Paul McCartney returned to Shea Stadium last week, for the first time since his now legendary performance with The Beatles more than 40 years ago. August 15, 1965 marked the first concert ever given at Shea, a frantic scene of thousands, screaming and crying behind barricades that certainly couldn¹t contain the deafening noise. It was and remains to this day, the most historic concert ever given.
“Shea was a blast,” Paul McCartney said, talking for the first time about his return to the legendary Shea Stadium for its final farewell. “I can’t tell you what it felt like to be back there onstage after all these years - and to think I nearly didn’t make it.”
And he nearly didn’t. On Friday, July 18, Paul’s friend, Billy Joel, had planned to perform Last Play At Shea concert.
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“Billy had asked me if I could join him a while back when he was planning the show,” Paul recalls. “The thing is that I already had my own show in Quebec City that weekend. With all the rehearsing and traveling it didn¹t look logistically possible.”
“I really wanted to do it as Billy is a mate and I have such special memories of Shea,” Paul continued. “I had to fly to New York to get to Quebec and it dawned on me that as I was flying Friday evening I might just be able to make it to Shea by the end of the show. So I made a few calls and the rest was to be left to fate. I knew it was going to be close though.”
Throughout the day Friday, July 18, New York City had been rife with rumors that Paul McCartney might be joining Billy onstage to help commemorate the end of one of the cities most historic sites, but as the curtain went up there was no sign of music¹s revered icon.
Billy took the stage at 9 p.m., as Paul was thousands of feet up in the air making his way from London to New York. Paul’s flight touched down two hours after show time at JFK airport. Paul rushed off the plane with his legendary Hofner bass guitar in hand, was fast checked through arrivals right by the plane itself and got straight into a waiting car flanked by NYPD police cars and bikes. Throughout the flight the NYPD had stayed in contact with air traffic controllers to ensure no time was lost.
“It was crazy. I’d been on a plane for hours and had no idea how far into the show Billy was. The pilot had been keeping us informed of how we were doing time-wise and we found out later that air traffic control had worked hard to ensure we landed on time, but then there was still going to be the traffic to negotiate in order to make it for the show. When the plane doors opened I was met by the police and airport security that rushed me straight through all the arrival procedures and they got me out as quickly as possible.”
The police fleet made it to Shea Stadium in just 11 minutes.
“I’ve really got to hand it to those guys as without them I don’t think we’d have made it,” McCartney said. I’d really like to say a special thanks to them and express my gratitude for getting me to the show on time.”
Just before 11:20 p.m., Paul jumped on stage, surprising not only Billy Joel, but also the sold-out audience as he launched straight into “I Saw Her Standing There.”
“It’s so cool to be here on the last night,” Paul told the 63,000 strong.
“I came here a long time ago. We had a blast that night and we¹re having another one tonight,” he said.” Paul then closed the night with his seminal anthem “Let It Be,” with Billy Joel on backing vocals. The show ended just as Paul’s first ever performance at Shea had started with a deafening crowd.
“Everything happened so quickly,” Paul said. “I didn’t have a chance to sound check or warm up in any way and Billy had no idea I was there. We had just about enough time to find me a guitar strap as I walked on to the stage. I heard the band count the song in and bang there I was, in front of thousands of people playing away. I just about managed to get to the microphone for the opening line of the song. It then hit me that it was 4:30 a.m. in the morning my time and I thought, ‘what am I doing here!’ But it was great.”
One fan, Rosalia Rosen, had been present at The Beatles show at Shea and was in the audience on Friday night. “Seeing Paul again on Friday night was destiny. I¹ve come full circle. I barely breathed. . .I just stood there and absorbed him,” Rosen said.
This would prove to be a memorable night for Paul, having first performed at Shea Stadium with The Beatles in 1965 at the height of Beatlemania, just one year after the stadium opened. Famous film footage recorded at the time shows thousands of fans fainting, crying and screaming; the world had never seen anything like it. The Beatles were the first band ever to hold a concert in a sporting stadium, yet another rock n¹ roll first. The concert at Shea was groundbreaking. It is now seen as the most famous concert ever.
It was the first outdoor concert on a large scale and it demonstrated that such events could be successful and profitable. Forty-three years later Paul was back to give the legendary venue a legendary send-off.
“Standing out there on stage and hearing the crowd, all the memories came flooding back of being there all that time ago with the band when we first toured the US. It was mad the first time round because we didn¹t really know what to expect, as no one had ever played a stadium show before,” McCartney said. “Like a lot of things we did, it was going into the unknown. The technology was so different.”
