Masterful ‘McCartney III’ Hits the Right Notes

When COVID put a halt to Paul McCartney’s touring schedule, he retired to his Sussex farm and soon found himself working on a song he had put aside in 1992.  Enjoying the end result, he began working on some more numbers and, before he knew it, he had a new album.  The final product is McCartney III.

McCartney III marks the third part of a trilogy that began 50 years ago with the release of McCartney in 1970 and was followed by McCartney II in 1980.  On these self-titled albums, McCartney is the sole creative force as he wrote and performed all the songs, played all the instruments and produced the albums. 

The albums are also unique in that they’re not commercial work.  These albums are just Sir Paul playing around, experimenting and writing solely for himself.  As such, McCartney III was the first album where my excitement was tempered with a bit of caution.

Of his previous two DIY endeavors, McCartney is an OK album, but definitely feels more like a private work with its little song snippets.  But it did produce the instant classic “Maybe I’m Amazed”.  McCartney II was a grave disappointment relieved by two great instrumental numbers and the brilliant “One of These Days”.

After listening to the album’s opener, “Long Tailed Winter Bird”, I knew I had nothing to fear as McCartney clearly had another quality work on his hands.  The opener begins with McCartney playing a catchy riff on acoustic guitar and the song slowly layers up as more instruments are added until the song becomes a gem of an instrumental.

Each song of the album has that fine layered quality which gives each number a lot of texture and nuance.  Even the album’s weakest tune, “Deep Down”, is still an enjoyable listen due to the depth of McCartney’s melodies on this work.

McCartney III is definitely Macca’s most contemplative effort since 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.  Many of the songs strike an unusually somber and reflective tone for the usually optimistic and cheerful performer.  But these songs also happen to be some of the album’s finest moments. 

“Pretty Boys” sounds like a reflection on the darker side of Beatlemania when mega-fame put the Beatles in a box where people could “look, but you better not touch”.  “Women and Wives” is a haunting lecture on the trials of love and marriage from the viewpoint of an experienced sage.   “Lavatory Lil” is a guilty pleasure song featuring a character who is the second cousin of “Polythene Pam” and “Mean Mr. Mustard”.  “Deep, Deep Feeling” is a heavy song about the deep feeling of love wrapped in one of McCartney’s most ethereal melodies since Electric Arguments.

Of course the album still has songs featuring Sir Paul’s classic energy and pep.  McCartney reminds us that he still lives life to the fullest with “Seize the Day”.  “Find My Way” finds a man still confident of his path while “The Kiss of Venus” is a beautiful love song enhanced by Sir Paul’s raspy falsetto making it sound like a grandfather telling his grandchildren the story of how he met their grandmother.  “Slidin” has McCartney revisiting the White Album days with a hard rocker akin to a slightly mellower “Helter Skelter”.  And the album is nicely framed with its closer “Winter Bird/When Winter Comes” where the album’s opener segues into a simple song about getting the farm ready for winter.

Even at the age of 78, Paul McCartney still has an impressive set of pipes though the passage of time has thinned them a bit.  But it also has the flip side of adding an aura of experience and life lived that add an inexplicable x factor to his songs. 

With McCartney III, Macca has reached the full potential of his DIY work and produced a great record that could be a candidate for Album of the Year.  More importantly, he’s shared the gift of joy with a world ready for a little positivity and ends 2020 on a very high note indeed.

Yesterday and Today. . .Forever

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It’s that time of year when Omaha’s greatest musical act teams up with history’s greatest band.  Yes, indeed, it’s Yesterday and Today:  An Interactive Beatles Experience and it has returned for its twelfth season at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

It’s amazing the massive effects one small change can have on something.  After twelve years, Billy McGuigan had felt the band had become a little too complacent with the show and were only playing their favorite requests and veering away from the original spirit of the production.  Lead guitarist Jay Hanson then hit upon an idea that would completely reinvent the show.

Why didn’t they just pick the songs live on stage and then play them?

As hard as it is to believe, that idea has evolved Omaha’s premier holiday tradition into something even greater.

