How can anyone not be a Paul McCartney fan? Rolling Stone put the question to Bonnie Raitt last night on the red carpet of the MusiCares Person Of The Year gala honoring McCartney. “Are you kidding? This is the time I make no bones about it, I get completely gobsmacked,” Raitt said. “I watch the show, I go like this, I do the Scream face by Edvard Munch.”
The red carpet for this benefit raising funds to help musicians in need inspired many surreal moments. There was Elvis Costello greeting Smokey Robinson with a hug, Neil Young chatting with Yoko Ono, James Taylor dropping by our interview with Raitt to say hello, and on and on. Even Dave Grohl lost it.
“Oh my god, there’s Bonnie Raitt,” he said to Rolling Stone as we chatted. “Holy shit, that’s huge.”
Yeah, it was a special night. And at the center of it all was Sir Paul, the man who still turns all of music’s biggest stars into teenage fans.
During Grammy rehearsals earlier in the day, Tony Bennett told us of his affection for McCartney. “The one I like of all the artists I’m watching is Paul McCartney. He has survived and he just sings beautiful and he does quality product all the time,” Bennett said. “And I just like him personally, as a friend. We’re good friends.”
For many of the people on hand, the occasion was a reunion. “I’m looking forward to seeing the McCartney family,” Yoko Ono told us. “I’ve known [those children] since they were this high,” she said, pointing to her mid-section.
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For others, it was a chance to pay respect to someone they’ve long admired. “Paul McCartney is one of the greatest songwriters ever. He’s truly a very, very talented man and he’s my brother and I love him,” Smokey Robinson said. “He has brought so much to music, the Beatles changed the face of music from the U.K.”
The overwhelming wealth of McCartney’s catalog was evident during this two-hour tribute concert in a Convention Center ballroom. As has always been the case at MusiCares events, the guest of honor was feted with cover renditions of his songs by music royalty. While some past artists have chosen only to make a speech or play couple of songs to close the night, McCartney treated the show like it was his own concert.
After a quick intro from Grohl, performers from Cirque Du Soleil’s Beatles LOVE troupe took over the ballroom, with costumed performers running up and down the aisles and performing gymnastics on ropes hanging from the ceilings to the tune of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band,” among other songs. As the performers were walking out of the room, they commanded so much attention that it took the 2,800 guests a couple of seconds to realize they were no longer listening to a soundtrack. McCartney had taken the stage and was rocking “Magical Mystery Tour.” It was an inspired moment, one that brought the whole crowd to their feet.
It’s not easy to follow McCartney, but the Foo Fighters, who killed on “Jet,” were the perfect choice. “Paul McCartney’s rock songs and Foo Fighters songs kind of live in the same kind of territory,” Grohl told us. “He loves upbeat, melodic hard rock music and that’s kind of what we do.”
From there, the show turned into an embarrassment of riches. At one point, Norah Jones, Katy Perry and Neil Young took the stage in succession. Later on, Coldplay were followed by James Taylor doing “Yesterday” with help from Diana Krall.
It was a night where almost any artist could have been the most talked about on Twitter. Among the standouts were Alicia Keys’ breathtaking “Blackbird,” Alison Krauss and Union Station’s elegant “No More Lonely Nights,” Coldplay’s sweet rendition of “We Can Work It Out,” and Bennett’s jazzy “Here, There And Everywhere.” The performance that may take home the title of Most-Tweeted is Katy Perry’s “Hey Jude.” The song choice seemed a little lofty for one of the youngest artists on the bill, but Perry delivered a powerful acoustic rendition that had the whole room singing along by the closing notes.
Norah Jones, like Bennett, turned the McCartney material into a jazz tune on “Oh Darling,” while Neil Young and Crazy Horse went the other way completely, transforming “I Saw Her Standing There” into a raucous scrap heap of guitars, feedback and good old fashioned garage rock. That performance was even singled out by McCartney in his very brief speech.
McCartney used his speech to praise MusiCares’ work, as so many others did on that night. “MusiCares is really working really hard and very well for all musicians and we all respect MusiCares,” Ono told us. “They helped so many of my friends.”
“I know there are other award shows, but I only go to this one. It’s a great organization,” Raitt added.
And McCartney, in his acknowledgements, let it be known how much he was happy to help the organization, which raised over six million dollars on the night. But McCartney otherwise preferred to let his music speak for him. After singing “My Valentine” (which he said was written for his wife, Nancy Shevell) and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter,” he found the perfect way to sum up the night, closing with an epic “Golden Slumbers” that inspired goose bumps.
Featuring help from Joe Walsh and Grohl on guitar, the song traveled from its understated lullaby-esque opening to a majestic hard rock guitar fest, then back to its profoundly simple final lines: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” A perfect final note on a magical night.