A King Comes to Queens: Paul McCartney Rocks New York City High School

10:42 PM PST 10/09/2013 by Steve Bloom
MJ Kim/MPL Communications for iHeartRadio

At the request of Tony Bennett, and with a hand from iHeartRadio, the former Beatle surprises students at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts.

Of all the days to promote the release of his latest album, New, Paul McCartney picked John Lennon's birthday and his anniversary with wife, Nancy Shevell.

"You're getting a lot of plugs today," he said to his betrothed, who sat with a crowd of students and press packed into an auditorium at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, New York. There, a stone's throw away, the former Beatle performed 13 songs with his band and took questions from the audience.

The top-secret show was only disclosed to the media some 24 hours prior, and the students paraded into the 400-seat theater having no idea they were about to be treated to a concert by one of the two living Beatles. (Worth noting: the first time the band ever stepped on U.S. soil was at nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport, also in Queens.)

Sir Paul came to this particular school at the suggestion of Tony Bennett, who founded it in 2001. The ever-humble 87-year-old crooner watched the 75-minute presentation from backstage while many wondered: Would he emerge to collaborate with Macca?

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Veteran rock DJ Jim Kerr of New York’s Q104.3 introduced McCartney and his backing band at 2:15 pm. They opened with “Eight Days a Week” and followed with “Save Us,” the rockin’ lead track from New, and “Jet.” Kerr came back and asked McCartney about his interest in education. Similar to Bennett, a few years ago he funded the renovation of his own high school, the Liverpool Institute, which he attended with fellow Beatle George Harrison in the 1950s.

About a dozen students were pre-selected to ask questions, most of the generic variety: Who inspired him? When did he know they’d made it? Is there anything he would change if he could? As far as his inspirations, McCartney mentioned standards (“songs from my dad’s era”) and the rock & roll of Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Little Richard and others. “We tried to bring the two things together,” he explained. “The standards with the rock & roll. It was quite funky.”

McCartney performed two more songs from New, including the title track, which he dedicated to his wife. For the rest of the 50-minute set, he dusted off such classics as “We Can Work It Out,” “Obla Di, Obla Da,” “Being for the Benefit for Mr. Kite” (dedicated to Lennon), “Blackbird,” “Lady Madonna,” “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Band on the Run” and “Hey Jude,” which had the crowd singing along during and after the song was over and the band had left the stage.

As always, McCartney was light on his feet, charming, witty and warm. The daytime gig, playing before an audience more familiar with Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber than an aging Beatle, was clearly a kick for him and the band -- Rusty Anderson (lead guitar), Brian Ray (guitar, bass), Paul Wickens (keyboards) and Abe Laboriel Jr. (drums).

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It turned out Bennett never ventured on stage. Though it would’ve been nice to hear him team up with McCartney on his favorite Beatles tune, “Yesterday,” the Queens-born singer noted firmly in an exclusive post-concert interview with The Hollywood Reporter and music blog Brooklyn Vegan in his office at the school, “Paul had to do his thing. He’s promoting the new album. It’s a great start for him in this country, because this performance today will be on television and radio.”

Bennett recalled originally meeting McCartney at The Palladium in London when he was on the road with Lena Horne in the 1960s. “We’ve been great friends through the years,” Bennett added. “I was the first one to give the Beatles an award at Wembley Stadium. When I looked at the four of them, I looked at Paul McCartney and said, ‘That guy’s got it!’ And, sure enough, Paul is surviving.”

The McCartney program will be broadcast on select Clear Channel stations as well as on iHeartRadio.com/pm on Oct. 15, the day of the album's release. Fans can check out the show the night before on Yahoo!.

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