Even at 73, Paul McCartney still brought me to tears

That was the incredulous question directed to me by a DT colleague after I’d announced my struggle about whether or not to try and get a ticket for the show that night.

It was a fair question. As an audio reviewer, composer/musician, former audio engineer, and rational human being, the Beatles are my favorite rock band of all time. Not only that, but Paul is my favorite Beatle. Even after the blitzkrieg by scalpers left ticket prices at around $165 a pop, it seemed like a foregone conclusion I’d be one of the first in line to see the truest embodiment of a musical living legend still left standing in concert.

But for me, it was all a bit more complicated.

Let’s face it: Paul McCartney is 73 years old, and his voice just isn’t what it used to be. Paying through the nose for rock stars who’ve passed their prime is one thing. But the fear of seeing my idol struggling on stage and shaking the foundations of my artistic core, is another. The Beatles are much more than just musical icons — they’re the soundtrack of my childhood.

As the zero hour approached, a friend who was on his way to the show reminded me of that fact, saying “(McCartney) basically made you who you are today.” He was joking, but just barely. My parents are wonderful people, and still together after 45 long years, but simply put, if I had a second dad, it would be Paul McCartney. Suddenly, there I was on my way straight to Portland’s Moda Center. I finagled a $100 nosebleed ticket (from some shady-as-hell characters), and I was in.

My fears weren’t wholly unfounded — that familiar voice (obviously) isn’t the sparkling beacon of lyrical melody it once was. But that didn’t matter. The show was nothing short of spectacular. As soon as he hit the stage wearing his navy Blue suit and iconic Hofner bass, I knew I was in the right place. Filling the packed hall with nostalgia, humor, and most of all, musical wonderment, McCartney poured out every drop we’d been aching for, and more.

As a singer, I was sharply aware of his vocal struggles on a few numbers, but they all melted away thanks to his sheer musicality. The voracious crowd buoyed McCartney with unabashed love and adoration, and he rose on that energy — literally and figuratively — like the lyrical rock god he is. Perched on an elevated stage with just his acoustic guitar, he transcended on songs like (which, he informed us, was written as a civil rights anthem), , and the absolutely stirring , which is McCartney’s attempt at a final reconciliation with John over the estrangement they never got to settle. I will admit that cried during that song, and I wasn’t alone.

Elsewhere in the set, the Beatle and his fantastical musical accomplices electrified the crowd with songs old and new. The brilliant players filled in all the gaps, with layered backing vocals on songs like Lady Madonna, note-for-note electric guitar solos on tunes like Maybe I’m Amazed, and complete orchestral and brass recreations throughout the set. Much of the latter can be attributed to the wizard on synth, Paul “Wix” Wickens, who, as musical director, holds the whole thing together while McCartney bounces from bass, to guitar, grand piano, and upright (complete with front-side psychedelic screen).

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite from Sgt Pepper sounded so authentic with all those warbling organ loops I found myself looking around for the recently-deceased fifth Beatle, the great George Martin. And the ukulele intro on Something in the Way (apparently taken from a uke jam session between Paul and the Beatles’ other famous George), edged effortlessly into the full-band arrangement, raising chills.

As the dazzling quintet finally wrapped things up three hours deep – it fittingly concluding with The End from Abbey Road — we were left in a cradle of mind-melting childhood wonderment. We were all in love with him and he, surely, was in love with us back. It didn’t matter that his voice had diminished through the years; he still had it. And he gave it all away.

McCartney’s latest tour isn’t just some checkmark on your bucket list. And as much nostalgia as he naturally brings along, it’s also much more than just a chance to touch a musical embodiment of a simpler time from the annals of history. Seeing Paul McCartney is the ultimate encounter of a real-life legend — one who lives up to all the hype, and more than that, humanizes it in the best way possible. Even at 73, he doesn’t disappoint or dilute your lifelong Beatles fantasy; he completes it.

Long after he’s gone, the world will still be in love with Paul McCartney. And if you have the chance, it’s well worth buying that ticket and getting to one of his shows to remind yourself why.

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