Saturday night’s Hard Rock Calling gig taught me a few things. In spite of the fact that they all wear girdles and are predominantly in their sixties, the E Street band can still devastate an audience for over three solid hours. Other bands would build entire careers around songs the Boss can happily throw away mid-set. And Bruce can still make dreams come true, in a Jim’ll Fix It kind of way as well as an emotional epiphany kind of way.
The biggest surprise, though, came at the end of the gig. The surprise wasn’t the actual appearance of Paul McCartney - old Granddad Beatle often gets wheeled out at these things because, hey, he lives in London and he can’t always be in the studio writing albums in Latin - it was that the appearance of the Beatles bass player made things better not worse.
Normally when he shows up at some event or other any edge completely disappears and the whole show descends into the equivalent of a nursery school sing-a-long, Macca wildly shaking his head in trademark fashion as the crowd obediently join him for a never-ending round of "Hey Jude”.
But not this time. The words “Paul McCartney” came from Bruce’s microphone and before anyone could register their disappointment/ grudging yet pathetic excitement, there was our man Paul, long hair swinging in the wind.
Hair that, by the way, looks awesome whatever anyone says. So flowing, so shiny. Where does the man get his products? He strapped in and they ripped into "I Saw Her Standing There". No fanfare. No simpering talk about how grateful he was for the Boss’ patronage. No lame jokes about the rain. He just played and sang. And instead of it ending up feeling like an obligatory Diamond Jubilee party it felt exciting.
From there they tore through "Twist And Shout", the song that ruined John Lennon’s voice but barely even troubled Sir Paul. Focusing on those songs at the expense of the later hits kept this cameo from descending into “national treasure” territory and it kept the John Lennon zealots from bemoaning Macca’s late-era lameness.
And then, having built to a climactic finale, Westminster council stepped in to seal the deal. The sound went down and Macca and the Boss were left onstage, playing on in silence. Suddenly they were outlaws again. The Man had come in and he’d slapped these millionaire rock stars on the wrists. Sir Paul was back on the docks at Liverpool, being harassed for dressing like a rocker. The Boss was back on the streets of Asbury Park, NJ, fighting the good fight for working men everywhere. Who needs unemployed factory workers when you’ve got 70,000 lame gig-dads being deprived of their right to stand around at £80 a ticket? Punk's Not Dead.
Since The Beatles broke up, ever since John Lennon died, Macca’s had something to kick against. He’s had a public who treat him like a sell-out and a fraud, a harmless old codger who should just fuck off and shut up. He’s had people so convinced of his descent into lameness that when you Google him, the first suggestion that comes up is “Paul McCartney dead”. "Paul Maccartney dead cool", more like.
All he ever really did was get older, stay in the UK and stop playing in a band everyone loved. Ringo Starr fucks around in LA playing in horrifying all-star cover bands and sporting constant designer stubble but because he never comes back here he’s let off the hook. When he does come back he talks about how shit Liverpool is, like he was the Boris Johnson of the rock dinosaur world.
Maybe finally we can forgive Macca. Forgive him for being here still. Forgive him for the excessive head-nodding (he kept it to a minimum on Saturday), the terrible wives and children, the kids' TV presenter larks and the sing-song with Granddad vibes. After all, everyone outside this island loves him. The Boss had “waited fifty years for this”, he said, in reference to playing with McCartney. Steve Van Zandt raged at Westminster council for stopping him from playing with his hero. And if Silvio Dante loves Macca, shouldn’t you?
People used to say that if Oscar Wilde had lived till he was 90 the British public would have ended up loving him. They’d have stopped thinking of him as an Irish deviant who loved nothing more than 18 holes of sodomy and begun thinking of him as an old eccentric who had a way with comedy and an adorable love of gentlemen. In the end, in Britain, if you get really old, you get respect. Maybe Paul McCartney has finally reached that age.
Follow Oscar on Twitter @oscarrickettnow