Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Different Realities

Earlier this week, the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem. That same day, there were massive protests in Gaza, and dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces.

There are many ways to report the events of the day. I had expected, however, that at least some of the facts were important enough to be reported in any major news source.

I was wrong.

It has been said that we are in "post-truth" times. Maybe that's true.

The following website from pages were all pulled within a span of a few minutes of each other on Monday evening. Which truth is your truth? In a multiple choice test, I'm thinking my answer may be, "none of the below."

"Death in Gaza, a New Embassy in Jerusalem and No Sign of Peace." A nearly two minute video showing the juxtaposition, and then one analysis of the events in Gaza, one of the event in Jerusalem, and also an analysis of the controversial speaker. Also, an editorial in addition to multiple op-ed pieces. At the headline level at least, there is no attempt to present any position that might align with the Trump or Netanyahu administrations' positions. The headlines consistently put Gaza before the embassy move. No Palestinian governing authority is mentioned, beyond "Palestinian officials." If you're looking for acknowledgment that Hamas exists, you won't find it here.

The front page includes attacks on feds, Mueller, and the NY Times! The only mention of Israel or of Palestinians by name is in a video link labeled, "Security Expert on Israeli response to Palestinian protests." Emphasis on response. The link is near the bottom of the page.

As with the NY Times, the deadly violence is first, juxtaposed with the embassy opening. The Post notably used some interesting (to me, anyway) phrasing: death is passive ("Dozens of Palestinians were killed") but the protests were active ("as tens of thousands protested along the border fence"). I have to believe that neither the Gazans nor Israelis would have used that phrasing. There is a single analysis piece, which suggests that "Trump's embassy move has triggered protests." Again, I doubt that many Gazans or Israelis would describe it quite like that. Any op-eds or editorials are below the fold, crowded out by domestic news stories. The Post also includes two video links, including an analysis of "The Trump Administrations Orwellian Israeli messaging."

Yes, Melania Trump has an embolization, and she's the First Lady, so it's newsworthy. The right column has a link to an opinion piece, a link to an analysis that references a famous Neville Chamberlain quote (!!), and a link to an article about Turkish reaction. But there is no story on the front page attempting to describe the day's events. As if the travails of Meghan's dad were somehow more important to know. 

THE GUARDIAN (US and UK Edition)
The UK/US differences seem relatively minor, on the surface. The US edition puts "Trump's new embassy" death first, while the UK edition leads with "More than 50 killed." The analysis piece for the US edition similarly leads with the embassy. while in the UK the headline is the alliterative "Death, destruction and division." The impression being, The Guardian equivocates for the US market.

By the time I pulled the headlines on Monday evening in the US, it was already Tuesday business hours in Israel. The embassy opening was literally "yesterday's news."
Israel's ranking "left wing" paper, Haaretz, led with a blistering editorial attacking Israeli leadership for its failures in Gaza. Alone among these news sources, Haaretz mentions Hamas, and "storming of the fence" (compare and contrast to The Washington Post). Perhaps most startlingly, it is the only paper in this presentation to reference "Gaza's economic crisis" in the lead-in to its main article, an acknowledgment that the events weren't simply "triggered" by Trump's embassy.

The Times of Israel, a more right wing newspaper that is regularly used to promote pro-Israeli government positions, shows several articles on the world reaction to the violence. The embassy is not mentioned, at all. Presumably, the embassy had been mentioned earlier in the day.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

At 17, Part 1: The Winter Guard

Things to do on my birthday: WGI Semi-finals in Dayton!
Ezra turned 17 this week.

Start with the name. That's the first thing.
But that'll be for Part 2. (If there is a Part 2)

First, I have Winter Guard on my mind.

What is Winter Guard, anyway? Fortunately, there's a web page that succinctly answers that question: "Winter guard is the sport of indoor color guard. Modern color guard is a combination of the use of flags, sabers, mock rifles, and other equipment, as well as dance and other interpretive movement."

