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A Gentle Reminder of Paul McCartney’s Survival and Vitality

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Chad Batka for The New York Times
Paul McCartney performed a two-and-a-half hour show at Yankee Stadium Friday night

The cheerful, childlike doggerel of “Hello Goodbye” — ”I don’t know why you say goodbye/I say hello” — struck an unexpected note as Paul McCartney sang it on Friday night to start his two-night stand at Yankee Stadium. “Who is this Derek Jeter guy?” Mr. McCartney joshed. “Somebody said he’s got more hits than me.”

At 69, Mr. McCartney is not saying goodbye but touring stadiums and playing marathon concerts. Friday’s set ran two-and-a-half hours, with Mr. McCartney constantly onstage, and it had 35 songs, not counting a few additional excerpts. He played half a dozen instruments (though he didn’t show off his drumming), sang with only a few scrapes in the voice that’s familiar worldwide, and looked like he was having a boyish romp as he navigated what endure as some of rock’s oddest hits. His hair grew more tousled with every song.

The set drew on Mr. McCartney’s various outlets from the 1960’s on: the Beatles, Wings, his solo albums and his once-pseudonymous project The Fireman.

His concerts now are a gentle reminder of his survival and vitality. He paid tribute to John Lennon — with his lovely, imagined afterlife conversation, “Here Today” — and to George Harrison, starting out Mr. Harrison’s “Something” by playing it on a ukulele Mr. Harrison gave him. The exultant “Back in the U.S.S.R.” has outlasted not only the corporate name B.O.A.C., the airline mentioned in the lyrics, but the U.S.S.R., as well.

As always, melody let Mr. McCartney put across musical and verbal non sequiturs few other songwriters could get away with: songs such as “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” with its sudden interlude of Beach Boys harmony, or “Let ‘Em In,” which switches from piano bounce to military tattoo, with whistling, and has lyrics that juxtapose Martin Luther and Phil and Don (the Everly Brothers?). Melody easily carried Mr. McCartney through idiom after idiom: toe-tapping country in “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” hard rock in “Helter Skelter,” lilting ballad in “I Will,” something like ska in “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and the quasi-Slavic oompah in “Mrs. Vandebilt” (Mr. McCartney announced that they loved it in Ukraine).

There was more than a little familiarity to the concert for anyone who attended Mr. McCartney’s 2009 shows at that other new ballpark, the Mets’ Citi Field, or listened to and watched the resulting live album of CDs and DVD, “Good Evening New York City” (Hear Music). Once again, he wore suspenders over his white shirt. Two-thirds of the songs were the same, often in similar groupings and with the same arrangements and first-time surprises, like appending Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” to “Let Me Roll It,” or segueing “A Day in the Life” into “Give Peace a Chance” — a V-sign waving epiphany for the crowd — or explaining that the civil-rights movement inspired “Blackbird.”

But through his career, Mr. McCartney has been reluctant to tamper much with arrangements from his albums. And it’s unlikely he’d want to deprive a full stadium of the chance to sing along with the “na-na”s of “Hey Jude,” or that he’d skip the pyrotechnics and fireworks display for “Live and Let Die,” or that he’d omit songs like “Yesterday,” “Let It Be” and “Band on the Run” (performed with video footage from the photo session for the album cover).

For freshness, Mr. McCartney tossed off a Beatles song that, he announced, he had never performed live: “The Night Before,” with its skiffle bounce and barbershop harmonies. And some of the songs that weren’t on the Citi Field set lists were the most vital ones: particularly “Maybe I’m Amazed,” from his newly reissued 1970 solo debut album “McCartney” (MPL/Hear Music), with its startling harmonic swerves and a vocal that fervently illuminated the song’s affection, happy incredulity and deep need.

Mr. McCartney has a trouper’s ability to make the routine look and sound spontaneous. His voice reveled in the songs, hinting at little improvisatory variations; after them, he raised his instruments overhead in a mixture of exuberance and pride in musical craftsmanship. (When he sang “I’ve Got a Feeling,” the video screen didn’t show a heart — it showed pulsating speakers.) He perseveres, and entertains, by directly reconnecting to his songs across the decades and still having fun.

Last Updated: 07/16/11 09:17
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News Summary

The cheerful, childlike doggerel of “Hello Goodbye” — ”I don’t know why you say goodbye/I say hello” — struck an unexpected note as Paul McCartney sang it on Friday night to start his two-night stand at Yankee Stadium. “Who is this Derek Jeter guy?” Mr. McCartney joshed. “Somebody said he’s got more hits than me.”