Gary's review of a trip to see Paul McCartney on Saturday, April 13, 2002, in
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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We left the north side of Rochester, NY on Saturday, April 13, 2002 at 11 am in a steady rain. Susan and I were on our way to see Paul McCartney in concert. Fittingly, Macca's new CD is titled Driving Rain, and it was still coming down hard when we arrived on Toronto at 2:30. We took the "Seaway Trail" along Lake Ontario. For the benefit of you locals, this is a great road to take when you're already on the north side. There isn't a single stop from Long Pond Road to Lewiston, where you take the bridge to Canada, so it's quicker than 104. It's just one lane in each direction, but there wasn't much traffic. We caught up to a large pickup truck pulling a monstrous boat and kicking up an opaque wall of mist. The driver didn't give me the tiniest break while passing, and it's a good thing no one was approaching in the other lane, because with all the water, I wouldn't have seen an oncoming vehicle until we came out its rear end.
But this really starts way back in February when Macca-mania erupted at the announcement of a North American concert tour. I had never seen any of the former Beatles live, and I made it my mission to attend. After reviewing the dates and locations, it was clear that the Toronto concert was our first choice. The main trick would be to get tickets. TicketMaster was the primary source, but I wasn't sure if I should use the Internet or stand in line at a brick-and-mortar ticket outlet. I did research on the web and pestered ticket outlet employees. A Rochester employee claimed that no credit cards would be accepted for a Canadian show, yet she didn't know how to handle the exchange rate. At $250 CAN per ticket plus unpredictable fees, it seemed a bit ridiculous to try to pay cash. I decided to sit at home and try the Internet and phone. On March 9, this decision paid off and I acquired two floor-level, 16th row seats within minutes of the start of the sale.
Much of my web research focused on the fan forum at www.paulmccartney.com. There is a lot of baloney in an un-moderated forum like this, but with careful reading, one can learn some lessons. I will refer to people who send notes to the forum as "forum posters".
My opinion, now that the whole experience is done, is that TicketMaster provides a good service. Their fees were high, about $7 US per ticket, but this is partly used to combat fraud. A ticket from TicketMaster is pretty much guaranteed to get you into an event, and to survive any ticketing disputes. There is a lot of fraud out there, see the Ticket Scam Resource Center.
The McCartney prices ran from $50 CAN to $250 CAN, and our seats were in the top price range. In a sense, this was a good deal because we were paying with American dollars. The US concerts charged $50 US to $250 US, about 40% more expensive. Forum posters had much to say about the high price of tickets, and some fans were priced out of the concert. This is unfortunate, but again, it's capitalism at work. At the concert, it seemed that the high-priced seats were filled with fans from all walks of life who wanted tickets badly enough.
We stayed at the Novotel Toronto Centre, a very nice mid-level urban hotel about three blocks from the arena. The lesson to learn is that you should book your lodging as soon as you get your tickets, because I met a guy at the concert who had trouble getting a nearby room for a good price. The service at the hotel was great. The cost was about $200 CAN including parking and $40 CAN in various taxes, a pretty decent rate for this quality of hotel in a major city.
We ate dinner at "Jump" on Wellington Street. Entrees were great and dessert was great, but the service was truly top-notch. This ran $133 CAN including tip (Sue's treat!), and this was another great deal for a stupendous meal.
We then walked over to the Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Maples Leafs, for the concert. I expected to see a few scalpers, but the area outside the arena was crawling with them. I don't know if they were able to sell their tickets, but the arena seemed full at concert time. This concert was, in general, sold out on March 9, but ticket availability at TicketMaster fluctuated for various reasons, such as credit card rejections and promoter decisions. Some of the concert venues in other cities apparently did not completely sell out in advance. I think that Toronto was a hot ticket because it was the only Canadian stop on the tour. Forum posters complain that good seats occasionally become available for events weeks after an initial sellout, but I am convinced that there is no conspiracy and it's out of TicketMaster's control.
There were long lines and much confusion in the arena area. Security was tight, and the clear intent was to scan every person with a hand-held metal detector and to check every bag. I smuggled in a single-use camera (cameras were prohibited) in my coat pocket covered with a pair of gloves, although I'm not sure they would have confiscated it in any case. Even from the 16th row, such a camera won't get great shots. In the photos, even from row 16, Paul is about 2 millimeters tall, but the photos are actually OK.