Winter Guard lineage ultimately goes back to military color guards, which helps explain the use of flags, rifles and sabres. I could do without that portion of the symbolism, even while admiring the mastery with which high school kids -- mostly girls -- can spin, toss and throw them.

Ezra first joined Winter Guard as an 8th Grader. Aaron convinced them to go to a "try it out" night.
The coach at the time had just created a Junior Varsity team. They did flags, easy tosses, and a cute show about a balloon. They had fun. They won 3rd place medals in their division at the state championships, and 3rd place is a bronze medal!

Cut forward to 11th grade. After skipping 10th grade, Ezra went all in. That meant getting a rifle for home practice, ordering a sabre (there's only one place to get them, really; it's not cheap, and they really do look cool), and practicing and practicing and practicing.

The coach selected 17 kids for this year's varsity team. Rehearsals started Thanksgiving week. Rehearsals took priority. When the band followed the football team to the State Championship game at Ford Field, the Winter Guard had an all-day practice.

They practiced 11 hours every week. They had consecutive days of 7 hour practices during winter break. By the time parents were first allowed a "sneak peak" of the show in early February, the guard had already put in 125 hours of practice. That would be doubled by the time the season ended.

Our show was about the number Pi. It was called "An Infinite Calculation." We reused two years worth of marching band props for the show, and used the Kate Bush song "Pi," as performed by Anne Sofie van Otter. There were some symbolic pi items, the uniform had a stylized pi, and at points in the show the performer would write various math items on a framed plexiglass -- backwards, so the audience could see it correctly. This was about as far from military symbolism as we could go, while retaining the rifles and sabres -- not that we were any kind of exceptions; other shows were set to everything from Mozart to Elton John.

Competition season started the first week of February. Our team competed in two circuits: The Michigan Color Guard Circuit (MCGC) and Winter Guard International (WGI). Scores from competitions in one circuit don't carry over to the other, and there are variances in how each circuit "seeds" teams for its championship competitions. By the end of the season, I had learned the gory details of each system, to the extent that I could explain the difference between a "ranking" and a "rating," and talk about "subcaptions" with a straight face, while other people's eyes rolled back in their heads.

The broken nose.
Our first MCGC competition was at our own high school. With only half of the show ready for performance, and without the costumes, the group did well enough, finishing 4th out of the 8 teams that competed in the "Scholastic A" division, which is the largest grouping of schools.

A couple weeks later, I picked up Ezra after another 5-hour Saturday practice. "We have to go to the emergency room!" Oh? "I broke my nose!" Is it bleeding? "It was, but it stopped." Can you breathe through your nose? "I can't do that anyway." It's Saturday, there's nothing they can really do anyway. So we went home. What happened? "I missed a flag toss. I need new glasses!"

The nose is broken.
I learned how to read an x-ray.
There'll be a surgery. In a few months.
Guard season continued, broken bone and all (nose slightly off to the side).

In March, we had our first WGI competition, in Flint. Unlike the MCGC competitions that include a single performance, the WGI competitions are multiple rounds and essentially last the entire day. Flint had two rounds: two preliminary rounds of 9 teams each, leading to a final round of the teams with the 9 highest ratings across the prelims. We expected to make it to finals, but we couldn't assess how we'd fare against the schools from Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. We cam in 10th. The last spot went to an Ohio school that finished 0.15 points (out of 100) ahead of us. The show was good, but still needed time to "marinate," the coaches said.

The team was told after completing a practice session for the finals, that they hadn't made it. They were given the option of going home. Most stayed. They stayed, they cheered for the other teams, while at nearly the same time often saying, "we're going to beat them." They stayed for the higher level groups, they stayed for the all-male all-black South Shore Junior Cadets from Chicago, they stayed for the very last group, one of the best in the world, called Onyx. It's not really the same sport at that level, but they have the same issues: Onyx's music didn't start correctly, and they had to hold a silent pose for several moments.