“We couldn’t really hear ourselves when we played, as the crowd was so loud. Vox had specially designed us these 100-watt amplifiers, but they were nowhere near loud enough. The crowd was just as loud this time round, but technology has moved on now so we can hear what we are playing. This stadium is such a special place to us. We¹ll never forget it and its memory will live on.”
For most people that would be enough excitement for one weekend, but not for Paul. The next day he traveled north to the city of Quebec to perform a free show on Sunday, July 20 in their national park, The Plains Of Abraham, to celebrate Quebec¹s 400th anniversary.
“Paul McCartney is not just a superstar; he’s a legend, an icon who brings us instant international prestige. His concert will project Québec 2008 on the world scene,” declared Daniel Gélinas, CEO of the Société du 400, the event organizers ahead of Paul’s visit. “Paul McCartney is giving us a fabulous present and we are thrilled and proud to welcome him to Québec City,” Gelinas said.
Paul landed in Quebec the evening ahead of his show and as he made his way from the airport to his hotel he happily stopped his car to sign autographs for the fans that lined the streets for the entire distance of the journey.
“It was really cool to see all the fans and it was great that they had made an effort to come out and give me such an amazing welcome. People couldn¹t have been nicer. It really set such a great vibe for the weekend.”
Organizers estimated that The Plains Of Abraham could only take up to 60,000 people. They began to worry as it became clear that literally hundreds of thousands of people were descending upon the city with one objective - to see Paul McCartney. Organizers hurriedly made contingency plans so screens were erected around the city and a decision was made to broadcast the concert on TV.
Before his visit Paul had said, “I have a feeling it’s going to be a great night.” And he was right.
Paul took to the stage around 9:30 p.m. as the sun was going down and greeted the crowd in French. He kicked off the two and three quarter hour show with “Jet” and then performed a show the likes of which Quebec had never seen. The crowds filled the entire park as well as all the surrounding roads.
“With these big shows you never quite know what to expect. I know there were some people who were not too happy about an English language artist being part of the celebrations but you know music is an international language that helps bring people together,” McCartney said.
“It was amazing. The crowd was incredible. I felt so lucky that after the amazing experience at Shea Stadium I was having a weekend with two really special nights.”
Throughout the day, the size of the audience kept on growing,” Paul said. First we heard it would be 70,000, then 120,000, then 150,000, then 250,000 and it kept on going. It was amazing onstage - all we could see was people, in every direction. It reminded me of Glastonbury.”
Paul and his band played 36 songs including some of the world¹s most popular hits that have become the soundtrack to so many people¹s lives; The Beatles’ “Drive My Car,” “The Long And Winding Road,” “Good Day Sunshine” and “Hey Jude,” “Wings,” “Jet,” “My Love” and “Band On The Run” and solo songs including “Flaming Pie,” “Fine Line,” and his most recent hit single, “Dance Tonight.” The show¹s highlights included a special version of The Beatles song “Michelle” which had the audience singing along in French, and a special dedicated rendition of “Birthday.”
The audience spanned generations and sang along with every word. The massive crowd made an overwhelming sound when they joined in with Paul on “Hey Jude” and the elaborate stage featured some of the biggest screens ever used for an outdoor show, as well as fireworks. The crowd went wild when Paul waved Quebec’s flag and put on a Quebec zip top before the final encores. When the show finally came to an end the crowd didn’t want to go home and it looked as if Paul felt the same way.
“Man, we had such a great night. No one ever wants a great night to come to an end. It was great looking out into the audience and seeing them enjoying themselves as much as we were. Then there are all the special banners they make, I always try to have a read of those. There was a sea of Union Jacks and the audience also had their own flashing lights with them, which looked incredible when the sun had gone down. I had a really great time with ‘toute la gang!’”
The following day Paul was all over the television, radio and print media.
Front page headlines exclaimed “Quebeckers Come Together Over Paul,” “One Knight Stand: Sir Paul Conquers Quebec,” “Paul-mania Sweeps Quebec” and “Paul Makes History As He Conquers Quebec.” The local press office estimated that over 2,600 international articles had appeared overnight and final reports indicated that at least 270,000 people had squeezed into the park to watch Paul¹s show.
Is this just an average weekend for Paul McCartney?
“This was the mother of all weekends,” Paul laughed .“It was incredible looking back to have a weekend with two such major events. Even looking back now it¹s all a bit dreamlike. Just thinking about the rush to make it to Shea Stadium and just about getting there on time for the show and then performing such a big show in Quebec it doesn¹t seem all real. I had such a great time. Shea brought back some magical memories of the guys and when we were starting out. Quebec was just really special and unforgettable. It also gave me a good excuse to brush up on my French.”