The McGuigans (Billy, Ryan, and Matthew) and their band were energized in a way I’d never seen before due to the element of danger in walking this musical tightrope. Would they be up to the challenge of playing any Beatles song suggested?

The answer was a most emphatic YES!!!

I had wondered how well this new format would work as there are three kinds of Beatles fans.  You’ll have your casual fan who would know their biggest hits like “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude”; your more knowledgeable fan who will know their more successful works like “Eight Days a Week” and “We Can Work it Out”; and finally the hardcore megafans who have the library imprinted on their minds and want to hear “Dear Prudence” and “I’m Only Sleeping”.

Would there be enough variety to satisfy these three groups?

Again, a most emphatic YES as the night was filled with a plethora of famed hits and a few obscure delights that were picked right on stage or flashed directly onto monitors behind the band.

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Billy McGuigan

Billy McGuigan once again ruled the night with a supercharged performance.  Billy seemed imbued with an almost unearthly energy and that’s saying something for this indefatigable engine of talent.  Billy and his devastating tenor ripped through rockers such as “Roll Over Beethoven” and “The Night Before”, sweetly sang “Let it Be”, and was melancholically vibrant with “Things We Said Today”.

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Ryan McGuigan

Ryan McGuigan got to be the most versatile performer of the night as he and his other worldly raw tenor voice went through a mini-history of the Beatles library as he belted out classics like “Ticket to Ride”, nailed the 50+ year masterpiece that is “A Day in the Life”, and visited the Beatles’ flower power phase with “All You Need is Love”.

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Matthew McGuigan

Matthew McGuigan supported the numbers with his pluperfect bass playing and had his own impressive run when he came out roaring on “Revolution”, dominated the stage with “Hey Bulldog”, and revved up the crowd with a particularly peppy “Paperback Writer”.

The McGuigans were once more aided by their incredibly talented band who each got their moments in the spotlight.  Jay Hanson had the audience riveted with his phenomenal guitar work and was in fine voice on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the obscure gem, “For You Blue”.  Rich Miller was the rock with his flawless rhythm on the drums and on a simple box during a segment where the band performed Beatles songs acoustically.  He also shone in a solo as his strong baritone entertained the crowd with “Yellow Submarine”.  Tara Vaughan masterfully played the keyboards as only she can and dazzled with a musical solo mimicking the piccolo trumpet part in “Penny Lane” and she belted out “Oh Darling!” with an alto that would have had Paul McCartney’s jaw dropping.

I’d also like to salute the guitar genius of Max Meyer as he warmed up the crowd with soft instrumental versions of the Beatles’ songs.  Eleven year old Ciaran McGuigan also showed he will be more than capable of leading the next generation of this show as he showed some potent skill with his own guitar playing on instrumental versions of “Blackbird” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” as well as supporting his dad, Billy, with pitch perfect playing on “Yesterday”.

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The present and future of Yesterday and Today

It was obvious that the crowd hungered for more as they lingered about after an encore hoping that the band would return to grace us with another tune or twenty, but they and you can certainly get another dose of the one of a kind talent of this group as the show will run through New Year’s Eve.  But I’d get tickets mighty quick if I were you as the sellouts have already started.

It’s hard to believe that Yesterday and Today has been going strong for twelve years and continues to strengthen with each passing year.  With the talent of the McGuigans and their all-star band and the blossoming skill of the next generation, we may very well see Yesterday and Today. ..forever.

Yesterday and Today:  An Interactive Beatles Experience plays at the Omaha Playhouse through Dec 31.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets begin at $40 and can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com, calling 402-553-0800, or visiting the box office.  On New Year’s Eve, a double performance will be held with shows at 7pm and 10pm.  Tickets for these shows will be $60 for the 7pm show and $80 for the 10pm show.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

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Yesterday and Today. . .Forever

The Beatles Would Pay to See the McGuigans

This is the story of three boys who were bestowed the great gift of love for the Beatles by their father.  When their father died tragically young, playing the music of their father’s favorite band helped bring closure and healing.  Now these three boys have taken this great gift and pay tribute to both their father and the greatest band in the history of rock with Yesterday and Today, an interactive Beatles experience currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Let’s get one thing straight right now.  Though Billy McGuigan and his brothers, Ryan and Matthew, pay tribute to the Beatles with this all request show, they are not a Beatles tribute band.  They don’t wear wigs or adopt Liverpudlian accents.  What they do is present the music of a legendary group that sounds distinctly familiar yet is enhanced by an original feel and energy that is uniquely the McGuigans.

