(Concert Review) James McCartney by Himself at Club Helsinki Hudson, 5.19.13

James McCartneyby Seth Rogovoy

(HUDSON, N.Y., May 20, 2013) – You can’t envy James McCartney for his lot as a singer-songwriter. Were he instead a jazz saxophonist, or a classical violinist, or an EDM producer, then at least he’d be staking a musical claim to territory relatively untouched by his very famous father and his somewhat famous mother.  But everyone has an albatross or a cross to bear, as the case may be, and as long as he plays guitar and piano and sings, McCartney’s will forever be his musical parental heritage. Perhaps that’s why he studied art and sculpture at university.

Nevertheless, he went into the family business knowing full well that not only would he be compared to pere, but every hangdog look from his doe-eyes would remind an audience of his ancestry – that look, after all, set a billion girls squealing in 1964 when it was on dad’s face.

If McCartney didn’t directly address the fact that his dad was a member of a very popular singing group from the 1960s, and has continued to enjoy a pretty successful career as a touring and recording artist up until at least tonight and probably through tomorrow and the next day and the next and another day (to quote David Bowie) in his solo show at Club Helsinki Hudson on Sunday night, he dropped plenty of hints in his songs that he struggles in various ways with his pater, and misses his lovely mater.

He did mention his mom a few times, saying that he loves being in New York because it’s where his mom was from, and introducing a song or two as being about Linda McCartney. He dropped other musical references, crediting the influence of the Cure for one tune, introducing another as being musically inspired by “Here Comes the Sun” – a Beatles song written and sung by George Harrison – and even covering a Neil Young song.

Presumably that choice of cover was telling – it was Young’s “Old Man.” And in case you’ve forgotten, the key line of the song is “Old man take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you.”

And indeed in some ways he is. Like his dad, he boasts a powerful voice, almost scarily powerful at times (he mostly held back). His is pitched higher than dad’s, but sometimes you could hear dad’s inflections in son’s.

But mostly he’s his own man. While sharing a delicacy on a number of songs with titles like “Wisteria,” “Snow,” and “Bluebell,” he favors a darker, more introspective approach, both musically and lyrically. There were very few if any silly love songs; that’s not his thing.

And while a gifted musician on both guitar and piano, James McCartney seemed somewhat tentative onstage. You didn’t get the sense that he was having a great time; he seemed downright uncomfortable until at least the halfway point, when he began to loosen up just a slight bit. He introduced most numbers with a title and a phrase or two to orient listeners, but he didn’t say much. He cracked wise only occasionally, and even at that, he has the very arch wit of an upper-class Englishman (although grandpa was an electrician).

He rarely smiled, and only bounced slightly on the balls of his feet. He stayed intent and intense for the hour that he played, and then was off in a flash. He did, however, appear rather swiftly at the merchandise table, where he was gracious with a long line of fans, meeting and greeting and signing autographs. And that was really a very sweet sight to behold.

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