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POP MUSIC REVIEW

From sir, with love

Paul McCartney is a fan among fans in an endearing three-hour fest.

November 14, 2005|Robert Hilburn | Times Staff Writer

PAUL McCARTNEY once toured so infrequently that each concert seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime experience: the only chance you might ever have to sing some of the most beloved songs of the modern pop era with the man who wrote them. The chance to sing "Hey Jude" was enticement enough.

Now that the ex-Beatle seems to be hitting the road as regularly as Amtrak, some of that urgency is bound to fade -- and a few of the old favorites did seem a bit worn Friday night at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim. "The Long and Winding Road," for instance, never sounded longer or more winding.

Surprisingly, the nearly three-hour concert came most alive when McCartney moved to less-predictable territory.

Displaying charm and wit in his musical selections and in his comments to the audience, McCartney seemed liberated in stepping away momentarily from the role of custodian of the Beatles legacy.

The result was one of the most endearing and revealing of all his appearances here -- not just the Beatles' music, but something even more rare: a glimpse of the spirit that helped shape that music.

A less-generous artist could easily have just done 20 of his most popular songs, from the singalong "Hey Jude" to the fireworks-packed "Live and Let Die."

But McCartney, who has loosened up considerably as a performer in recent years, and his energetic four-piece band stuck around for almost another 20 numbers, and he seemed every bit as engaged singing such relatively obscure Beatles tunes as "I'll Get You" and "I Will" as the more-famous fare.

McCartney, who moved during the evening from bass to piano to acoustic and electric guitars, reprised "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," the nonsensical delight from the "Abbey Road" album, and he seemed as mischievous as a schoolboy while tacking on false endings to the exuberant "I'll Follow the Sun."

In what may have been an especially tender nod to his old bandmate John Lennon, McCartney opened the second encore with a lively rendition of "Please Please Me," generally considered to be a Lennon composition. The gesture was all the more affecting because he didn't explain that it was a Lennon song. It felt like a secret embrace with those Beatles fans who could make the connection themselves.

He was equally personable between songs. Early in the set, McCartney delighted in explaining how he, as a young musician, used to play "smoochy" love songs to get bookings at upscale supper clubs in Liverpool. To illustrate, he sang "Till There Was You," a tune from "The Music Man" that was one of the first numbers the Beatles recorded.

McCartney hammed it up a little as he sang the ultra-romantic lyrics in a sweet tenor voice:

There were bells on the hill

But I never heard them ringing

No I never heard them at all

Till there was you.

Still, it was clear that this rock 'n' roll revolutionary respects that older pop tradition and most certainly got his love of melody from it.

Later, he was equally charming -- and revealing -- when he sang "In Spite of All the Danger," a ballad that, McCartney told the audience, was the first song he, Lennon and George Harrison recorded.

The tune isn't distinguished, but it is very much in the style of country weepers Elvis Presley sang in his pre-stardom days.

In both moments, McCartney, who returned to the Pond on Saturday and performs Nov. 29 and 30 at Staples Center, had a chance to be a fan again, rather than a pop legend.

It was disarming to be able to go back to Liverpool with him and imagine all the dreams and desires that he must have had in those early teenage years before his world and ours changed so dramatically.

The Beatles music was blessed with not only a youthful enthusiasm, but also a view of the world that was filled with optimism and hope.

In Anaheim, McCartney updated those qualities by demonstrating some nonmusical interests. Though Lennon was always considered the activist of the Beatles, McCartney, in a low-key way, has emerged over the last decade as a strong advocate, and he uses concerts as a platform.

Friday may have been the first time at a rock concert, for instance, that more lobby space was devoted to social issues than souvenir stands. Among the causes promoted in various booths: PETA, Amnesty International, music education and anti-minefield campaigns.

The evening's chief false note was a video at the start of the concert that was supposed to highlight McCartney's history but seemed almost as self-aggrandizing as one of those Michael Jackson video salutes.

Of the four songs he sang Friday from his new album, "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," "English Tea" was the most noteworthy.

It's a sweet, catchy number, part British music hall, part daydream, that has such an unconventional chord pattern and customized lyrics that it could have easily fit into one of the Beatles' most adventurous albums.

Would you care to sit with me

For a cup of English tea

Very twee, very me

Any sunny morning

What a pleasure it would be.

There's something about the song that feels as unlikely in today's pop spectrum as some of the Beatles' songs sounded in the '60s, but that is part of the legacy of the Beatles -- be free to follow your imagination.

McCartney, who is still in fine vocal form, was in his mid-20s when he wrote the equally unorthodox "When I'm 64." In the youth-conscious '60s, it stretched one's imagination to think of reaching even 30. And here was someone talking about being 64.

He didn't sing that tune Friday, which was surprising because he turns 64 next June. But one fan held up a sign that declared, "We'll Love You When You're 64."

Whatever age, McCartney is still filled onstage with the wonder and idealism of youth. This Beatle has turned out to be a lot more than just cute.

Robert Hilburn, pop music critic of The Times, may be reached at Robert.Hilburn@latimes.com.

*

Paul McCartney

Where: Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Nov. 29-30

Price: Sold out

Contact: (213) 742-7340

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