Friday, 24 April 2009

Paul McCartney rocks Las Vegas

The occasion: Two nights after his acclaimed headline gig at Coachella, Paul McCartney rocked The Joint Sunday night, capping the opening weekend of the Hard Rock Hotel's super-sonic $60 million venue that doubles the capacity of the same-named hall that closed in February. Sir Paul set a world record by selling out the house in seven seconds on Valentine's Day. General admission tickets cost $195 to $700 (for suite seats) but fetched thousands from scalpers. It's only love.

Macca the knife: McCartney, 66, remains a sharp and agile performer, his voice as supple, warm and elastic as ever. Trim in a black suit, white shirt and suspenders, he maintained a boyish energy and upbeat tone through the show's briskly paced 212-hour parade of 33 songs. While ably backed by longtime band mates Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums, Paul "Wix" Wickens on keyboards and Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson on guitars, McCartney was an eager heavy lifter.

Fabbest forays: Beatles hits proved most popular, and McCartney generously cherry-picked the catalog, opening with the joyride Drive My Car and delivering equally sleek versions of Eleanor Rigby, Back in the USSR and Paperback Writer. A chilling revival of A Day in the Life segued into the chanted Give Peace a Chance. Macca signatures Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road, embedded in boomer DNA, still have the power to raise gooseflesh.

Winging it: McCartney's solo selections didn't pale against Fab Four fare. And it wasn't just Wings high-fliers like Jet, Band on the Run and Let Me RollIt that stirred excitement. The tough Only Mama Knows, boogie-rocking Flaming Pie and accordion-sweetened Calico Skies stood up to McCartney's finest compositions. Mrs. Vanderbilt perhaps was a tad twee, but he pointed out, "I'll have you know that song is very popular in the Ukraine."

Where's the fire, man? It's in The Fireman, McCartney's nom de techno with collaborator Youth. The raucous Highway and dramatic U2-esque Sing the Changes, both from the pair's Electric Arguments album, gave the show edge and currency. Smoking The Joint: The building theatrics of Live and Let Die culminated in noisy pyrotechnics that filled The Joint with smoke, the perfect setting for the hazy nostalgia that accompanied a sing-along that followed.

Paul's game face: He's still The Cute Beatle, even digitally. During Got to Get You Into My Life, the huge screen behind the band flashed previews from fall's The Beatles: Rock Band videogame. Expect fireworks and psychedelic flourishes with the foursome's instrumental prowess.

Gentle shout-outs: McCartney, strumming a ukulele George Harrison gave him, paid homage to the late Beatle in a playful and poignant acoustic version of Something. Wife Linda, who died 11 years ago, was remembered in a wobbly performance of My Love, which he dedicated to "all the lovers in the room." And his nod to John Lennon in a heart-melting Here Today contained "stuff I might have said to him but didn't get a chance." Listen to what the man said: Introducing Blackbird, McCartney reminded the audience that the song pertained to the '60s civil rights struggles. "It's really great to come all this way and find you have President Obama," he said. "Yeah, change has come."

You say goodbye and I say hello: McCartney's protracted encores brought fans to the brink of hysteria, first with Can't Buy Me Love (augmented by Help! footage), Lady Madonna and a feverish I Saw Her Standing There. He returned for the always-moving Yesterday, a fierce Helter Skelter and Get Back. "This is the point where we have got to go home," McCartney said before launching into a cheery Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, illustrated by a pulsating backdrop of a sunrise. A fitting symbol for an artist still rising to the occasion.

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