on James McCartney at the Mesa Music Hall.
by Grant Collinsworth
I learned an intensely valuable lesson this weekend when I attended the James McCartney show at the Mesa Music Hall on Saturday night. My lesson encompasses the realm of pride, humility, disappointment, and a silver lining.
Saturday night’s show was an amazing success, no thanks to McCartney. The bulk of the night was carried by some truly extraordinary El Paso and Juarez bands, many of whom I had heard about, but had yet to experience live.
The show opened with Randy Vega and The Shahee Garrontee, a three-piece acoustic ensemble, which laid down what I would call the tightest set of acoustic Reggae to be heard in El Paso, since...well...forever. Their performance was exceptional and spot on... Their tunes (all original, mind you) were tasty-Rasta-licious and impressively catchy.
Then we got a mighty dose of thrash metal rock, as administered like a boss, from Juarez based band: Heavy Soul. One thing I can say; These guys throw everything they have into each note, chord and beat of their songs...with full command of the reigns. Awesome energy, tight as hell, and my skull was righteously battered... the way it should be with this brand of rock.
On break, I got to chat with their front-man, Alex Casablanca, who enlightened me about a small fact: Did you know that working bands, who come across the bridge won’t tell the gate keepers they are coming to a gig? They have to say it’s for rehearsal (lest they get taxed for cash that is often more than the compensation they receive for doing the gig). Well, I thought this rehearsal went down extremely well!
Then came the smooth, ethereal jazz improv of Kikimora; another exceptional band, with front-woman vocalist Hayley Anne Lynch treating the audience with distinct urban-pulsed style of vocal. The fine and not so calculated' blend of funk-slap rhythmic bass infusion with electric keyboard was sublime throughout the set...The special icing on this cake was drummer Eric Boseman's handy work on the kit. (As some of you may know, Boseman has been known take a mere snare, hi-hat and a cymbal, and make you witness full on rhythm parade). On this occasion, he showed us chops to the 10th power with a full kit, which is especially awesome, when you consider he was just 'filling in' for the band.
Up next were The Sullivans. Another spot-on example of professional artistry and delivery. By their demeanor, you would have thought these guys had played the big boys venues, like Whiskey A Go-Go in L.A.
Wait a minute! They did play there, once! And they brought rites-of-passage pedigree with them to the stage, with a clean, extremely well-polished set of catchy Indie-Pop songs (All original). I was extremely delighted to hear their generous use of vocal harmony . By generous, I mean that the use of vocal harmonies (which are typically underutilized in most acts around here) were in this case, applied in both verse and chorus in many of the songs. No fear to vocally underscore the lyrics. Bravo and well done Armando, Edgar, Marco, Pablo!
This brings me now to the lesson part of my story, and where McCartney comes in...
Up to this point, If I had gone home, and never set eyes and ears on McCartney, I would feel like it was the best $10.00 bucks I had ever spent on a musical night.
Enter Sin of Pride:
I came to this show to see 'James McCartney...Son of Paul McCartney.' When I purchased my tickets, I wasn’t thinking about, nor did I pay honest regard beyond superficial awareness that there were other bands in this show. All I had was this stupid thought pattern of, 'I'm going to see James McCartney, son of Paul McCartney." The myopic trance I was under had even failed to qualify or account for any evidence that James McCartney had songs other than his current release. I assumed and expected, without question, that he would muster some magic and give us a 'McCartney style' experience.
It had already been witnessed, established, and confirmed by myself and others, who engaged McCartney in small talk and idle chat, that he seemed disconnected and basically unapproachable. One might have even got the sense that he was terribly ‘bothered’ by having to be there to do a show. Was he just having an incredibly bad day? It probably didn’t help that his show barely made 100 prepaid tickets ... (Welcome to El Paso, James!) or that it was in direct competition with the Neon Desert Festival, other Chuco events city wide, or that his daddy was filling a stadium somewhere in the world on the same night. Regardless, I know that at one point, I walked away feeling like a douche-bag, when he rejected my query about song-writing tips... Later, during his set, I could see why maybe such questions might disturb him.
After all the local bands finished, out came the one and only, the great James McCartney, son of Paul McCartney... No drum-roll here. The set actually had no drums. There were no bass plunking sound checks...There was no bass. There were no keyboards, no congas, rattles, flutes or kazoos... There was only an Epiphone Sheridan, an amp, a mic and him (Where was the open-mic Emcee?).
I was thinking "okay, he must be trying to make a really deep statement here; sharing a universal truth; maybe he's trying to tell us a secret." The thought even occurred that maybe his gear got separated and never made it to the show (This could explain his apparent disconnect with the event , as well as the verbal confrontation he had earlier in the day, with one of his assistants...)
McCartney opened his set with a raw, 3-chord, 3 section song, lyrically diminished to self-relevance and it seemed he was NOT having fun with it. As he plowed through, pounding the chords on the Epiphone, with occasional riff and repeated choruses, the gaze in his remarkably familiar face exuded the look of unequivocal boredom. This was juxtaposed with the audience's low resonance reception of his songs.
McCartney's ‘raw set’ continued for three more raw songs. My inner audio proclaimed a flatulent raspberry with a dictum to leave. And so I walked out on James McCartney, son of Paul McCartney. On some level, I will hate myself for that, because I am of the mind that the fruit of the tree is one with the tree. By walking out, did I betray that tree, which I so praised and enjoyed the shade of for so many years?
I can say my opinion with full certainty, confidence and pride, that for one night, our local bands, which opened for James McCartney, demonstrated superior musicianship and for that matter, superior song-writing over that of James McCartney.
It’s a pity that McCartney didn’t hang around to hear the other bands play (He didn’t return to the Hall until the last songs in the Sullivans' set) By the end of the night, this show became more about the bands who opened for the headliner. It didn’t matter to me anymore whether or not McCartney bothered to step up and play. I had also begun to realize that I had broken free from my earlier myopic trance.
About the myopic trance:
As a song-writer, I can say that James McCartney hasn’t learned the three ethereal arts of dirt, under grace, with distinction. His work reminds me of when I was 16, trying to bridge two basic verses and a chorus together. What I have heard in his work, thus far, lacks the benefit of sophistication and prosody , as would normally be found in professional music and lyric. Who am I to point this out? Easy… I took all my lessons indirectly from his dad with years of listening closely and paying attention... no guidance from anyone. Here’s what I learned: The song IS the thing; It should contain a balance of consonance and dissonance; It should never scoff at tear-jerking and corniness; it should force people's feet to tap (minimal) .
It’s not unreasonable to expect that a guy with a direct hotline to song-writing ‘God’ would bring with him, a little bit of the power and the glory of such omnipotence to the stage. And therein lies the root of myopic trance…My flaw was in the expectation I brought to the table. I expected Pheasant –under-glass, but I got a chicken-leg bone instead. I got conned…but that’s on me… And that’s precisely how a con works. It exploits myopic trance…
If you multiply this myopic trance times the world population of fans, it’s a lot of pressure for the son of a king to bear. If I were in James’s McCartney’s shoes, I’d probably be a jerk too.
Hopefully James remains diligent in developing his craft, with a concentration on keeping it honest and above board.
By the way, Myopic Trance sounds like a cool band name. Feel free to use the crap out of it.