Two years ago on "The Daily Show," Chris Rock had an exchange with John Stewart that identified a crucial difference between comedy concerts and musical concerts.
“No one wants to hear jokes twice,” Rock observed. Stewart nodded and said, “They barely want to hear them once!”
“That’s why I always envied singers,” Rock said. “Sting’s sill singing ‘Roxanne’ and getting paid.”
“And they want him to!” Stewart shot back. “They get mad if he doesn’t do the (stuff) they’ve already heard a hundred times!”
I thought about this as I attended the recent Paul McCartney concert at EnergySolutions Arena. Sir Paul put on a show for the ages, singing 37 songs over the course of three hours and keeping up a pace that would have exhausted most men half his age. I left that performance smiling and satisfied, even though, or perhaps because, it broke little or no new ground.
Oh, sure. He sang four tunes off his most recent album, un-ironically titled “New,” and he sang one song off his 2012 release “Kisses on the Bottom.” And with each of these songs, you could feel all of the energy in the arena dissipate. People who screamed with glee whenever they heard the intro to an old Beatles number would sit on their hands when Paul segued into a song he wrote in the 21st century. And when he announced he was going to sing two cuts off the new CD right in a row, the aisles suddenly filled with people heading to the snack bar.
So that’s five new songs compared to a whole bunch of old ones — mostly very old ones. Of the remaining 32 songs, none was written more recently than 1981. When it comes to Paul McCartney, nobody wants “New.” If he released an album called “Old,” it would likely outsell “New” by 2-1.
But that doesn’t seem to be a problem. I attended the concert with my 17-year-old daughter. She sang along to every refrain of “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” with the same gusto of all the geezers surrounding her. What are the odds that she’ll take her own children to a Justin Bieber concert when the teen idol is 72 years old?
I wouldn’t bet on that.
Perhaps my favorite parts of the concert were when McCartney acknowledged and even embraced the timelessness of his work. He introduced the song “Blackbird” by asking how many people in the audience had tried to learn how to play that particular song on the guitar. The place erupted with cheers and applause from the many who, like me, had tried their hand at replicating that Beatles masterpiece on their own six-strings. “That makes me feel great!” he told the crowd.
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He was also remarkably open about his relationship with the Beatles, especially the two who are no longer with us. He performed “Here Today,” a lovely song that he wrote for his late bandmate John Lennon. He then said he regretted not ever saying the kind things in the song to Lennon when he had the chance. He also sang a solo version of George Harrison’s “Something” accompanying himself on the ukulele as he had for George when he was battling cancer. It allowed the audience to feel a connection with both Paul and the friends that he’d lost.
Once again, it was the old music that brought it all together.
Chris Rock is right — people will always go to concerts to hear the old stuff. But to quote Sir Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs,” I only ask, “What’s wrong with that?”
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.