Paul McCartney
The Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati, August 4
by Kevin J. Elliott

Sure, according to Pollstar, U2 and Lady Gaga are the current kings of the stadium tour circuit, constantly packing in hundreds of thousands to witness a grand spectacle of entertainment only a handful of acts can pull off. But of those superstars, it’s hard to imagine a living songwriter as iconic as Sir Paul McCartney. It could be debatable that Dylan holds that honor, but even Zimmy is working minor league ballparks these days (his preference, though). For my younger brother and I, sitting 50 feet from a Beatle made for a once in a lifetime concert experience, one that certainly transcended all of the inconveniences of concert going amongst 41,000 other people. Of course, we were only 11 rows back, but even if we were sitting in the nosebleed section, it would be hard to negate the universal quality of McCartney’s songbook. Not only that, Macca is the ultimate showman. Nearing the age of 70, McCartney must be chugging from the Fountain of Youth. Throughout his three-hour show, he was constantly skipping around the stage, switching from bass to guitar to piano, telling stories, and mugging it up into the cameras for the state of the art mega-screens which aided those patrons who might have saw the man as merely a blip on the stage. Aiding in the spectacle were also fireballs, confetti, and a million-dollar video screen meticulously synced with every moment of the show.

With all the trappings of the typical arena-rock show, McCartney seems well aware that without a commanding performance (and a top-notch band of sidemen) it is all for naught. Thank goodness Macca is equally one of the most pompous and genuinely humble entertainers in modern times. One moment, he was on the verge of tears telling the soldout Great American Ballpark about the conversation he’d wished he’d had with the late John Lennon before segueing into “Here Today,” the next he was bragging about how songs like “Back in the USSR” and “Drive My Car” were responsible for teaching Russians behind the Iron Curtain how to speak English. Still, as much as it may have felt staged (at least in the sense that he has played this set for the last decade), it also felt poignant when he pulled out George Harrison’s prized Gibson ukulele and strummed the first verse of “Something” before the band built it into a goosebump-inducing swell. As far as song selection? As a Macca nerd, I could stand for more solo material (especially given the recent reissues of McCartney I and II) and less of the Shea Stadium–era Beatlemania of “Day Tripper” and “All My Loving.” There was a rousing ovation after a piano trilogy of “Let It Be,” “Hey Jude,” and “Live and Let Die,” and though I like to think McCartney’s contribution to the Beatles were of the creamier, dreamier variety, it’s hard to deny the power of his well-known Wings oeuvre. McCartney knows how to please everyone and that was more than apparent on this night. The grand finale of the “Golden Slumbers” suite from Abbey Road proved this. It was a euphoric moment as everyone knew it was truly the end. Surely, McCartney won’t stop touring anytime soon, but knowing this may have been my only chance to ever be in his presence added to the singularity of the night.

The Kills
Newport Music Hall, Columbus, August 6
by Matt Slaybaugh

I have fond memories of seeing the Kills at the much, much smaller Little Brother’s. VV (Alison Mosshart) and Hotel (Jamie Hince) brought a drum machine and a rock show so sexy and hip, it was positively anti-social. But that was eight years ago, long before Mosshart started sharing stages with Jack White and Hince was pictured in Rolling Stone next to the naked bosom of his wife (Kate Moss). The Kills still look sexy, but it’s a totally different kind of appeal these days, as manifested in everything from the leopard-print backdrop and oscillating laser-lights to Alison’s fan-friendly performance. Nonetheless, it’s still pretty much just the two of them and some beats, though they’re probably made on a laptop now.

The duo kicked their Newport set off in classic style with “No Wow” from the album of the same name, but that was the best thing they’d play all night. Gone are the growling drum machines, in their place timid beats and plodding riffs that, judging by the crowd and their antics, play really well at sports bars and sorority parties. You might even think they’re pandering to such an audience as so many of the new songs feature choruses of the “of-oh-ohhh” and “ow-ow-owww” variety. Either that or they got the yuppies chanting along to nasty sounding, but essentially empty, rhetoric like, “Am I the only sour cherry on your fruit stand?” (“Sour Cherry”), which, set in something with a little more teeth, could come off pretty intimidating. Instead, they left the sex appeal to VV’s hair and hoped that no one noticed how repetitive their songs have gotten.

Could it be that the Kills have become pure lifestyle music? It really seems like the band is only there to fulfill obligations of style. A ton of intense backlight ensured that you rarely saw their faces; Jaime’s clothes befit the husband of a super-model, and Alison spent most of the evening thrashing around the stage like it’s her job. Occasionally, though, they let their guard down and played one of their better (i.e. older) songs (like “Pull A U” from Keep on Your Mean Side) or at least something that didn’t lend itself to so much posturing. During the first encore, the slow and organ-tinted “The Last Goodbye,” there seemed to be some real emotion in Alison’s delivery. It was kind of moving. And the Kills’ faces were finally lit, so you could connect with the pair more directly. Of course, you have to ask, was that emotion real or was it just as carefully arranged as the light cue?