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POP MUSIC REVIEW : McCartney Gets Personal With 30,000 Fans : The playful rock icon invokes Elvis as well as the Beatles on his surprisingly intimate 'New World Tour.'

April 16, 1993|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

LAS VEGAS — Paul McCartney's "New World Tour" lacks the drama of his triumphant 1989-90 shows, during which the former Beatle returned from a 13-year concert absence to reclaim his place in contemporary rock music.

Yet the new tour compensates with its intimacy.

Intimacy may be an odd word to use in describing stadium rock, but McCartney's performance before an estimated 30,000 enthusiastic fans Wednesday night at the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl here was a warm, inviting affair.

The personal feeling was due in part to both the design of the show--especially a four-song acoustic sequence--and McCartney's generally playful, appealing manner.

Much like Keith Richards at the Universal Amphitheatre recently, McCartney came across as a masterful rock force delighted to be back on stage--and it was endearing to watch him having fun.

"Viva Las Vegas," McCartney yelled into the microphone early in the 2 1/2-hour set, referring to a popular movie starring his first musical hero, Elvis Presley.

Later, he toasted Presley again by opening the "Unplugged"-like acoustic segment with an accordion-spiked version of "Good Rockin' Tonight," one of the late rock star's earliest recordings.

Also like Richards, McCartney refuses to be intimidated by his legendary status in contemporary pop.

McCartney's 1989-90 tour, his first in 13 years, was such an overwhelming success that he could easily have given us largely a spring-summer rerun, especially since he is playing several different cities this time.

Instead, he shows respect for his audience by designing an almost totally new package, including almost two dozen songs that weren't done on the last tour. They included such Beatles hits as "Lady Madonna" and "Penny Lane."

McCartney and the band--the same unit as the last trip except for the addition of drummer Blair Cunningham--also didn't simply rest with the familiar arrangements. The sound and lighting, too, were state-of-the-art.

Not everything about the show worked. The pacing was rough in spots, the material from the new "Off the Ground" album is not nearly as strong as the "Flowers in the Dirt" music showcased on the last tour, and the vocals were wobbly in places.

Yet there was the sense of a man who still cares passionately about his music and his audience, someone still pushing to find the best in himself and his music.

But intimacy and dedication to excellence don't tell the whole story.

As with a Stones tour, the main reason for the rich sense of community in the massive stadium here was the lingering evocativeness of the classic Beatles songs: The captivating energy and innocence of "I Saw Her Standing There" to the more traditional pop elegance and craft of "Yesterday" and "Let It Be."

Unlike the wide age range of the 1989 Los Angeles shows, this was a mostly 35-and-up crowd. The fans had lived with the songs in some cases for decades, and they had come to celebrate the legacy of the Beatles years and more.

They cheered and they sang, and McCartney's graciousness and the evidence of his "gentle activism" suddenly made everything seem all right for a moment in a world that has been able to carry out few of the Beatles' '60s ideals.

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