South Shore Junior CadetsOnyx
From that point onward, it was a competition every week, except for Passover/Easter weekend. After a nice showing at a relatively small MCGC event, we had our first travel weekend, to Cincinnati for the WGI Mid-East Power Regional. This competition brought in teams from all across the Eastern portion of the United States. I was all in, Lori was all in. When we arrived at the hotel in Blue Ash, Ohio, the first thing I saw was the prop trailer for the Ohio school that had beaten us by 0.15 points two weeks earlier. We were at the same hotel. And, truth be told, they were really just kids and parents like us, putting in way too many hours and pushing props and living this bit of a weird dream. We overlapped in the hotel waffle room in the morning, and wished each other luck.

38 teams were scheduled in 3 rounds for Scholastic A in the Cincinnati regional; the competition was so large that our preliminaries were held in Campbell County, Kentucky. Lori and I drove through roads that seemed to be winding mountain passes to get there. It was almost as surreal as our drive through Kentucky coming back from the eclipse last year. The weather report had called for heavy snow, and the entire event was nearly canceled. Seven teams elected not to make the trip.
Rehearsing for the Mid-East Power Regional, at a gym in Kenwood, Ohio. March 24, 2018.

It seemed that no announcer could get the name of our show right. It was called "An Inevitable Calculation," "An Exquisite Calculation," and a few other things that I can't even remember. The best name, though, came from the volunteers at Campbell County High: They called it the Ira Joe Fisher show, in honor of the long-time TV Weatherman who had worked several years at WKRC in Cincinnati, and who was famous for writing the temperatures backwards on plexiglass during his reports. By the end of the season, we just called it, "Pi."

We didn't know if the team would make it to semi-finals, but by now the show had marinated. They made it, easily. Not just that, they finished the preliminary round in 11th, far better than the 20th place needed to advance. Semi-finals were at Xavier's Cintas Center. We waited to perform in the wings with the group just in front of us, that had traveled from Georgia to compete. The top 10 would make finals. On the walls, helpful messages such as "no kissing  the walls" were posted.

The Georgia group came in 10th. Lori and I were still in the Cintas Center hall when the WGI crew came out and posted the scores. We came in... 11th. The team from Georgia was still in the hall, and as everyone was trying to parse the scores, we heard the same reaction over and over again, even from the Georgia team: "Oh my God I feel bad for West Bloomfield." They had beaten our team by the nearly impossibly narrow margin of .01. That's when I learned about "subcaptions," which are essentially micro-adjustments that judges can make to shift teams up or down just a little. As it turned out, the subcaptions were not the cause of the .01 point difference, not that that mattered: we wuz robbed!

The next morning, we shared pleasantries with parents from the Ohio team. They were thrilled their team had made semi-finals. They, too, had not made it to the finals. Did it really matter that we'd come in ahead of them, twice, the prior day? Yes, it had! But not really very much.

Spring break meant more 7-hour practices, capped with State Finals at Saginaw Valley State College. They had a good practice, a good run, and ended up in 5th place. By the time we were able leave for him, it was 11pm. We broke Passover at a Pizzeria Uno in Saginaw. A family from another Winter Guard, still in make-up, took the next booth.
State championships, at Saginaw Valley State. April 7, 2018.
We had one last trip: WGI World Championships in Dayton. A 3-day tournament with teams from Portland and Parkland. There were 132 teams just in the Scholastic A division. I watched multiple WGI videos that explained various aspects of the competition, including the guidelines for judges. I realized that some of what I "knew" was wrong, and that I had become a parental Winter Guard Nerd.

The WGI World Championships was spread over 4 sites. Our preliminary performance was back at Cintas Center, only this time we knew almost immediately after the performance that we were going to like the results. When the first set of scores was posted, we knew we would have the first team from our school ever to make it to World Semi-finals. Hundreds of hours of practice, and more than a few kids could now recite dozens of digits from Pi from having heard the song so many times. This was the pay-off.

