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McCartney Finishes First in NYC

It’s insane, really, that some folks slag Paul McCartney for doing nothing but being himself: a nice guy. Here’s a man, arguably the greatest tunesmith of his generation, who routinely takes broadsides in the court of public opinion merely because we prefer our musical geniuses either tortured or dead. Preferably both.

How such talk must rankle him. How tired he must be of turning the other cheek. And yet, there he is — the perpetually optimistic icon, attending baseball games, hosting benefit concerts, going about the business of being Sir Paul, true musical royalty — and never giving the impression that he is weighted down by the burden of being condemned as “the cute one.” Perhaps it’s the billion-dollar empire he’s built, or maybe it’s the fact that, at a time when his contemporaries are recasting their songs and stage shows to reflect added girth and lessened range, he’s still playing his songs the way they were written. His modesty prevents him from giving much away.

If another musician had released ’99’s vastly underrated Flaming Pie, would it have been received in a better light? Would it have won the Grammy award that it deserved? Likely. But Paul isn’t entirely blameless, as he deflates the songwriting mystique by saying that he wrote this song in fifteen minutes while waiting for a plumber and that one while in an airport waiting lounge. The rest of the reason is . . . well, nice guys do sometimes finish last.

On the other hand, Paul McCartney is the only guy in the world who can get away with dedicating songs to both his late wife and his fiancé. Yeah, he’s always had moments of unendurable sweetness on his records, but his tours have told a vastly different story. Filled with drama and bombast, dramatic in their tone and content, they are events where songs like “Here, There and Everywhere” and “Blackbird” are counterbalanced by “Live and Let Die” and those early Carl Perkins-inspired numbers.

Which is why it’s no surprise that his April 27th concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City found a clearly re-invigorated McCartney providing an exquisitely paced two-and-three-quarter hour show that highlighted all facets of his musicianship and all five decades of his recording career.

Early Fab Four hits (“I Saw Her Standing There,” “All My Loving,” “Can’t Buy Me Love”) got the middle-aged crowd dancing, but it was the later Beatles numbers (“Eleanor Rigby,” “Fool on the Hill,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Reprise/The End,” “The Long & Winding Road,” “Let it Be” and “Hey Jude”) that left them breathless. Interspersed, as if to remind the crowd that he’d been a part of two top-selling groups, were some Wings tracks (“Band on the Run,” “Jet”) as well as some solo material (“Maybe I’m Amazed” plus cuts from his latest release, Driving Rain, most notably the title track).

Highlights — and there were many — included a rave-up version of “Back in the USSR” and a rollicking “Lady Madonna,” which really showcased his gem of a backing band. Indeed, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., guitarists Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson and keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens created McCartney’s most formidable backing lineup since the original Wings combo. Muscular one moment, delicate the next, the band traded harmonies and performed every song-many on which they probably cut their musical teeth-to perfection.

Complaints? Few and nitpicky. He could have trimmed a couple of songs; sentiment aside, “My Love” was unremarkable, “C Moon” drifted purposelessly and, although the band really laid it down, “Maybe I’m Amazed” just doesn’t flatter his range anymore. And if killing that Cirque du Soliel-esque show opener would lower the ticket prices ($250, $125 and so on), he should do so immediately. The light show and video screens were enough. Hell, he was enough, especially during a solo mini-set featuring tributes to John Lennon (“Here Today”) and George Harrison (“Something,” on a ukelele given to him by Harrison himself).

It began with “Hello, Goodbye” and ended with “Sgt. Pepper’s Reprise/The End,” and in between, Paul McCartney gave the crowd what it came for: some great memories and a really nice night out.

Just don’t hold it against him, okay?

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