As I’ve tried to tell you in articles previous: Salt Lake is cool. But never have I felt more proud to be a musically inclined Utahn than last night at Rio Tinto Stadium. Sir Paul McCartney played for the first time ever in the state of Utah to a sellout audience of 25,000+ that spilled out of the venue and on to the stairs and surrounding real estate of the stadium. People were doing anything and everything to catch a glimpse or even just hear a snippet of the music of one of the most beloved icons in the history of rock and roll.
When the announcement was made that Macca would be hitting Salt Lake, I thought someone was playing a sick joke on me, but I was sorely (not so sore anymore) mistaken. Booking agency SCP Worldwide LLC – who are part owners in both Rio Tinto Stadium and the MSL team it houses, Real Sal Lake – reportedly spent months in talks with the McCartney camp to get this deal to go through. Executive vice president of events for SCP Worldwide, John Urban, professed his dedication to the state and to the caliber of its events upon being announced as the new executive in October, and he proved his dedication with the booking of McCartney. For his “Up and Coming” tour, McCartney had expressed interest in visiting cities previously unvisited, so, Urban took that in stride and made things happen. “Our job was to let them know why Salt Lake, and specifically Rio Tinto Stadium, should be included in a finite number of dates,” said Urban concerning the bid. “We were selling Salt Lake, the stadium, the opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind event.”’
Real Salt Lake president Bill Manning echoed Urban’s zeal: “[McCartney]’s never been here before, and you don’t know if he’ll ever be back,” he said. “I’m really excited. I think it’s going to be a sold-out show.” The enormity of this annunciation was not lost on Utahns, and Manning’s prediction turned out to be a gross understatement. Citizens were about to go nuts over this show. One individual even handcrafted a left-handed bass guitar for McCartney, which as I’m told, McCartney gladly accepted, but did not use in the show.
The tickets were sold in three waves, all selling out within minutes of being posted. A number of priority tickets were allocated to Real Salt Lake ticketholders, who gobbled them right up. Next bid was for all American Express cardholders, and these tickets sold out even faster than the first wave. Finally, the remaining tickets were opened up to the public, and despite the cheapest seat remaining being 150 dollars apiece, these tickets sold out with blazing speed. Now the privileged or lucky ticketholders were left with an excruciating three month wait staring them down.
And it was not an easy wait to ignore. Billboards advertising the show were placed all along the freeway, fliers were hung in every store window, and Utah residents couldn’t turn on the radio without being barraged with ads proclaiming the show as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The hubbub only continued to increase as the date grew nearer.
Finally, the day arrived, and the city was alive with anticipation. When I got to work that morning, that’s all anyone could talk about around the office (I’m sure my bragging about getting to go to the show did nothing but perpetuate the problem), and for five straight hours I couldn’t stop whistling or humming the tune of “Band On The Run”. I agonizingly watched the seconds pass until the little hand was on the seven and big hand was on the 12, and I was out the door. The streets were flooded with traffic north, south, east and west as far as my bad eyes could see, and it took me half an hour to go one and a half city blocks to arrive at the parking lot. In the 12 years of living in this city, I have never seen so much commotion in this part of town. This was a big deal.
Once inside the stadium, the buzz only increased. People from every walk of life were in their seats and the stadium was completely full half an hour before the show was scheduled to start. Every single demographic was represented: hippies that surely witnessed Beatlemania firsthand, wealthy stadium benefactors, college kids who’d scrapped up every cent in their life savings for a seat, children not a day over eight; White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic alike were waiting patiently to see their beloved Paul. And the only opening act to greet them was a series of rare and re-worked Beatles cuts played over the loudspeakers, which the crowd emphatically sang along to. The wait began to subside as a tweaked version of “The End” started to play as the lights began to go up. Accompanied by a deafening roar of the crowd, Macca had arrived.
Taking the stage in a nostalgia-inducing suit and mop-top combo, McCartney pointed and waved at the adoring fans of every shape and size. He and the rest of his five-piece band jumped right into their set with a classic Wings medley that included “Venus and Mars” and “Rock Show”. After the song(s), he proclaimed his excitement to be in the state, referring to the audience several times as “Utahns” with a wry grin every time, as if to express his fascination with the unfamiliar word.
As the night wore on, he certainly became more familiar with the alleged “Utahns”, even to the extent that he felt comfortable enough to discard his jacket to reveal a neatly pressed pink shirt and suspenders just in time to jump behind the piano for a few classics.
