Paul McCartney is like the Grand Canyon, or bangers and mash: There's no sexing him up. At 72, he's the rare individual for whom the phrase "living legend" feels like kind of a slight. Bigger than Jesus? Quite possibly. But how many records did Jesus ever sell, and what has he done for you lately? That's what I thought.
San Francisco's Candlestick Park is a perfect American landmark, grand and flawed. It's the former home of Super Bowl champions and World Series victors. Everyone from the Stones to Jay Z have played there. The 1989 earthquake that ravaged the Bay Area and disrupted the A's/Giants series? The nation watched that play out at the 'Stick. The place is ugly, decrepit, remote, freezing—quite possibly the most logistically unfriendly stadium in the country. For all those reasons and more, San Franciscans love the place. Naturally, we're about to tear it down.
This has been some kind of a crappy week: First, SF tragically lost one of its favorite sons, and on Thursday night, the city, as led by Sir Paul, marked the end of an era with the final anything at Candlestick, before the place is literally blown to bits. McCartney hadn't played there since the last full Beatles concert ever, back in, oh, 1966. It's nearly impossible to make any of this sound more momentous than it already is. But hey, let's try.
Parked in SF's Noe Valley neighborhood, my local pub is a 49ers Valhalla and a Church of the Giants, but they humor me by putting A's games on, so I've become a regular. On Monday evening, I arrived at 5 p.m. like usual, checked twitter like usual. Holy shit: Robin Williams had died.
"Did you guys hear about Robin Williams?"
"Yeah," said Kathy, the bartender. "Suicide."
"To Robin Williams," I said, raising my glass. Everyone joined in: Dan, who carts his barrel-smoker down on game days; big, bald Joe; Frank the Tank; Giants superfan Dave; Santiago, who has a delirious laugh and resembles Chief from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; and Kathy, bartender of 22 years and den mother to us all. Seconds prior, before I'd read the news, we were talking about the Beatles' infamous Candlestick show. To our collective amazement, Kathy was there back in '66, had the program and ticket stub to prove it. As Dave and I ogled the memorabilia, Kathy explained that her best friend Rickey's mom had driven them up from Atwater, roughly two hours away. At 14, Kathy and Rickey had witnessed the final full concert from the world's most famous band, a set that featured just 11 songs and ended with "Long Tall Sally" and Paul apologizing for the crappy weather, before the band drove off in an armored car. Kathy said it took them hours to get out of the parking lot following the show. "Same as it does today."
"Which one of his movies was your favorite?" Dave asked.
"I think the one where he plays the doctor," said Kathy.
"Patch Adams," I said.
I sat there in a puddle of sadness thinking about Williams's death. I felt like everyone else: confused and angry and bummed. Then I had an idea.
"Hey, Kathy," I said. "What if I could get you a ticket to see Paul McCartney on Thursday?"
I'm pretty sure she didn't think I was serious.
"Wow," said Kathy, tugging my arm as we stepped onto the grass where Jerry Rice and Barry Bonds had played. "I've never been on the field before!"
Thursday night had arrived. We walked around the Stick. Kathy pointed to where she and Dan's 49ers season tickets had been for the last 15 years, just below the press boxes at about the 50-yard-line. (The Giants are long gone, of course; the 49ers' new digs will be in Santa Clara, which is close enough. Kathy and Dan gave up their seats.) As this was the last event ever to be held at Candlestick, the grounds crew didn't bother covering the field; it was expected that people would take chunks of it after the night was over, and they did. We walked to where Kathy's seats were in 1966.
"Wow," she said. "All I can say is, 'Wow.'"
Macca took the stage at about a quarter to nine, dressed in a red overcoat and toting his signature Höfner bass guitar. He waved, then went immediately into "Eight Days a Week."
"Welcome to Candlestick," he said.
"He looks tired," Kathy said.
"This is such a cool event," Macca said. "I'm just gonna take a moment to drink it all in."
He played Wings' "Listen to What the Man Said" and "Let Me Roll It," then "Paperback Writer," then "My Valentine," same as he did the previous week in Phoenix, same as he did the previous month in Lincoln, Neb. Fact is, Sir Paul's set list hardly varied from the one he's been playing for over a year; he even tells the same jokes. For some reason, I was entertaining the notion that he'd bring out a bunch of special guests for this momentous occasion, just as his pal Billy Joel had done when he closed out Shea Stadium in 2008, bringing up Garth Brooks, Roger Daltry, and ... Paul McCartney.
Which Bay Area legends would show up tonight? Certainly Santana, possibly Metallica. Maybe Too $hort? But alas, it was not to be. Paul acknowledged the significance of the occasion, of course—"I suppose you know the very last gig we did was at this place"—but in the end, his set was nearly identical to the one he'd performed a year ago at the Outside Lands Festival in vaguely nearby Golden Gate Park, where he reportedly hatched the idea of closing out Candlestick in the first place. You'd think with all this build up and all this time....
Wait, what am I doing—complaining? Paul McCartney is a knight. A knight! How many knights do you know that comprised one-half of the most successful songwriting duo in history? In the grand tradition of King Arthur and Patrick Stewart, Sir Paul slayed effortlessly. He played "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five" and "Maybe I'm Amazed" and "The Long and Winding Road," during which Kathy held her balled-up hand to her heart and nodded approvingly. He played "We Can Work It Out" and "Blackbird," plus the folk song "San Francisco Bay Blues," one of the only derivations to his standard set. He stared out at the ocean of signs people held aloft.
"'Sign my butt'?" he read. "Well, let's have a look at it, then. Just kidding."
The set went on for nearly three hours, included tributes to George and John, two encores, and two generous fireworks displays, the last coming at the very end as Sir Paul bid us farewell, having just played "Long Tall Sally" and "Carry That Weight."
"You were pretty cool then, and you're pretty cool now. See you next time."
Then, BOOM: confetti everywhere, drizzling across the night sky as the lights came up and 49,000 people made their way to Candlestick's horrifically few exits. We ogled the 49ers Wall of Fame as we left: Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Y.A. Tittle. Someone pointed out that Steve Young's spot had been defaced by red paint. It took us two hours to get out of the parking lot, same as always.
Garrett Kamps is a writer living in San Francisco. He's @gkamps on Twitter.
Lead photo by C Flanigan/FilmMagic/Getty; other photos by the author.
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