Later in the day, we went up to University of Dayton Arena, where we watched the preliminary performances of the "Independent World" groups, including two that challenged the norms for how the music and visuals fit together: Bluecoats Indoor "Soundcheck" brought the sound from on and around the stage, and UCF Pegasus had no music at all, just a spoke description of "Guernica," with their members re-enacting Picasso's depiction as the voice-over described the scene. Bluecoats put out a clever "prop cam" video that captured the scene of their final performance.

The semi-final Scholastic A round for was held at Wright State's Nutter Center, on Friday the 13th... my birthday. The kids put on their best show yet, and there were no negatives at all. We had beaten the team from Ohio twice more, and also beaten the team from Georgia twice, and came in ahead of most of the Flint finalists. Mostly, though, we had a show that made sense, in which a team had come together to perform flawlessly as a unit. I took it as a beautiful birthday present. We finished in 41st place in the championships.

Lori and I stayed to watch many other schools. Some were thrilling, some not so much. Either way, it was a shared experience. Lori and I were staying at a hotel along with 2 of the teams that we had seen multiple times over the past couple of months. One team, from the Chicago area, was over the moon: they had made finals for the first time. The other, from Western Michigan, had their season end in the semi-final round. There was snow in the forecast for later that day, so they were going to go see finals. Some of the kids from Illinois practiced their spins out on the hotel lawn. As for us, we went to a mall, we bought some shoes. We took our time, and didn't worry about the next practice. That evening, back in Michigan, the kids gathered to watch the Independent World finals, and a replay of our final show. It wasn't mandatory anymore, but nearly everyone showed.
WGI Semi-Finals, in Dayton. April 13, 2018.
My perspective, of course, is of a parent. I'm happy enough not to be hauling a piece of a stage for a while, or the tarp, or making another 250-mile trip. I think back to high school, the things that were special, the things that required work upon work upon work, and every so often brought some kind of reward. A shared moment, and then it's gone.

Color Guard practice for the 2018 Marching Band season starts next month.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Uncomfortably Close to Home

"We are going to be the last mass school shooting." So said students in Parkland, Florida, a couple weeks ago. Of course, nobody -- likely not even the students who said that -- believed it to be literal truth. All it would take is for one person, somewhere, to go off.

Yesterday morning, we had the 4th shooting on a college campus since Parkland. The first 3 didn't include any deaths, but 2 people died yesterday. According to news reports, a student killed his own parents, who were on campus to pick him up and take him home for spring break.

In the current news cycle, an event like this seems sadly unremarkable. It can be dismissed as a "domestic dispute." No students were killed in the making of this story. Move along.

But this one was at Central Michigan University, where Aaron is studying. Yesterday morning, he was preparing to come home for spring break. He had an 11am class, after which he was going over to the music building to practice. He was going to take his bow, which needs to be re-haired, get his music, and come on home.

By 10am, the messages were flying: Central Michigan on lockdown. Mt. Pleasant, too. Classes canceled.

We knew from the start that Aaron was safe, that was never an issue. He lives off campus, nowhere near the site of the shooting, and even the initial reports suggested that the shooter fled on foot in the opposite direction from where Aaron lives. The impact? The rehairing of the bow will have to wait, and may need to be done by mail-order. The music is at school. We fielded a few messages from concerned friends, and by late afternoon Aaron was home.

In my prior post, I wrote, "Today, we have one child in college, and one in high school. What would protect them?" It was a rhetorical question. In the incident that occurred yesterday morning, Aaron didn't especially need protection: he was a couple miles away, and was never in any danger. Were an incident to occur closer to his location...

I have been encouraged by the willingness of Parkland victims to speak out and to lead. They have spoken eloquently, and have shown no sign of backing down to the NRA or anyone else. As Tim Kreider wrote in a New York Times op-ed yesterday, "whenever you disapprove of young people, you’re in the wrong, because you’re going to die and they’ll get to write history."

