McCartney birthday concert one for the ages

McCartney birthday concert one for the ages

Upon turning 50 last month, my landmark birthday was put into perspective by my 12-year-old daughter by asking me one simple question: “Does this mean you have to start playing shuffleboard?”

More than anything, I think I was surprised she even knew what shuffleboard was, but then I did spend a lot of time last January watching Olympic curling. The two are not too dissimilar, after all.

Until that question, I had not given turning 50 much thought. For educators, the month of May is a pretty chaotic month, so reflection does not often begin until well after “submit” has been pushed on sending those end-of-year grades. It takes a bit for the mind, body and spirit to decompress — in other words, right around now.

This spring, however, I learned the deep sigh that accompanies the end of a school year is a lot more pleasurable when you have a Beatle to help you along the way.

The surprise of my 50th birthday was receiving tickets to see Paul McCartney in concert on his stop in Syracuse two weeks ago. Now there are bucket lists, and then there are BUCKET lists, and seeing Sir Paul lived up to any expectation one might have when witnessing one of the few true living legends remaining on our planet. And it did not take long for me to realize seeing McCartney is less about the actual concert and more about the experience.

Let me set the scene: To my left sat my 14-year-old son, enjoying some JMS Wireless Dome chicken fingers, and my wife, simply enjoying the atmosphere, and to my right sat 71-year-old June and her sister Vera, as spry and lively as any of the kids screaming at the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show over 58 years ago. Recent transplants from Buffalo, they now live, in of all places, Liverpool, New York. Any guesses as to why?

This was my son’s first concert and June and Vera’s 12th, just seeing McCartney. Needless to say, along with my own 50-year-old lens, we had most perspectives covered.

As much as I wanted to keep my own eyes on the stage and massive video screen when McCartney took his entrance, I could not help but glance at June when he kicked into “Can’t Buy Me Love” to open his show. The sisters were embraced in a hug with smiles that would rival the size of the waxing crescent moon. My son seemed surprisingly stunned, by both the noise of the 35,000 fans in attendance and also by the fact he was seeing an actual Beatle.

At this point it seems pretty darn superfluous to “review” a concert put on by someone who has toured the world over and, according to, has performed live over 2,500 times. That is roughly seven years straight of concerts.

What I will say is after the show opener, McCartney delicately balanced some Beatles favorites (“Blackbird”/“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”) with songs from his expansive solo career (“Maybe I’m Amazed”/“Band on the Run”) over the three-plus hours of stage time. I have been to quite a few concerts in my lifetime, but I do not think anything will ever capture the pure theatricality of McCartney performing “Live And Let Die.” I could not help but think I was witnessing a song being performed, interwoven with the lighting, video projections and pyrotechnics, with absolute and perfect brilliance.

But the strength of the show, the experience, came by way of McCartney’s storytelling throughout the evening. There were not many of the 36 songs played that he did not give context to or allow the visuals surrounding him to help tell a song’s story.

A particularly poignant moment came when his guitar technician brought a ukulele on stage and Paul told the story of George Harrison gifting him this particular ukulele and the two of them sitting around playing Harrison’s “Something” together. As McCartney played it live, still images of the two of them graced the pictured backdrop, most of which involved laughter shared between the two band mates.

But of the many highlights (too many to mention in this column), the most powerful of show moments came when McCartney and John Lennon were reunited.

The first of his encores was “I’ve Got a Feeling,” the first three-fourths of which is all sung by Paul. Toward the song’s end, footage of John singing his part, taken from the Rooftop Concert in Peter Jackson’s “Get Back,” appeared on the three video backdrops. There was John, donning the famous fur coat, strumming away on his guitar while singing, “Everybody had a hard year … everybody had a good time,” enveloping Paul as he turned to look at this lost former band mate.

It was an unexpectedly emotional moment, as one could not help but think of what the world was robbed of on Dec. 8, 1980. I felt it was too inappropriate to ask, but based on the tears streaming down June’s face, I would guess she was thinking the same thing. It is the rare viewing moment that feels both colossal and intimate at the same time.

So with my wife and teenage son to my left, 70-year-old sisters to my right, all watching an 80-year-old work musical magic on stage, I celebrated turning 50.

And because of McCartney’s innate ability to make you feel like you are best friends, I took his closing number to heart; more guidance than lyric for anyone willing to listen, regardless of age: “And in the end / The love you take / Is equal to the love you make.”

Brett Hiner recently completed his 25th year of teaching English/language arts at Wooster High School, where he also serves as the yearbook advisor and Drama Club advisor/director. If he’s not at work or doing something work related, he is typically annoying his children and/or wife. He can be emailed at

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