The woman sitting behind me told me this as we were sitting in the Oakland Arena. For years, this place was called the Oracle Arena, and named for the software company founded by Larry Ellison who used his billions of bucks to buy giant yachts for himself, and also an America’s Cup yachting trophy back in 2013. Oracle pulled its name from the Arena when its licensing deal here expired, and then went and stuck it on the San Francisco Giants’ ballpark across the bay from Oakland. At around the same time, the Golden State Warriors departed the Arena for San Francisco and their new home, the Chase Center. Since then, the Arena has been without its biggest tenant, and any type of corporate sponsorship.
The Old School folks in Oakland might like that the Arena is just called the Oakland Arena. But, in 2022, a sports/entertainment venue without a corporate check behind it sounds out of place. And, unless it is called Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, suggests there is an inability to pull in some big company bucks, especially in an area where there are tech companies that are literally worth trillions of dollars. This has long-been the bane of Oakland, a city that has always been the little brother to San Francisco. All you need to know about the relationship between Oakland and San Francisco is that San Francisco calls itself “The City”, like there is none other around, and Oakland proudly claims the nickname “The Town”, a title that can be applied to just about anyplace there is in the United States.
But, on this night, The Town had something that the The City in no way didn’t. This “something” was happening not at San Francisco’s shiny, practically brand new and corporate-sponsored Chase Center, but at Oakland’s 56-year-old, no-name Arena, which last went under a major renovation when Bill Clinton was president back in 1997. And it was this “something” for which the woman sitting behind me was due:
Few people in history are as well-known, well-loved and have had their lives observed, obsessed over, and written about in as complete and utter totality as Paul McCartney. It can be argued that since that day The Beatles performed on the Ed Sullivan Show (Feb. 9, 1964) Paul McCartney has been the most-famous person in human existence. (The other Beatles, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr are easily in the Top Ten. The only other people that come close are Ronald Reagan, Michael Jordan and Beyoncé). No matter who you are, or what you have done in your life, you will never have the effect upon society, culture or people’s emotions as Paul McCartney has. If Paul (along with credited co-writer John) had broken up the Beatles after “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” hit No. 1 and never produced another song again, his impact on the last six decades would still be massive enough to make him as important to world culture as Steve Jobs.
But, Paul has never stopped. Paul could be a textbook case of finding what you are good at early in life and sticking to it. Writing, recording and performing songs is what he does. Most have been great. Many have been good. Some have been OK, and few never need to be heard again. (Sorry, but the theme song to “Spies Like Us” just isn’t even in the same solar system as “Penny Lane”, or “Jet”). But, some people say to do what you love and the money will come and both sides of that formula equal up to Sir James Paul McCartney.
There can be no question that Paul doesn’t need the dough—the best job in the world is going to the mailbox to pick up a check—and there can be no doubt that Paul’s proverbial mailbox is to this day full of proverbial checks. So, maybe Paul is just like any old guy who just wants to keep busy and not run out the clock playing bingo at The Villages in Florida. He has the means, and the desire, to keep on playing his life’s work for people who want to see him. Which is what happened at the Oakland Arena on Mother’s Day this year on his “Got Back” tour.
It goes without saying that a Paul McCartney concert is unlike any other music performance. For starters, there is the crowd, which the vast majority of which was over 40 years old. And it should come as no surprise that these were people that fall into the “upper” region of the “upper middle class” demographic. Front row tickets went for as much as $3,000 each, and there was a “Platinum” level parking option that cost $300 a car—or $75 more than one of the $225 tickets that my wife and I had for the lower corner section of the Arena. And never mind the loan-shark-level “service charges” and taxes that got tacked onto the tickets, With all of that, and the $70 (plus tax) VIP parking option, the whole shooting match came to more than $600 for the two of us.
Or, about 3,330% more than the floor seats cost when the Beatles played San Francisco’s Cow Palace back in 1964. I found this out from the aforementioned woman sitting behind me who was not only due, but overdue for a Paul performance: When she told me that she was 16, she and some of her friends saw the Beatles at that Cow Palace show which cost them $10 each. “And the seats where we are sitting now were $5.” She had brought her daughter and her two grandchildren with her to our Paul concert. I took what I know I spent for my wife and I and doubled it so I knew her Visa bill was going to be even bigger than mine.
But, as corny or cliched as it may sound, sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. And, I had to be honest: Paul is about to turn 80. I’ve never forgiven my wife for saying no to us getting tickets to see Prince for what turned out to one of his last concerts less than a month before he died. I wasn’t going to be morbid, but I also decided that we weren’t going to be regretting not seeing Paul if, indeed, this turns out to be his last tour and he soon ends up playing with John and George on stage at the Cavern up in the sky.
“Can’t Buy Me Love”. “Maybe I’m Amazed”. “Lady Madonna”. “Junior’s Farm”. “Got To Get You Into My Life”. “Get Back”. “Band On The Run”. “Helter Skelter”. Whatever era of Paul you wanted, you got. Did he do “Let It Be”? Of course he did. I’ve heard “Hey Jude” approximately 17 billion times. Did I need Paul to do it for his show to be a success? Absolutely not. Did I get swept up with everyone else in that famous “Na Na Na Naaaaaaaah…” refrain that turns “Hey Jude” into one of the greatest singalong symphonies of all time? Absolutely.
But, Paul also pulled out a few surprises, too.
I had never heard Paul’s solo song “Women And Wives” before. And with this show being on Mother’s Day, he dedicated to all the moms in the house. He gave props to legendary Beatles producer George Martin. I would have never thought I’d ever hear a live version of John’s “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”, but Paul did it. And then he followed that “Sgt. Pepper” track by bringing out the ukulele and putting a sweet, Hawaiian twist on George’s “Something”. Before one of his encores, Paul talked a bit about how director Peter Jackson was able to isolate John’s vocals from the Beatles legendary Rooftop Performance, and then proceeded to do a virtual duet with John on “I Got A Feeling”.
By then, Paul had played for close to three hours. It bears repeating that at the time of this show, Paul was a month shy of turning 80 years old. My mom is 81, so she is in Paul’s ballpark, agewise. Now, my mom isn’t bedridden by any stretch, but she has issues: If she stands for too long, she needs to sit down. And when she sits for a spell, she needs to stand and walk around for a bit. She takes more meds than Matthew Perry did at his pill-popping “Friends” peak. There is no way she could even dream of doing anything for nearly three straight hours, and that include sleeping.
Listen, the guy wasn’t tearing around the stage, smashing guitars and diving into the crowd. But if you are going to perform in front of almost 20,000 people you can’t just sit in a rocking chair and say you’ve given everybody their money’s worth. Paul is a pro. By my count, Paul played six different instruments (bass, guitar, keyboards/synth, piano, mandolin and the ukulele) and didn’t falter on any of them. To be able to remember the words and music to three dozen songs spanning 60 years, and play those in live setting, says something about Paul’s ability to remain vital. He might have gone straight to his tour doctor for a checkup after the show, but while the show was going on, he didn’t give off a hint of exhaustion.
I have no doubt that Paul could have played for three more hours (he certainly has the song catalog to do that) and no one would have left the arena. But, even Paul needed to call it a night at some point. And he did so in the best, and really only way he could have. By playing the closing medley off of “Abbey Road” and ending with “The End”.
He thanked us and said he and his band would see us “Next time.” Who knows if there will be a next time. We had this one time and I don’t feel like I am due another. If this was the end, then it was a good way to end.