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Paul McCartney at the ACC – the concert of a lifetime

This morning my legs ache after nearly five hours of standing, my throat is sore, my body hurts as if I’d run miles. But yesterday I wasn’t running, I was on my feet at the Air Canada Centre – waiting, watching, dancing. Macca was in town.

As perhaps I’ve mentioned, after sitting in the gods to see him the last two times, I bought myself a VIP ticket this time, partly as a way to perhaps get my book to him. Had no idea what VIP meant except a seat close to the stage and being at his soundcheck, so I wrote to Anne, a Macca maniac who has done this lots. There seems to be lots of time between the soundcheck and the show – should I bring a sandwich? I asked. Oh no, they’ll feed us and there’s usually an open bar, she wrote back.

Now if there are two words that bring light to my heart, beside “McCartney concert,” it’s “open bar.”

Got to the ACC a little after 4, already a long line up of my peeps. Much chatting. A woman called Annie was checking us in, and I found out she works for Paul and asked if she’d take him my book. She said she would, and a bit later I gave a second one to another of his staffers, and I also gave out some flyers about the book – so my ticket is a tax write off! We were taken to a lounge in the bowels of the building, where the bar was indeed open and delicious vegetarian snacks were circulating – polenta, gnocchi, spring rolls. It was beautifully organized and sophisticated. But I can tell you, despite the cost of these special tickets, this was no crowd of wealthy tycoons; these were genuine music fans from all over, some of whom had brought their children. I immediately made friends with a few – Brennan, from Georgetown, friends Wendy and Sue, from Ottawa, and mother and daughter Sharon and Emma, from Port Hope. We drank and nibbled and talked about our lifelong love. Serious fans, who knew all kinds of arcane information. My tribe. I can state categorically that Macca fans are all really, really nice people. I now know this for a fact. 

We were summoned into the vast empty hall and waited a long time for the sound check, which was an hour later than predicted.

Apparently Paul’s plane was delayed and he came directly from the airport to the stage. We stood and waited, singing, talking with our new best friends. I made friends with Cole who’s South-Asian, there with his dad as a gift for his 13th birthday. I told him I was there as a gift for my 65th birthday. There were a few kids even younger, a boy of about 8 with earphones protecting his ears once the music started, and plenty of people much older than I, and every age in between.

The band finally appeared and then he strolled on, to our roars and cries and clapping, dressed very casually in dark jeans and little blue jacket. He looked pale and exhausted, I have to say, and his voice was rough – he was carrying a mug of tea and drank it throughout – whereas during the concert, he sang for 3 hours without a break and without a sip of anything. He called to us, was friendly and funny, sang an amazing variety of songs, many that he doesn’t do in concert – San Francisco Bay, Blue Suede Shoes, It’s So Easy, Leaning on a Lamppost, Twenty Flight Rock which he said was the song he played for John when they first met … his range is phenomenal. He sang his own Bluebird but instead sang Blue Jays, which was a popular move. The soundcheck was our own personal concert – an hour, 16 songs or so, just for us. I hardly took pictures; his staffer who was keeping an eye on us begged us to just watch and listen instead of waving a phone in his face, and I thought she was right.

He went off for dinner and so did we, back to our lounge where we were given hefty Macca backpacks and a sumptuous vegetarian feast, stirfry, salads, pad thai … and more open bar. I sat with my new bffs, where I found out that young Emma is studying journalism at Carleton, so much talk about writing. Sharon bought t-shirts as gifts for the others and is going to buy my book.

And then back into the hall, now overflowing – 19,000 people maybe –

I was in the fourth row, dead centre. A fantastic seat, even better than the one I had in Paris in 1965, when I was in the 8th row centre. Of course, that ticket cost $6 and this one a tiny bit more. The horrible Kevin O’Leary, the blowhard capitalist, was there, one row ahead but way on the side. By some miracle, I was right in front of Paul’s mike.

At 8.30, there they were – the greatest cover band in history, as someone once said, and their leader. The transformation was amazing – he might have been tired, this has been a long tour and he’s 73 bloody years old! But he was indefatigable, chatting, reading the signs people held up, funny, charming, moving from one guitar to another, to one of the two pianos, to the ukelele. There’s no question that his voice, in some songs in particular, is cracked and wavering, but most of the time, it’s still powerful and rich, and the other times don’t matter. The minute the opening chords of any song are played, the crowd roars and starts to sing. 19 thousand people singing in unison is a heartening sound. Those of us at the front stood, dancing and singing, for the entire concert. I regretted the little boots with heels that I was wearing, not unlike Paul’s Beatle boots. When I put on this impractical footwear, I had thought I’d be sitting.

When Hey Jude began, people produced the lighter app – yes – on their cellphones, and the room was filled with lights. The man on my right was the most ordinary little middle-aged man, looked like an accountant or civil servant, not interested in talking. But when the music started, his face was suffused with joy and he sang at the top of his lungs with the others. A beautiful transformation, thanks to the music which means so much to us all.

The concert was three hours long, one fabulous song after another, old Beatles, Wings, some of his new stuff including his song with Kanye West and Queenie Eye. He is warm and intimate with a crowd of that size, and grew younger as the night wore on, his body lithe in black pants and white shirt, his hair a soft brown thatch. He so obviously loves what he does, and when he tells us he loves us, we believe him. His pleasure in our adulation is the drug that fuels him. He’s a consummate performer who’s a brilliant musician – to think that he wrote or co-wrote every one of those songs in all their incredible variety and played a different instrument on each one, when many of today’s stars just stand and sing. He has a genuine rapport with the audience – smiled and waved at one point to Anne, who has been to his concerts around the world – and apparently has oversight over the menu for the VIP lounge too.

Oh, and incidentally, the cameras panned the audience at regular intervals, and several times, I was startled to see my own face going by on the giant screens. A Macca maniac friend of my daughter’s was in the audience and when I ran into her, at the exit, she said she’d texted Anna, “Just saw your mother on the big screen!” The camera lingered on young Cole’s blissful face.

Sorry – it’s a video and it’s upside down and won’t play. I’ll try to find out how to get it to play right side up.

There were of course the flash pots during Live and Let Die, so close this time that I felt their heat. Anyway, you get the picture: the show was sublime. It ended with the entire Paris/ Port Credit pipe band onstage playing Mull of Kintyre, and Golden Slumbers. And in the end, the love you take …

On the way out, I talked to a security guard. “I’ve worked here seven years,” he said, “and this is the best concert we’ve ever had.” It was even better than the other Macca concerts I’ve been to, though perhaps this had to do with being so close – he looks at the front rows of the audience often, and I was sure he could see me, the tall woman in the fourth row centre, beaming and singing. This time, I had a gift for him, a book about how much he meant to one small girl, and to the world.

Thank you, thank you for last night from 19,000 happy people, including Brennan, Wendy, Sue, Shannon, Emma, Cole, and me, Beth Kaplan, 65 going on 14. My heart is like a wheel, Paul. Let me roll it, let me roll it to you.



2 Responses to “Paul McCartney at the ACC – the concert of a lifetime”

  1. Kerry says:

    Love it! Thanks for making us feel like we were there (but without the heat).

  2. beth says:

    My pleasure, Kerry. When I write about it, I get to be there myself all over again.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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