Known for his longevity, the ex-Beatle played a total of 41 songs that spanned his career from 1964’s “And I Love Her” all the way to the more recent “Dance Tonight” which was off his 2007 album, Memory Almost Full. In the three hours he was on the stage he was able to showcase his more impressive work with The Beatles as well as with Wings, seamlessly jumping from era to era without skipping a beat. The Beatles songs were obviously well received by all, but the Wings material was surprisingly impressive and showed just what a magnificent songwriter McCartney was and remains to be. It was an interesting glimpse into not only the history of Paul McCartney, but rock and roll in general.
McCartney stopped the show several times to recount stories from his past, which are timeless pieces of rock and roll history from a man who lived it. He told a story about how Jimi Hendrix decided to do a live cover Sgt. Pepper’s shortly after its release and that he and the rest of The Beatles were in the audience. He went on to explain that Hendrix added a lot to the guitar solos, frivolously utilizing his whammy bar and putting his guitar all out of tune. McCartney said that it got so bad that Hendrix asked if Eric [Clapton] was in the crowd to come help him re-tune, and Clapton, after much coaxing, obliged and got onstage to tune Hendrix’s guitar so he could finish the show.
Sir Paul then told a story of something he wished he’d told John Lennon before he was killed, but never got the chance to, and broke into a heartfelt version of “Here Today”, followed by tremendous applause in honor of Lennon. Later that night, he recounted a story about how George Harrison had an immense love for the ukulele and in an attempt to impress Harrison, McCartney learned the Harrison-written Abbey Road track “Something” on the ukulele and performed it for him, much to the delight of Harrison. Macca then whipped out the very same ukulele that George Harrison gave him and played an intricately re-worked version of the ballad.
It was those sort of stories/performances that made this more than just your average concert. A much better description for this event would be: an opportunity – the opportunity of a lifetime to get a glimpse into the very heart of rock and roll. The true blue songbird rattled off hit after hit, barely breaking a sweat throughout the entirety of his massive set. Quite the showman, he had no problems getting the crowd to join him on every song, especially the “na-na-na” portion of “Hey Jude”, in which everyone partook and nearly shook the stadium in upon itself. He left the stage briefly following this song, only to return wielding a Utah flag, much to the uproarious delight of the crowd. This was the moment it seemed to set in in the minds of all those in attendance: a Beatle (that had nothing to do with Ringo Starr’s All-Stars) was here in Utah. After decades of waiting, we were finally getting what we deserved, if only for a moment.
The fans, desperate for more, got what they wished for as Paul encored with “Day Tripper”, “Lady Madonna”, “Get Back”, “Yesterday”, “Helter Skelter”, and a “Sgt. Pepper’s/The End” medley to close things off. The 68-year-old left the stage with the statement, “Until next time, Utah, good night,” and I believe that we might see him again, despite his age. At the rate he was going, he could have played 40 more songs before he or anyone in the crowd was tired. I’m not sure how he manages to stay healthy and strong after all these years, but talk about resilience. He showed absolutely no signs of fading, and sported the same boyish vigor that made us all fall in love with him once upon a time.
Not a single fan went home unsatisfied (except perhaps those who weren’t fortunate enough to gain entry), and it’s all anyone can talk about here in town. Paul’s picture was on the front page of The Salt Lake Tribune and The Desert News, the two largest news publications in the state. Utah bloggers are going crazy updating their blogs with McCartney news, Facebook statuses everywhere (including mine) express gratitude and love for Paul; there simply is no end to the adoration. Every fan came in expecting to return to the nostalgic moment when they fell in love with Paul and the rest of the Fab Four, and each fan was rewarded with that very thing and so much more.
With regard to performances in Salt Lake, this only adds to the ever-impressive list of artists to come through the city, and adds to the proof of the overwhelming number of fans in the state. “It really puts away all doubts about our ability to bring in high-profile talent,” RSL owner Manning said, and he couldn’t be more right. McCartney’s dazzling performance puts SLC on the map a little more firmly than it was the day prior to the show, which is one more thing to thank him about. But mark my words, more great things are in store for this city. This is just the beginning.
As far as The Beatles’ legacy goes, the 50-year-old magic of Beatlemania will never die. It will live on in the hearts of the old and young alike for generations to come because of its timelessness and its authenticity. And for the city of Salt Lake to finally get to experience some of that magic live? It’s truly something amazing.
Venus And Mars
All My Loving
Drive My Car
Foxy Lady (Hendrix cover)
The Long And Winding Road
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
Let ‘Em In
I’ve Just Seen A Face
And I Love Her
Sing The Changes
Band On The Run
Back In The U.S.S.R.
I’ve Got A Feeling
A Day In The Life
Give Peace A Chance (John Lennon cover)
Let It Be
Live And Let Die
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (Final)/The End