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Concert Review: Paul McCartney at the Apollo

Paul McCartney
Larry Busacca/Getty Images
Paul McCartney

The Bottom Line

A legendary performer plays a legendary theater in one of the most belated debuts in pop music history. 

Venue

Apollo Theater
New York City
(Monday, Dec. 13)

The boyish looking performer finally making his debut at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater seemed genuinely thrilled to be there. “It’s the holy grail,” he muttered, before bending down for the traditional Apollo rite of rubbing the onstage “Tree of Hope” trunk for luck.    

For the audience, it was also a holy grail moment -- an opportunity to see Paul McCartney in a venue far more intimate than the arenas and stadiums he usually frequents. Performing a nationally simulcast radio concert put on by Sirius XM to celebrate reaching 20 million subscribers, the 68-year-old former Beatle delivered a terrifically entertaining two-hour set featuring songs stretching throughout his nearly five-decade long career.  The invitation-only crowd -- made up of lucky subscribers and celebrities including Jerry Seinfeld, Martha Stewart, Tony Bennett, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, Deepak Chopra and two Rolling Stones (Keith Richards, Ron Wood), among many others -- were in baby boomer nostalgic bliss.  Performing with his energetic four-piece band, McCartney delivered a generous portion of Beatles classics, from the pop confections (“I Saw Her Standing There,” “All My Loving,” “And I Love Her,” “Drive My Car”) to the requisite anthems (“Let It Be,” “Hey Jude,” “The Long and Winding Road”).  He delved deep into his Wings classic “Band on the Run” (recently reissued in a deluxe edition), performing not only the expected title track and “Jet”  but also such numbers as “Let Me Roll It” and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five.”  Less familiar treats included the vintage Lennon-McCartney song “One After 909,” his solo hit “Dance Tonight,” on which he played ukulele, “I’m Looking Through You” from Rubber Soul and, in honor of the Yuletide season, the cheery “Wonderful Christmastime.”  The audience was particularly stirred by his medley of “A Day in the Life,” which John Lennon sang on the record, and “Give Peace a Chance.”  Ironically, it was when McCartney attempted to pay tribute to the Apollo’s storied history -- with a cover of Marvin Gaye’s early ‘60s soul classic “Hitch Hike,” complete with six mini-skirted female go-go dancers -- that he fell victim to the theater’s notoriously temperamental sound system. It took three tries before he was able to get through the number. “OK, we’ve proved the show is live,” he cracked.   Although his voice clearly reveals some fraying, McCartney still performs with the playfulness and vigor of someone half his age. He was clearly jazzed by his surroundings, at one point stopping in his tracks and declaring, “I’m gonna take a little moment and just soak in the Apollo. I know it’s special to you New Yorkers. To us British boys, it’s really special.” Set List 1. Magical Mystery Tour 2. Jet 3. Drive My Car 4. All My Loving 5. One After 909 6. Let Me Roll It 7. The Long and Winding Road 8. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five 9. Maybe I’m Amazed 10. Blackbird 11. I’m Looking Through You 12. And I Love Her 13. Dance Tonight 14. Eleanor Rigby 15. Hitch Hike 16. Band on the Run 17. Ob-la-Di, Ob-La-Da 18. Back in the USSR 19. A Day in the Life/Give Peace a Chance 20. Let It Be 21. Hey Jude 22. Wonderful Christmastime 23. I Saw Her Standing There 24. Get Back 25. Yesterday 26. Sgt. Pepper 27. The End