Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Seeing Paul McCartney

I don’t actually have a bucket list, but if I did, seeing Paul McCartney in concert would have been up near the top. Only now I can cross that off my non-existent bucket list – because two nights ago I saw him in Cleveland, Ohio. I did not buy a ticket for Megan, partly to cut costs on the trip, but also because I knew she would not be as excited to see him as me. But she still wanted to come on the trip, having never seen Cleveland.

Megan and I expected the drive across Indiana and Ohio to be rough; the air conditioner broke in the car awhile back. It was 84 degrees in the car in the afternoon, but not the whole afternoon because we drive through a rainstorm in Indiana that came with its old cold front. For a while, it was 67 degrees in the car. And the drive took a really long time; Megan and I left at 8 in the morning and we reached Cleveland’s west suburbs at 6 (and that’s including the hour we lost driving east).

Until the night before, Megan had been planning on driving us back home that same night after the concert, but she chickened out (fortunately – she would have been driving until 7 am!) and we made a reservation for an America’s Best Value Inn. The building itself was pretty dumpy, in a pretty slummy neighborhood, but the room itself was fine.

I had foolishly imagined us reaching Cleveland as soon as 3, having time to explore downtown Cleveland and eat dinner downtown before dropping Megan off back at the motel. I even had the downtown restaurant picked out I wanted to try (the Winking Lizard Tavern – sounded so D&D-y!). But as pressed for time as we now were (the concert started at 8!), we had to settle for a Big Boy restaurant. I had not been to a Big Boy in decades and had waxed nostalgically about them since seeing our first sign for one in Ohio, so Megan was now looking forward to it as well. Megan was fine with her meal, but I was disappointed, having remembered it being better. It reminded me a lot of Denny’s.

Having dropped off Megan back at the motel, I made my way downtown. I was used to the squalor around downtown, having driven into Chicago plenty of times off the expressway. Downtown itself was pretty spectacular, looking like a floating island. The bridges to downtown even reminded me of Fellowship of the Ring. That was a pleasant surprise. My next surprise wasn’t so pleasant. I had read that parking could be had just a few blocks from the Quicken Loans Arena for $5-6 – which might be true most of the year when there was nothing special going on at the arena or the neighboring stadium. But because Paul was there that night, every parking lot downtown had a “special event” rate of $20-40. I drove further to the $20 lots (still feeling gouged – way to make a good impression on new visitors, Cleveland!). Then I ran half the way back to the arena. I was now down to 15 minutes to 8!

There were four lines to get in, and then just a mass of people inside. I had been asked by a coworker to pick up a program book, but I saw no merchandise for sale anywhere. I did see plenty of beer and food being sold down every corridor. My seat was two levels up. I had to take an escalator and thought that was going to be my only problem with heights for the night. I was so wrong.

I stepped into the auditorium – to find it the most vertical auditorium I had ever seen! To reach my seat, I would have to step out onto a narrow ledge with just a short glass wall in front of it, with a 40’ drop underneath it, and then climb stairs that were more like ladders than stairs. I couldn’t do it – I started breathing fast and my legs got weak. I told an usher I couldn’t go out there. I was told I could go to the customer service window in the corridor and request a better seat for me. To their credit, they did switch me to a seat that was slightly less scary to get to. I still had to crawl across the aisle, and even when I was sitting down I had to keep a hand gripping the arm rest, because I was having vertigo so bad I thought I would fall forward out of my seat if I let go.

Luckily, I had brought binoculars, for seeing the stage. With my one free hand, I freed the binoculars from their bag and kept them focused on the stage. Blocking out the rest of the arena helped. And I had plenty of time to focus on the stage, because the concert actually started at 8:30 and not 8 like the ticket said.

Now, I knew Paul was going to be amazing, but I was also prepared for a short concert. The man is 74 years old. I figured if he did eight songs for us, that would be thrilling enough. Instead, he treated us to 34 songs, over an amazing two and a half hour concert. If his voice was weak and wavered, we couldn't tell because he often had two back-up singers in harmony with him to cover any such gaffs. But, my, he was spry up there on the stage, kicking his leg out and dancing. 

Luckily, I had also brought a pad of paper and pen, and could jot down song titles in the dark. I was still terrified during the first song and couldn't free up my right hand to write it down yet. By the second song, I was so into the concert I was able to let go of the arm rest for the rest of it. 

