It was an easy going, polite crowd that made its way into Atlanta’s Piedmont Park for the Paul McCartney show last Saturday. In front of me were two couples pushing a stroller and worrying over the real estate they would need to lay their towel down. Behind me was a group of college folks fresh off the tailgate with a friend who was lit up before it was dark. Ahead of us was a natural bowl full of what would become some 40,000 souls who would share a Dixie downpour as Sir Paul laid down a rock-and-roll liturgy of nearly three hours. I confess being cynical, I feared a stale show and an overly sympathetic audience; what we got was rejuvenation and joy. I was rightly humbled and damn impressed with the quality of McCartney’s voice, his utter comfort on stage, and being allowed to take a flesh-and-blood look through the past that is very much alive in the present.
The staging was great, big video screens to the right and left with varied shots of the performance, mainly focused on McCartney. The songs rolled up and down like a roller coaster, the sweet ascent of “Yesterday” followed by the downward swoop and vertigo of “Helter Skelter.” “Live and Let Die” was a loop de loop of pyrotechnics and percussion with that killer Da Da dump, dump DUMMM. This guy is a pop master, and he certainly delivered from opening to closing note. His voice and energy never lagged, he did not waver or blunder through a single moment. Seeing him with his classic small format left-handed base was weirdly thrilling, and he segued from instrument to instrument nicely. Maybe the best moment was when he pulled out a ukulele given to him by George Harrison. He told a simple and touching story of playing the same instrument with his friend as George put together “Something.” Then McCartney played the same song, and as he sang “You stick around now it may show” -and the crowd joined in on the following line- “I don’t know, I DON’T KNOW”-well, “you know I believe, and how.” He was there, and his ownership of the moment took me along.
There was also his rather gutsy preamble to “Blackbird” as he referenced the historical timing of the song in relation to race relations in the American south. He performed “Blackbird” as the rain hit; this icon of the English Invasion seemed to be sprinkling holy water on the faithful and skeptical alike, me included. As I stood among those younger and older, in the rain and ghosts of Sherman, the 40 years since Woodstock, and my own disappearing ambiguity, all I could think was take me along brother, I am with you.