That may be a tad too simplistic. But I'd like to see them make a bit of history. Enough, at least, so that we have no more mass school shootings. Then, perhaps, no more mass shootings in this country.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Uncomfortably Numb

Has it really been more than 5 years since Newtown? Little Noah Pozner, maybe he'd be... still in Sandy Hook Elementary School, along with his classmates. Maybe he'd be starting to dream about his bar mitzvah.

A crazy 20-year old former student with 4 semi-automatic weapons came in to the school one December day, and in less than 5 minutes unloaded more than 150 shots to ensure that dreams would not come true. Noah was shot 11 times, the shots literally blowing off his jaw and a hand.

The governor cried. The president cried. He begged for congressional action to create laws that might at least reduce the risk. At a vigil shortly after the massacre, he said, "Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"

So here we are. Five years later.

I start typing in the search window... "how many s"
The 2nd suggested response is "how many school shootings 2018."

According to this New York Times article, there have been 239 school shootings since Sandy Hook. 438 people shot, and 138 deaths.

Of course, it's not just schools. Since Sandy Hook, mass shootings causing at least 14 deaths have also occurred at a a holiday party, a church, a nightclub, and a concert. Any place, it seems, where people gather. These massacres were all committed by people with "semi-automatic" weapons such as the AR-15.

I like to believe that I live in the greatest country on earth. Yet my country's government can't be bothered to enact laws that would protect the lives of its citizens.

Five years ago, I'd have a brief fit of nerves every day when I dropped my kids off for school.

Today, we have one child in college, and one in high school. What would protect them? The high school has a security guard, a genial fellow who politely asks visitors to sign in. I have never confirmed this, but I assume he is unarmed. The high school also has many doors. Our good guy, with or without a gun, would be no match for an assault. Nor would it help to arm our teachers; never mind that most have no interest in bearing arms in the classroom. It's numbing. I don't get nervous any more. It's the new normal: at high school, it's drop them off, and trust they'll be safe at the end of the day.

On the fifth anniversary of Newton, the current President of the United States made no commemoration, though he did have time to host the leader of the NRA. In a statement after the massacre in Parkland, Florida, he talked about mental health but made no mention of how horribly easy it to legally acquire the weapons of human destruction.

NBA Basketball coach Steve Kerr, whose father was an American diplomat who was murdered in the line of duty, put it best: "It doesn't seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death day after day in schools... But we can do something about it. We can vote people in who actually have the courage to protect people's lives and not just bow down to the NRA..."

Friday, December 22, 2017

The (Almost) Last Jedi

Last night we went to see the latest Star Wars saga, "The Last Jedi." It has received wonderful reviews, apparently, and the kids all loved it. But me? Not so much.

It was fun, no doubt. Plenty of action, the appropriate amount of impossibly close escapes, and more than enough Force wizardry and mysticism -- some of it in forms we haven't seen before -- to last until the next installment. John Williams scored it, we have Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher and Anthony Daniels back in their original roles, and there are several other unexpected nods to the original trilogy. There's even a super-choreographed light saber fight scene with a whole minyan of sacrificial red-shirts, and Rey and Kylo Ren in the Samurai roles. It was light years better than the fight scenes of "The Phantom Menace," but it was also during that scene that I really noticed how overbearing the score was, and found myself wishing they'd just play something lighter. Like "Bad Reputation."

"Rogue 1" was a surprise "little" Star Wars feature that had something to say. "The Last Jedi," not so much. Luke is still cool, Leia is the queen of her ever-diminishing domain, and at least in this movie, women rule. There's even a very brief hint of romance, though it took a particularly ridiculous sequence to get to it. If you're going to put a main character out on a suicide mission, at least have the good grace to let him die!

The lines between good and evil, blurred somewhat in "Rogue 1," are blurred more so here. Characters turning to the dark side, or being tempted, has always been part of the story, but here the ambiguities are up front. The two main characters can join forces in a fight, but once the battle is won they can't make peace. At least, not in this episode.

Weird things happen in space. Ships drop out of hyperspace to a dead stop with a big Dolby thump. Leia goes full Mary Poppins in a scene that has to be seen before cringing. And, finally, Luke answers the age-old question: How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All?

