45 minutes into Paul McCartney’s set, I still don’t understand his body language. He’s the calmest performer I’ve ever seen. No jitters—or if they’re there, he’s buried them in affectations of confidence that never approach ego—and I keep thinking, “Boyish. He’s 75, and he’s boyish.”
Why would he be nervous, though? He’s a Beatle, the remaining half of the most famous songwriting partnership in rock. He mentions John, asks ten thousand people to cheer for him, then plays a song made of words he wishes he’d said. Enormous screens broadcast the live signal, but I’m watching the dot, the illuminated spot on the stage, because I’ve seen Paul McCartney on a screen before, and if I keep my eyes there, it’s no different from a video at home.
I’m watching and trying to soak up every breath of this. I keep grounding myself in the moment.
Is it lonely being a Beatle? It could be, but Paul McCartney is conducting the world’s greatest singalong tonight; he can’t feel alone.
They rip through the set. Three hours with no break. Every time he plays a Beatles hit or a Wings song, the whole crowd rises. They stand for the familiar ones, and I start getting distracted. There’s a way you’re supposed to act at shows. There’s an expectation, a herd mentality, but I pull out of those thoughts—I’d be better at this if I were drinking.
Still, I’m here, and I’ve wandered back into the lawn with a girl I grew up with, both of us awe-struck and wishing our guitars were waiting in her car, because from note one, we both wanted to play. That’s what good music does to musicians, and that’s why either of us ever loved The Beatles to begin with. They made us sing and reconsider song structure when we were 17.
We’ve kicked off our shoes, and July night air is blowing across us. Paul McCartney and his band are playing “Live and Let Die,” and when the tempo quickens, fireworks ignite over our heads. We’re standing directly below the launch spot, and for those measures, we have the best seats in the house. I’m watching pink and gold sparks bloom into smoke trails while one of the most culturally significant humans on the planet sings from several hundred feet away. This is bliss.
When “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club (Reprise)” plays, I know that it’s ending.
One more opus, though. “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” carries it out. What else would? Paul McCartney’s band is immaculate. Every note is perfect. Harmonies, guitars, and Paul at the piano—no beat is missed.
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. The last words of Abbey Road, the song, and the night.
That’s what it was like for a Beatles-mad pop culture junkie to see Paul McCartney in 2017. It was fireworks and serendipity. Bare feet on pavement. A perfect breeze.