The 8:00 pm show began at around 8:40. Before Sir Paul appeared, we saw several costumed characters performing to some music from Oobu Joobu and Rushes. This opening stuff lasted a good 15 minutes, and for much of that time, I think the crowd didn't quite know how to react. I mean, it was pretty, but not particularly rousing until the last couple of minutes. In retrospect, I'm still not sure what this artsy-fartsy opening had to do with the rest of the concert. That's not to say it wasn't enjoyable, just a bit weird. One forum poster's theory is that each costumed character represented a song, but that's a stretch. In any case, Susan really liked the costumes and big balloons and gradual building of anticipation.
Finally, just before 9 pm, Paul McCartney's silhouette appeared on a backdrop, and he ran out carrying what appeared to be his famous Hofner bass guitar. Some forum posters believe that Paul has played this instrument since his Beatles days, and it certainly looked like the same guitar. Paul was wearing a dark jacket, a red pullover shirt, and blue jeans. He removed the jacket after the first song. In general, Paul looked great, and his almost-60-year-old voice was strong and clear, right through to the end after 11:30. He was on stage for that whole two and a half hours plus.
You may think it surprising that there is quite a debate on the forum about the pros and cons of floor-level seats. Floor seats are closer to the stage, but the seats are tightly packed and on a flat surface, which can make it difficult for those in the back to see the stage. Arena Security kept a close watch on the crowd, and I think they tried to keep people in their seats, instead of allowing standing and dancing. 99% of the crowd was courteous and well-behaved, but there were a few belligerent, arm-waving nut-cases near us. When Security approached the two guys in front of us for the third time before 9:30 pm, they were escorted to a different part of the arena. And rightly so, because they were major jerks. Many concert-goers believe that their tickets entitle them to a good time, even if that means annoying everyone else. My experience was that ALL the really nasty people were ones who insisted on standing and waving their body parts in the personal space of others. The people who sat during many songs were at least friendly. Yes, Macca is a legend and it's nice to show appreciation, but having now had the floor-level experience, I might not do it again.
Sitting or standing, I felt that the crowd had some trouble getting into the show. It was a great show and everyone was excited, and Paul's accompanying band members were great, but it seemed like Paul wondered where the crowd energy was, and the crowd was waiting for Paul to sock it to us. The tributes to John and George, and Paul's associated stories, were truly touching and well received. The solo acoustic set was quite long, maybe a little too long.
When Band on the Run started, it was like someone flipped a switch. The band and crowd suddenly cranked it up a notch, and it was a wild ride to the end. USSR brought the house down, and was my personal favorite. Many members of my generation have probably spent hours of their lives singing along with Hey Jude. To sing it with 15000 other fans, led by McCartney himself, was a priceless experience. The sound system was great. There were a couple of momentary spots where the volume went from "loud" to "painful", but these short blasts were quickly corrected. The video screens provided live and recorded images, all carefully coordinated with the music.
The set list has been heavily reported on the Internet forum, and was the same for every show. At the Toronto concert, however, Mull of Kintyre was added to the second encore. The full set list follows. There has been much forum discussion about whether there was a tribute to late wife Linda, and it is believed that the three songs beginning with Maybe I'm Amazed make up a mini-set for such a tribute. And this explains why Paul played the obscure and goofy C-Moon at all.
* Full band | Hello, Goodbye | Jet | All My
Loving | Getting Better | Coming Up | Let Me Roll It | Lonely
Road | Driving Rain | Your Loving Flame (dedicated to fiancée
* Acoustic and/or solo set | Blackbird | Every Night | We Can Work It Out | Mother Nature's Son | Vanilla Sky | You Never Give Me Your Money / Carry That Weight | Fool on the Hill | Here Today (tribute to John) | Something (tribute to George on the ukulele) | Eleanor Rigby | Here, There and Everywhere
* Full band | Band on the Run | Back in the USSR (Gary's favorite) | Maybe I'm Amazed | C-Moon | My Love | Can't Buy Me Love (this songs rocked!) | Freedom | Live and Let Die (with cannons, Susan's favorite) | Let It Be | Hey Jude
* First encore | The Long and Winding Road | Lady Madonna | I Saw Her Standing There (what a blast!)