I left the movie thinking, yes, I'll watch whatever they come up with for Episode IX, so long as they keep the Porgs in check, more or less. I'd be cool with less in the way of CGI pyrotechnics; bringing back Frank Oz for both voice and puppet was a nice step in that direction. I know it's called "Star Wars," but we don't need to be blowing up entire fleets quite so much. Perhaps that will be less of a problem in IX, now that the fleet consists of one Millennium Falcon and a whole lot of ghostly Force. That should be fun! As Luke said, "See you around, kid!"

Monday, November 20, 2017

Proof of Life - Springsteen on Broadway - November 17, 2017

The set for Springsteen on Broadway. One piano, two microphones. Guitars are off-stage.
At about 8:05pm on Friday, I stopped thinking about the money. Yes, this is worth it.

That was, more or less, the time at which Growin' Up started to fill the Walter Kerr Theater. Bruce Springsteen had taken the stage, spoken the magic word... "Balls!" He'd announced his intent to perform his magic trick, his proof of life. And here we were, just 5 minutes in. In the moments without music, I could hear the silence in the hall. When Bruce was playing, the hall overflowed with the lush noise of Bruce's voice (sounding great) and his guitar.

The Walter Kerr Theater is tiny by Broadway standards, just 960 seats crammed close together. I'd been there once before, and remembered the bar area that was practically on top of the last row of seats. Space in the theater was so limited that a main souvenir stand was located next door at a hotel. The seating was so tight that the very idea of getting up, even for a moment, was unthinkable. The stage set made Our Town look elaborate. All of this worked in favor of an intimate show that felt totally fresh.
The marquee and entrance for The Walter Kerr Theater.
The first part of the show provided musical context to the early chapters of Bruce's biography. Bruce told the audience about his house, his tree, his mom, his pop, the St. Rose of Lima Church and that shithole of a town he grew up in, Freehold, NJ. A town he needed to get away from so much that, by his own admission, he's now living 10 miles away from it.

What stood out to me, was that nothing stood out. Nothing about the people nor the places nor maybe even the times. On these points, especially the last, the narrative of Springsteen on Broadway seemed to me to diverge from that of the book. If you're looking for stories of Bruce's development as a musician, or of the people at any venue from the Upstage to the Student Prince, how the E Street Band came to be, or even of Bruce's personal demons, read the book. There, you'll find great and wonderful and sometimes tragic stories, but the magic trick on Friday evening was more direct.

As Bruce went through his proof of life, one thing in particular stood out to me: If nothing stands out, then really everything stands out. Everything is special, and every person is special. The vivid details, those are our details... or at least, they seem to be for a while. We recognize the symptoms, even if we haven't been there ourselves. That also reminds me a bit of "Our Town." In that town, in that place, magic happens every day.

At roughly the one hour mark, the show shifted from being a narrative with supporting musical selections, to being more of a music performance with selected vignettes. In some respects this could be a bit jarring, as Bruce seemed to go from childhood nearly straight to the bed of Tinker West's truck, leaving New Jersey on a westbound trip, then to Born in the U.S.A. and back around to his experiences at the draft board and the assertion that someone else went to Vietnam in Bruce's place. For me, the 2nd hour was choppier than the first, but it also featured many more musical selections, and who is going to tell Bruce to play less?

Other than bringing Patti Scialfa up to sing duets on Tougher Than the Rest and Brilliant Disguise, this show was strictly Bruce: Voice, guitar, piano. Bruce's voice was strong, showing no ill effects of performing 5 shows a week the past several weeks -- the first 5 days per week job he's even had, per his typically self-deprecating comments.

After quoting Born To Run (the song) in the opening moments of the show, partly to set up one of those one-liners, he didn't come back to it until the very end. When he did get to it, a bit more than 2 hours in, the magic trick was done, and so was the show.