I am a Beatles nut and I make no bones about it.  I own all of their albums, am well versed in their history, and am chock full of obscure knowledge that makes me a devastating Beatles Trivial Pursuit player.  Needless to say, I hold those who cover Beatles songs to exceedingly high standards and the McGuigans and their band shattered those standards and then some in a high energy two plus hour concert that literally had us dancing in the aisles.  If you love the Beatles, you will love this show.

What makes this show so enjoyable is not only the great music, but the incredible camaraderie between the three brothers.  Like the Beatles, the McGuigans have a natural banter with each other and the audience that is full of fun and wit.  These guys can also play.  All three men are multi-instrumentalists with precise musicianship and a minute and exact understanding of all, and I stress ALL, of the Beatles’ work.  They play the well known numbers at your request, but they also know the lesser known numbers as demonstrated with performances of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and, for the first time in their 8 year history, Baby, You’re a Rich Man which blew the roof off.

Billy McGuigan is the emcee of the show.  He’s also a natural showman and raconteur who revels in the energy of a live crowd and is able to take it and redirect it into the music and back to the audience with something more.  He’s also got a mighty rock tenor voice that shone in numbers such as Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da and I Saw Her Standing There.  Billy is equally as strong on the slower numbers, especially with his haunting performance of Yesterday.

Matthew McGuigan got quite a vocal workout in this evening’s performance as he sang lead on a large number of the night’s tunes in addition to his nimble and flawless bass playing.  Matthew started the night off hot with the ferocious Revolution, had a superb turn with Hey Jude, and nailed the falsetto line in Baby, You’re a Rich Man.  But his capstone number was his pudding sweet solo performance of Blackbird which sent chills down spines.

John Lennon would be proud of Ryan McGuigan’s voice.  Like Lennon, Ryan has a unique vinegar sour singing voice that lends itself beautifully to subtle nuance and emotion.  That incredible instrument was put to excellent use in Come Together, I Am the Walrus (with a little theatricality thrown in for good measure), I Feel Fine, and especially with his solo sequence in This Boy.

The McGuigans are also supported by a band that loves this music every bit as much as they do and even got their own turns in the spotlight.

Jay Hanson was phenomenal on lead guitar and fired off some sensational licks on While My Guitar Gently Weeps and had a remarkable vocal similarity to George Harrison on his rendition of Do You Want to Know a Secret?  Tara Vaughan’s fingers flew across the keyboard and she glowed in a solo during Oh, Darling.  Rich Miller’s drumming fueled the performances with a rock solid backbeat and Aaron Slagle’s cowbell had the crowd roaring for more in A Hard Day’s Night.

As I stated at the beginning of this review, Yesterday and Today is far more than a tribute to the Beatles.  It’s also a tribute to the McGuigans’ father, Bill, who died too soon from leukemia at the age of 42.  Bill can be proud of the legacy he’s left in his sons who do him proud by sharing their father’s love of a band that was simply the best with an act that is nothing but the best.  If tonight’s crowd was any indication, this show is going to be a long series of sellouts.  Do not delay.  Buy a ticket to see this city’s best musical act before the tickets fly out the window.

Yesterday and Today runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through December 31.  Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6:30pm.  There will be a 2pm performance on Sunday, November 29 and a special double performance on New Year’s Eve at 7pm and 10pm.  Tickets cost $40 except for the New Year’s performances which will be $50 for the 7pm show and $75 for the 10pm show.  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit the Playhouse’s web site at www.omahaplayhouse.com.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.