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Fab doesn't even begin to cover it

Paul McCartney
At the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sunday

On a riveting Sunday afternoon on the ball field at Rogers Centre, the strong-armed Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow nearly tossed a no-hitter. A few hours later, not so many blocks away at Air Canada Centre, the accomplished pop musician and composer Paul McCartney managed somewhat the opposite of Morrow’s feat, offering smash after smash after smash, with nothing close to a strikeout.

McCartney, a 68-year-old native of Liverpool, England, was in stout and good-natured form for the first of two ACC shows. (A third Canadian concert happens at Montreal’s Bell Centre on Thursday.)

Garbed favourably in a black, collared tunic, the melody-maker walked on stage rather casually, holding his McCartney-associative Hofner bass guitar in one hand and ready to grab his sold-out audience with the other.

Some three hours later, with the conclusive chords of The End still reverberating around the confetti-strewn arena, the former Beatle left the spotlight, his fans flush with instant memories, gratefully satiated with song and walloped by the force and eloquence of the triumphant performance they had just witnessed (and often participated in).

“And in the end,” McCartney sang, “the love you take is equal to the love you make.” It’s an equation with which Deepak Chopra and Albert Einstein might well agree.

On May 9, 1976, McCartney (with Wings) played Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, a storied venue now shuttered but still standing. In his review, The Globe and Mail’s Robert Martin wrote that the only man able to make people forget the Beatles would be McCartney. “And he’ll do it in the only way possible,” Martin reckoned,” by making music as good or better than the Beatles.”

Tall order.

Sunday’s show featured much of the same material from the one way back then, similarly opening with the scene-setting Venus and Mars acoustic intro – “sitting in the stands of the sports arena, waiting for the show to begin” – followed by the accompanying about-face rollick of Rock Show. Other shared numbers from this show and the ’76 concert include Jet, Let Me Roll It, My Love, Lady Madonna, The Long and Winding Road, I’ve Just Seen a Face, Blackbird, Yesterday, Let ‘Em In, Letting Go, Band on the Run and the flash-pot and fire-cracker theatrics of Live and Let Die.

McCartney, who was complemented with a four-piece band, alternately played piano, bass, acoustic guitar, mandolin (on Dance Tonight), ukulele (on a charming, dynamic and commendable cover of George Harrison’s Something), and electric guitar. (The model he brought out for Paperback Writer, we were told, was the same Epiphone Casino instrument used on the original 1966 recording.)

His voice was mostly up to the challenge of the material, though lower in register and rough in some of the delicate moments. Audience sing-alongs were frequent, which would have afforded McCartney a rest had he needed one. But he did not. “Do I get the feeling you want to keep rocking?” he rhetorically asked, late in the going.

Here’s what’s changed from all those years ago: McCartney no longer needs to erase any Beatles nostalgia. He does not make hit records any more; he is free to embrace his Fab Four past. Indeed, he carries the Beatles legacy like a warm, awesome torch.

And so his fans got to hear not only Hey Jude, I’ve Got a Feeling, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Let it Be and A Day in the Life (with an added Give Peace a Chance outro), but a two-part encore comprised of Day Tripper, Lady Madonna, Get Back, Yesterday, Wings’ Mull of Kintyre (performed with Ontario’s kilt-wearing Paris-Port Dover Pipe Band), Helter Skelter, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) and The End.

Mid-concert, after a wild run through Back in the U.S.S.R – which salutes Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys just as much as it does the former communist republic – McCartney told a story of a performance he once gave at Moscow’s Red Square. There, he was told by dignitaries that they had learned English from Beatles records.

The thought of such a thing – the universality of his music – amazed McCartney. The thing is, however, is that not only did the man teach some of the world to speak English, he and the Beatles also taught much of the world to sing. And that, in the end, will be the greatest gift he’s given.

Paul McCartney plays the Bell Centre in Montreal on Thursday.

Last Updated: 08/10/10 08:19 See Related MACCA-News Articles:
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News Summary

On May 9, 1976, McCartney (with Wings) played Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, a storied venue now shuttered but still standing. In his review, The Globe and Mail’s Robert Martin wrote that the only man able to make people forget the Beatles would be McCartney. “And he’ll do it in the only way possible,” Martin reckoned,” by making music as good or better than the Beatles.”