With Bruce's magic show over, I found myself wanting to re-play it, to hear the script again, to feel those moments. And to find my own magic trick, wherever it may be.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Singing in the Dead of Night - Paul McCartney in Detroit, October 2, 2017

Yesterday was an awful day. It started with news of a horrific massacre, and continued with the death of Tom Petty. It was difficult to stand at the brand new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, just to enjoy a music show, without thinking about people doing virtually the same thing across the country just 24 hours previously, or about a rock icon who surely would have visited this stage soon.

But we create our own islands, sometimes. Walking across Detroit, stopping off at a taco stand, enjoying the warm October day in the plaza outside the arena, we had our island. Inside the arena, mash-ups of Beatles songs and covers of Beatles songs helped prepare for Paul McCartney's concert. Paul was 21 when he first toured the United States, playing shows that didn't even last 45 minutes. Last night, at age 75, he played the last US show of the latest tour, playing nearly 40 songs, and after 3 hours he didn't even look tired.

Paul's voice isn't what it once was, but really, who cares? It's plenty good enough. 
Nor can Paul really do full justice to John Lennon's songs. But who can?

When McCartney hit the stage wearing a jacket with sergeant stripes that looked like he could have worn it in 1967, we were ready to rock and roll. After ripping through A Hard Day's Night, Paul acknowledged the day and offered to try to bring a bit of joy to the crowd. He followed with Save Us, the first of 3 entries from his excellent 2013 album New,  and then straight back to  a song that could be an encore for any other mere mortal, Can't Buy Me Love.

All of McCartney's band members have been with him for at least 15 years, and it shows. The show is at once tight and lighthearted, and those of us who have seen Paul over the past two decades have come to appreciate the reliability of this band. There may have been some Wings memorabilia at the merchandise counter, but this band, featuring Brian Ray, Rusty Anderson, Wix Wickens and Abe Laboriel Jr. is musically the best touring band he's ever had. Not that anything can make me forget the Beatles, far from it. But this band is more than good enough to carry the best of the music that Paul wrote half a century ago.

My favorite parts of the show were the departures from the familiar arrangements of songs. You Won't See Me has one of the most awesome rock bass parts I've ever heard, but last night it was transformed in to a gorgeous acoustic-based piece. A man sitting behind us started insisting that it was a Badfinger song, something Paul had written for them 1968 and had given away. When Mr. Badfinger man kept crowing even after the song as to what a great thing it was for Paul to be performing this obscure song, what could I do? I laughed. Enjoy the moment. For the record, Come And Get It was not performed last night.

Skiffle: In Spite of all the Danger
The setlist spanned McCartney's career, more or less. At least, if the years between about 1974 and 2012 didn't happen (with an exception for Here Today, Paul's 1982 tribute to John Lennon). It's a shame that most of the audience didn't recognize the songs on "New." That includes a song called Queenie Eye, which has a fantastic moon-in-June line, "O-U-T spells Out." Some Japanese fans down front were prepared, with signs saying "OUT." They were eventually invited to come on stage with some of their other signs.

Some of Macca's stage shtick has gotten stale for me. I love Blackbird, and it felt poignant last night but I don't think I need to hear the story anymore; the song speaks for itself. Nor is it really necessary to hear the story of how scared he was during the first recording of Love Me Do, nor do I really enjoy being melted by the pyrotechnics accompanying Live And Let Die. And I could probably do without some of the name-dropping, too. He's already Paul McCartney, after all. That said, his Jimmy Hendrix story was pretty funny.

At the Magical Mystery Tour piano for Hey Jude.
But that's a nit, and more often than not, even the stale shtick was fun. And if that means getting a nice introduction to In Spite Of All The Danger (itself a treat), or to hear Paul take lead on I Wanna Be Your Man, I'm totally good with it. The show culminated with the famous 3-part guitar duel that marked The End, as Brian and Rusty assumed the stage roles of John and George. The closing refrain, "and in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make," didn't seem like much. But in the moment, on our island, it was magic.