Thanking dad for McCartney’s Buffalo show

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

It’s not unusual for dads to pass on their love of sports teams to their sons. It’s easy to see how it happens, when a boy gets caught up in his ol’man’s religious-like fanatic devotion to the games, but also talking about and thinking about and clearly loving a team every waking moment, on the field or not.

This is the way I became a Beatles fan. Our house was always filled with Beatles 8-tracks and albums with STEVE crawled in the sloppy ballpoint pen work of my ol’man. There were also solo albums from John, Paul, and George. Dad never owned a Ringo solo record, but he did name his last dog Ringo after Sir Richard Starkey, so I think it’s even.

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The ol’man, listening to 8-tracks, somewhere in Asia as a Marine. I’d be willing to bet that’s a Beatles 8-track in there…

There’s one thing I have to say first, flatly. There was nothing “cute” about my ol’man. The guy was a tattooed Marine. But looking back, dad’s devotion to this band was really almost cute. Seeing him sing (terribly, of course) or talk or even think about The Beatles offered us all a glimpse at what it must have been like seeing him watching John, Paul, George, and Ringo on Ed Sullivan for the first time when he was 13.

The clichéd notion of the cranky Vietnam-era disabled vet might include an abhorrence of computers– but not for my ol’man. He quickly realized that the online world offered him two amazing things– an unending torrent of used cars for sale and an unquenchable supply of new Beatles facts, ideas, and photos.

This meant at any given moment, any conversation could quickly turn to “There’s a great little Caddy in Ohio– only three grand!” or “Did you know John’s dad played the banjo?” Of course, you were expected to know “John” just by the first name.

As sons often do, over the last 38 years, I’ve developed and nurtured my own love and appreciation for my ol’man’s devotion. For my ninth birthday in 1986, I got a Walkman. (For the record, it was a knockoff GE cassette player from Brand Names, but it was a Walkman, dammit.) Anyway, for another present, my uncle took me to Gold Circle to pick out a couple cassette tapes to listen to on my sleek new machine.

I picked my favorite music: Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, The White Album. I was able to get an extra one because the older Beatles cassettes were cheaper than Guns N Roses or Huey Lewis and The News.

For the roughly 15 years when CDs were my preferred in-car music delivery method, Paul McCartney’s “All the Best” greatest hits album is the only one I ever had to replace– I wore it out playing it so much.

Anyway, Dad never got to see any of the Beatles live. A few years before he died, my mom took the ol’man to see the Beatles tribute band Rain at Shea’s Buffalo. The way mom describes it, it might as well have been the actual guys up there the way dad was enjoying himself.

When I heard Paul McCartney was coming to Toronto, I was going. It was deeper than just “really wanting to go,” it was about being in the presence of someone who has brought me untold joy from the moment of my birth. It was being in the presence of someone who helped bring so much light into the often dark life of my ol’man. It was fulfilling the wish, hope and desire that filled the last 47 years of dad’s life– to see a Beatle live.

It was cemented when the Buffalo date was announced. My sweet wife signed up for the chance to buy presale tickets online as a birthday present. A half-hour’s worth of refreshing a clogged webpage finally hit pay dirt with a pair of seats available. I would have been happy with nosebleeds, but the robot living in Paul McCartney’s computer only offered us floor seats. I cashed in my 401k, and got ready to see Paul McCartney.

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Steve and Monica outside First Niagara Center, October 22, 2015.

What a show. Three hours’ worth of mostly Beatles tunes, with some great Wings stuff, and pretty good brand new music as well. Every single song sounded like we would expect it to sound, as it did on the album. McCartney is not bored with the music that made him famous and brought us all such joy for the last half century.

The only time the soundtrack varied from the familiar arrangements was for a ukulele version of “Something” as a tribute to George Harrison, and extra audience sing along choruses of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Na, Na, Na, NaNaNiNa.”

There was also a heartfelt and stunning tribute to John Lennon, which he introduced by asking for an ovation for “John,” and then encouraging everyone to not hold back the things they want to tell people they love. (You can watch highlights of all of these in the video below.)

McCartney displayed tremendous energy keeping up with our 40 and 50 year old memories of how he sounded on our car stereos on the way to the concert. His voice was there, and he played an instrument– his trademark bass, one of three or four guitars, organ, or piano– on every song. He didn’t take a single song off and hit a surprising number of notes when any of us would have given him a pass.

As you might expect, Paul was charming, too. His talking between songs wasn’t just canned stuff from every concert. He played off the crowds. He played off the signs. He looked like he was having fun.  After playing “Back in the USSR,” he told about his first time playing in Russia. Doing a pretty decent ’60s spy movie Russian accent, he told the story of the Russian defense minister who shook his hand and told him, “The first record I ever buy was Love Me Do.” He said another Russian official said he learned English from Beatles records, “so I say Hello. Goodbye.”

While singing “Lovely Rita,” introduced as “a song about a lady who used to write me a lot of tickets,” he gave the best commentary of the night with his face.

While schmaltzing though the lyric “sitting on the sofa with a sister or two…” he very briefly offered up the same comical pained face that your favorite uncle might give in telling a similar story of sitting on a couch between a couple of sisters before a date. It’s clear that Sir Paul had been on that couch.

There was also the extra-worldly. From the moment I heard McCartney was coming, I knew this show was going to be a convening with my dad’s soul. Seeing Paul McCartney, standing in front of me, singing the songs my dad taught me to love reduced me to tears too many times to count.  A few times it was more the images being flashed than the music– during Band on The Run, the big screen flashed that album’s cover. Instantly I was flashed back to sitting legs crossed in front of my parents’ record shelf, trying to decide which record to play (and probably scratch the hell out of– sorry!) next.

One resoundingly smiley moment came as Paul lead 18,000 people in “All Together Now,” a silly song from the silly Yellow Submarine album. Dad was the biggest Beatles fan out there, but he didn’t discuss Yellow Submarine. When I made copies of all my Beatles CDs for him, he told me to skip Yellow Submarine. I think I actually heard dad say, “ooOOooh geeeez” when McCartney started the song during the concert last night. Dad would have been happy, though, that Paul resoundingly made fun of the song, saying something along the lines of “it was one of my more intellectual moments.” Paul actually agrees with Dad. Somewhere, dad’s saying, “I told you that song was stupid.”

An amazing concert musically. Tying up loose ends for my ol’man. And thankfully, it was loud enough where no one had to listen to my singing– because there was a lot of it and it was terrible. Just another way my Beatles devotion is like father, like son.

Here is a 12:30 video with some highlights I recorded at the concert.

Quick snippets from his 3 hour show in Buffalo, NY, at First Niagara Center on 10/22/15. Beatles and Wings classics, talks about John Lennon, George Harrison, playing in Russia, and more. Wobbily shot from floor seats on an iPhone6s.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.