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Paul McCartney at the Air Canada Centre, October 17th, 2015

Inside the ACC.

The last time I saw Paul McCartney play in Toronto, the Blue Jays won the World Series the same year. I only mention this because a few of us were chuckling outside the main entry points of the Air Canada Centre last night wondering why the “Doors Opening at 7pm” routine was still not in effect as we closed in on 7:30pm. Were the stadium crews watching the Blue Jays trying to tie up their series away in Kansas City? In fact, we were being held outside because a soundcheck was still being carried out, one which included a pipe band from nearby Paris and Port Dover, a rehearsal of what would be for me one of the most memorable moments of the evening.

The ACC seating chart showing the wheelchair friendly sections. We were up in 319.

This show, for me, is one for the ages for many reasons. For the first time, I accompanied someone with a knee injury that has placed her temporarily in a wheelchair and using crutches, and being seated in the Air Canada Centre’s wheelchair-accessible section was an interesting experience in itself. The special boxed area had a total of eight seats, and each disabled person could bring up to two attendants (each requiring a ticket). A washroom was nearby in the public concession area, the view was unobstructed by anyone dancing or standing in front of us, or even by the regular movement of others going to and from their seats during the performance. The seats themselves were generously padded and not fixed to the floor, which meant marvellous legroom and lateral movement as well. The only way this section could be improved, in my opinion, would be with a personal bar or some kind of waitressing service, and with a private washroom immediately next to the seats. That said, it was one of the most pleasurable experiences, right from the elevator ride up to our return to the outside many hours later.

A view of the arena from section 319.

The concert itself was remarkable, and I must apologize to Frank Turner for bumping him out of my “best concert of the year” ranking with full kudos to him for entertaining me in early March and outlasting Mumford and Sons, Ed Sheeran (twice!), U2, Imagine Dragons, Walk Off the Earth, Chvrches, and Passenger. Sir Paul, in his early seventies, deserves the nudge forward for a few good reasons: he played many deep cuts from his Beatle days, he looked and sounded wonderful, and he was genuinely impishly amusing, modest, and generous throughout his three-hour marathon show of 41 numbers. I love you dearly, Frank, but this was spectacular in a way that will stay with me a long time.

A few flickers of old-style lighters in a crowd of cellphone flashlights.

The deep cuts were incredible: some were from his tenure with Wings, gems like ‘Another Day’, ‘Hi Hi Hi’, ‘Nineteen-Hundred and Eighty-Five’, and ‘Let Me Roll It’, while others were treasures from the Beatles period. Those numbers were made special because some of them were originally sung by his bandmates, such as ‘For the Benefit of Mr. Kite’, while his version of George Harrison’s beautiful composition ‘Something’ was memorable because it began with a ukulele accompaniment. He also gave us some of the big standards people expect when he is on tour: ‘The Long and Winding Road’, ‘Let It Be’, ‘Lady Madonna’, ‘Band on the Run’, ‘Hey Jude’, on and on it went with his classics, all flawlessly delivered. ‘Live and Let Die’ was an explosive moment in the literal sense, with fireworks and bomb bursts coming from all corners of the stage every time the song crescendoed to its chorus. We could feel the heat all the way up to the top of the arena where we sat, and it was loud, so loud.

Explosions! Fireworks!

Visually, the stage was open and simple, with a backdrop that was mirrored by a video floor showing the same footage in a perpendicular manner. This was helpful for us since we were nearly side-stage and could not always see the background of video enhancements. Musically, his band was tight, and it was interesting to watch the synthesizer emulate all the brass and string instruments that were so prevalent in the Beatles’ 1966-1967 period. From a fan’s perspective, this was a Paul McCartney who felt nostalgic and wanted to connect with many generations of fans, something not surprising given his age and longevity in the industry: he told stories throughout the evening, sharing personal anecdotes about Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and his lost bandmates. He reminisced about Linda but also played a song written for his present wife, and his banter with those who were near the front of the stage with all their signs was endearing and light-hearted. It is apparently a ‘thing’ on this current tour that signs are held up so he can choose a few fans to come up on stage and get his autograph. Last night’s cross-section was touching (‘Married 35 years, anniversary tonight’ was one winner) and often humorous (‘Sign me and I’ll go vegan’ was my favourite). He poked gentle fun at some of the attempts to charm him (’58 years old and still want to marry Paul when I grow up’ was one such cute sign) and seemed to enjoy the exchange with his fans. The second winners were a mother and daughter team: she got a signature for a future tattoo, and her child got a tee shirt autograph. He was also often taken aback by the adoration and loud applause, and seemed genuinely humbled by it all.

The video floor.

In the end, my favourite moments were simple ones: hearing him perform ‘And I Love Her’ gave me goosebumps because it is one of the most beautiful melodies from the early Beatles period. I inserted its appearance into a scene in one of my novels because it is just the perfect, simple love song, enhanced by George Harrison’s stunning guitar riff and Paul’s heartfelt vocals. Last night, it still managed to stir the same emotions in me.

Paul McCartney signing the drum of the Paris-Port Dover pipe band before it gets retired.

‘Mull of Kintyre’ being played as an encore with the Paris-Port Dover pipe band.

The highlight of the evening for me, which not only made me happy but will also bring a smile to my friend Ian’s face, is that one of the encores was ‘Mull of Kintyre.’ I’ve always loved the song, but to have been told by my Nottingham pal that McCartney would likely bring it out for the Canadian audience (we have a large proportion of people with Scottish ancestry) was all I needed to make sure my phone was ready to capture it on video to enjoy over and over. Everyone who knows me is aware of my love affair with the land of the unicorns, and it was so neat to see a pipe band from Port Dover, a lovely town just southwest of Toronto where many great summers were spent at my sister’s cottage. It was the perfect end to a near-perfect evening, my only complaint being of a bit of echo from our corner of the arena when Sir Paul spoke; this show was vastly superior to the one I saw in the early nineties, if only because the setlist was more diverse, and spanned the length of his career instead of focussing solely on Wings material. I appreciated that he played current songs as well, although I will cheekily admit that I used the moment of his Kanye West collaboration for a much-needed bathroom break.

A final wave of the Canadian flag before saying goodnight.

All in all, a wonderful night. All we need now is for the Blue Jays to get it all together now.