon got so giddy that he played the keyboard solo with his elbow. Wickens does the same in tribute.

The DVD has the whole show – all 33 songs plus the between-song stage banter omitted from the CDs. I usually am not fond of McCartney’s live videos because they spend waaaay too much time on audience members singing along, to the point that I stopped buying them ages ago. But this one keeps it to a minimum.

And I guess I ought to end by saying that McCartney’s voice sounds truly excellent. A little rough on the high end but solid, which is how he was a couple of years ago when I saw him (with this very same band) in Portland. And once again I am blown away by how good he is on bass. It’s the old Hofner all night long and he knows how to work that thing. And piano as well. I can’t imagine Lady Madonna is very easy to pull off unless you got the chops.

McCartney fan? Get this damn CD. ‘Nuff said.


Bob K said...

Great review - and thanks for the shout-out.

Don Capone said...

I missed the show, but now I want the DVD. Great review.

Seano said...

This review should be in the "holy shit" dept. Excellent through and through. Do you work in PR?

Lanceloz said...

Absolutely true. This album is a great live from Paul. As soon as they start "Drive my Car" and you hear the opening bass riff of Macca, the sound is so clear, the visual are so crisp, you feel that you are in the show and you realize how much the man is such a "natural" genius.

I mean there are several good musicians out there, but where it seems to be so easy. He gives you the feeling that he can do anything he wants with instruments, melodies, etc. His voice is (as you said) rougher on the edges but it makes us realize how gifted he was and how much is voice was phenomenal during his golden years.

I am completely amazed by this man.

Isorski said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I am still listening to this thing. It's so good!