I'm pretty sure the first song was "Hard Day's Night". The rest of the songs were-
"Save Us", from the album New.
"Can't Buy Me Love", originally released as a Beatles single.
The obscure, but not unknown to me, "Temporary Secretary", from the McCartney II album.
"Let Me Roll It" -- one of my favorites from Band on the Run.
He followed that up with an extended instrumental portion of Jimi Hendrix's "Sexy Lady", before telling an anecdote about seeing Jimi in concert.
"I've Got a Feeling", from the Let It Be album.
"My Valentine", from the Kisses on the Bottom album. He dedicated this to his third wife, who he said was in the audience with us.
Back to Band on the Run (and not for the last time) for "Nineteen Hundred Eighty-Five".
Then back to the Beatles with "Here, There, and Everywhere" from Revolver.
Dedicated to his first wife, who he wrote it for -- "Maybe I'm Amazed", from the McCartney album (I clocked this in at 9:14). One of his granddaughters by Mary was apparently also in the audience, and he reminded us that Linda's parents were from Cleveland.
"We Can Work It Out", the Beatles single. I'm not sure if this is when he took the break in the concert to read signs, but it seems to be what he does before this song. This is the most improvisational part of the show, as he reads people's signs out loud and responds to them. One said "sign my butt", and he responded, "Right, let's see it then." 
At the end of that last clip I linked to there, he starts explaining the history of the next song, the very first song the Quarrymen recorded before becoming the Beatles. He did those songs in the same order this time, so that would make the next song "In Spite of All the Danger" (never released until Beatles Anthology vol. 1).
At the beginning of this next clip is the sing-along he does before a reprieve of "In Spite of All the Danger". This clip keeps the same order, of doing "You Won't See Me", from Rubber Soul, next. 
"Love Me Do", the first Beatles single.
"And I Love Her", one of his best ballads ever, from the Hard Day's Night album.
Continuing the theme of powerful, moving ballads -- "Blackbird", from The Beatles (white) album.
I'm not familiar with the Tug of War album much, but I've heard heard some of the songs from it before, and probably have heard "Here Today" before too. 
Then it was back to the near-present with "Queenie Eye" from New.
And its titular song -- "New". 
Then back to the Beatles days with "Fool on the Hill" from Magical Mystery Tour.
"Lady Madonna" from The Beatles (white) album.
And "Eleanor Rigby" from Revolver.
Before something so new that I'd never heard of it before. Apparently, Paul wrote it and it was released by other artists, but Paul performed "FourFiveSeconds". 
And then back to "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Doing his ukulele bit at the beginning, he performed "Something", from Let It Be.
Followed by "Let It Be".
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", from The Beatles (white) album.
And then the explosions and pyrotechnics of "Live and Let Die".
"Back in the USSR", from The Beatles (white) album.
And, of course, the Beatles single "Hey Jude".
After a lot of applause, Paul came back for a remarkably long encore, starting with
"Yesterday", from the Help! album.
"Hi Hi Hi", from  the Wings single.
The entire medley from the end of Abbey Road, starting with "Golden Slumbers".
And then, finally, after "The End" -- like a more upbeat version of "Her Majesty", rounding out the Abbey Road album -- "Birthday".

Now, while piecing together that concert from clips on Youtube, I discovered a couple of things. One is that there's a frightening amount of ethically questionable, if not downright illegal, material from concerts on Youtube. Before I was done compiling this, clips for every song on the playlist had turned up from the very same concert I was at. While I could have put all those clips together and recreated the exact concert, I chose not to -- partly to avoid being so ethically questionable, but also just to show off the breadth of Paul's world-spanning concert tours over just the last eight years. 

But what I also learned was how much of the concert was scripted and identical to other concerts on the tour. I mean, I knew -- intellectually -- that there was nothing improvised about that four-song encore; the stagecraft was just too perfect for that. But, emotionally, I wanted that to be just for us, because we were such a good audience.

We all filed out of the arena and spread out back towards our parking garages. Everyone seemed pretty happy. I did see two girls wearing concert T-shirts that they must have bought inside, though it was late and I didn't feel like stopping them and asking where (assuming I could even get back inside). 

I got a little lost on the way back to the hotel, and had to stop at a store to pick up bottled water for Megan (I don't blame her for not trusting the sink water in a new city). It was 12:30 when I finally got back to the motel, and was so glad that we had decided not to drive back that night!

The next morning, we both overslept until almost 11 o'clock. Megan woke me up with 10 minutes to spare to vacate our room before we'd have to pay for another day! Thankfully we had not packed much. 

The original plan had been to drive back last night. The new plan had been to drive back first thing in the morning. But Megan wanted to see downtown Cleveland still. And on the way there, she spotted the zoo. And that is how we wound up spending the next six hours at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. It added a lot of expense to the trip, which was already way over budget, but it was a really good zoo. The gift shops were reasonable. The restaurant was great (the salad bar wasn't pay-per-ounce; you could just take a big bowl and fill it with as much as you wanted!). It was exhausting how spread out everything was in the zoo (we must have walked about five miles!), but I supposed it was good for the animals to have their exhibits spread out. It was also nice how much was hidden around the zoo, rewarding the all-day explorer. There was an island with a gibbon on it, and we might not have noticed had the gibbon not swung past just then. It had no cage; just a tree house on a forested island. 

Had the zoo not closed at 5 o'clock, I suspect Megan would have stayed there longer. The weather was warm, but not horrible, thanks to a storm that passed nearby. We got a summer shower that lasted a little while, and there were also fans set up behind running hoses to create cooling water sprays for us zoo-goers. Somehow we managed to get through the whole day without sunburns. 

Since we stuck around in Cleveland until 5, that meant we had to drive between Cleveland and Toledo during rush hour. I let Megan use her GPS to help us navigate back, and it told us to go north into Michigan. We did -- so this two day trip crossed through four states. We had dinner at a Bob Evans restaurant, which I thought was delicious, and then took turns driving home. It was a long way back and it was 1:30 in the morning when Megan got us back home.


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