* Second encore | Yesterday | Mull of Kintyre (with bagpipe band) | Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) | The End
After the concert, we had a drink at the Irish Embassy pub on Wellington Street (was www.windyoneill.com/star_july11.html). Crowded, but a nice way to wind down, and there were other concert-goers there.
In comparison, Bruce Springsteen (Buffalo, 1999) had more energy and no goofy songs like C-Moon, and performed one of the great rock shows I have seen, but McCartney generated more emotion. Billy Joel (Syracuse, 2001, with Elton John) interacted well with the crowd and rocked hard, but he just doesn't have McCartney's catalog. Elton, for all his flamboyance and legendary hits, didn't interact as well, although he played superbly. James Taylor (Rochester, 1999) could have sung Fire And Rain twenty times and the easily pleased crowd would have gone wild, and Susan loved him, but I thought he was half asleep. Art Garfunkel (Rochester, 2002) was ultimately enjoyable and had a great band, but his voice wasn't quite up to the task. Springsteen (Rochester, 2003) put on a great show in our hometown with a better crowd than the McCartney crowd. k. d. lang (Rochester, 2004) was very moving, and we also saw her a few years earlier with Tony Bennett. Tony's shows ooze nostalgia. We saw Tony once prior to that with Diana Krall, a jazzy singer who didn't draw the diverse crowd that lang drew, but Krall is a great singer. Cher (Buffalo, 2003) rocked a lot harder than we expected and was great, flamboyant fun. Bette Midler (Rochester, 2004, 10th row center) was more energetic but less glitzy than Cher, and Bette only has a half dozen really big hits, so considering the high ticket price, Bette didn't compare to Macca or The Boss.
We ate brunch on Sunday at Marché, an upscale cafeteria on Yonge Street. The food and presentation were great, but the food court was a frustrating maze of preparation stations. It probably takes a few trips to get the hang of this place, and it took me a long time and a lot of work to actually get my food. And as you get the various pieces of your meal, you lose track of the price, which is probably their intent. Customers must carry around their meal ticket, which is stamped as they get food at each station, and jokes about washing dishes aside, customers probably lose meal tickets all the time. The final price was $35 CAN including tip, which wasn't a bad price for a major city breakfast, except for the hassle of actually getting fed.
The ride back was mercifully dry. I dropped off my single-use camera at the Wegman's one-hour lab, and the skies opened up with another deluge. All photos on this page came from the single-use camera except Jim Pietryga's as marked. In the photo with six Pauls, the "actual Paul" is the bottom-left image, and the rest are video screens. That's me and Susan in the final photo.
After the concert, I kept an eye on a bootleg site, looking for live recordings from Toronto. The bootleg scene is fairly mature, in which fans develop "trees" for distributing copies of recordings (usually for the cost of media and postage, no cost for the product itself). Bootlegs are available for just about any touring artist you can think of, for the last several decades. These bootlegs tend to be audio-only, with video bootlegs sometimes available for a price. Some audio boots are recorded from the "loop" installed in most major venues, which is used by hearing-impaired attendees. This type of recording is mono, but is usually better than a microphone recorded tape. The preferred audio recording would be a stereo recording directly from the artist's soundboard, and it's not clear to me how these become available, unless the sound people for just about every major artist are corrupt enough to sell or give away these recordings. I'm not aware of professionally shot videos becoming available on the bootleg circuit, but private individuals seem to find ways to make camcorder recordings, even when Security is frisking for cameras.
I did in fact acquire (for a price) DVD, VHS, and CD recordings from Victor Ava. These recordings contain the whole show from one angle, plus Vic's own digital camcorder angle for 45 minutes, at which point Vic's battery died. Vic coyly suggests that videographers bribe Security, and Vic acquired the full-length version for $4000. I probably could have eventually obtained the audio portion for free, but it was easier and quicker to buy the audio/video package. The recordings are quite watch-able and listen-able, although not of professional quality.
The legality of such bootlegs is questionable. Bootleggers seem to have convinced themselves that artists don't care, since fans who want bootlegs tend to be fans who go to concerts and buy commercial recordings (I did buy McCartney's commercial product), and generally, bootlegging is a not-for-profit activity. But clearly, the aural/visual presentations at concerts are copyrighted, and distribution of bootleg material affects sales of commercial material, at least a little. If Security is being bribed and soundboard engineers are selling recordings, the artists must be at least a little concerned about such corruption.