Thousands who caught Paul McCartney’s show on the first weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival were seeing the legendary Beatle for the first time. It was only his second visit to Austin, following a two-night run at the Erwin Center in 2013.
But some Beatles diehards in the crowd had traveled to see him elsewhere many times over the decades. Austin radio personality Jody Denberg, who’s been on-air at KUTX for most of this decade after long tenures at KGSR and KLBJ, is among them. He'll be back at ACL Fest again this Friday when McCartney and his band take the stage at 7:45 p.m. for Weekend Two.
“I’ve seen 25-plus Paul shows since 1976, and this was one of the best,” Denberg tweeted in response to our review of last weekend’s show. Which naturally led us to ask: Which ones were better?
The answer was complicated and detailed enough to arrive via email rather than Twitter. For one thing, Denberg’s experiences with McCartney likely are unique in Austin. It’s quite possible that a few other local Beatles megafans have seen Sir Paul dozens of times. But almost certainly no one else has interviewed him in-person on multiple occasions.
“Three times I interviewed him backstage before a show, and those shows stand out,” Denberg responded. “And I sat front row center for three shows that were favorites: 1993 in New Mexico, 2005 in Ohio, 2010 in Charlottesville, Va.”
There’s more. “I saw him once do a full show at the Highline Ballroom in 2007 in New York City that was incredible,” Denberg continued. “And seeing his appearance at the Concert for George in the U.K. stands out (2002). Wings in 1976 in New York City at Madison Square Garden (I sat by Jackie Onassis!) was the first and holds a dear place."
So what exactly about last week's ACL Fest concert made it “one of the best,” then?
"Something about last night was very special,” Denberg answered the day after the show. “(He was) in our park, in the best voice I've heard him since 2010. And I think the wind beneath his wings from having his first No. 1 album in 36 years made him soar higher.” McCartney played a couple of songs from “Egypt Station,” which topped the charts upon its release in early September.
Denberg also recalled interactions involving British rock greats Ronnie Lane and Ian McLagan of the Small Faces, both of whom spent their later years in Austin.
"In 1999 at a 'Run Devil Run' listening party at House of Blues (in Los Angeles), I thanked Paul for sending flowers when Ronnie Lane died (in 1997),” Denberg wrote, noting that Lane was part of McCartney's 1978 “Rockestra” supergroup sessions for “Back to the Egg,” the last Wings album. “Paul looked at me solemnly: ‘He was a great man, man.’”
McLagan, known to his friends as Mac, accompanied Denberg to a backstage rendezvous with some of McCartney’s band members, including guitarist Rusty Anderson, at one of the 2013 Erwin Center shows. “The next day, Rusty told us Paul said, 'Mac was here? I would've loved to have seen him.' Dang.” McLagan died a year and a half later.
What should fans expect for Weekend Two? McCartney’s recent non-festival sets have run about a half-hour longer than the two hours and 15 minutes he’s allotted at ACL Fest, so there’s a possibility he’ll swap some songs out. Denberg thinks “Yesterday,” “Let ’Em In,” “Eleanor Rigby” and “I Saw Her Standing There” might be prime suspects for addition.
A postscript: Denberg recalls the following exchange with Sir Paul during the interview for that “Band on the Run” reissue in 2010. “When I asked him why he had never played Austin, he said, 'I know man, great music town. I just watched the TV show ('Austin City Limits') with Wilco. They film that outside, right?'”