- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2005

John Lennon loved humanity. Paul McCartney loves people. Over three hours at the MCI Center Saturday night, an avuncular Sir Paul told stories and jokes, waxed nostalgic and led the sell-out crowd in choir practice. Oh, and he played his songs — from pre-Beatles juvenilia to a worthy sampling from his warmly received new all-Paul album, “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.”

Shifting effortlessly from his signature Hofner violin bass to an assortment of acoustic and electric guitars and a grand piano — with a last-minute cameo by an upright painted in psychedelic swirls — the pop polymath had his way with his adoring, multigenerational audience.

Exuberantly abetted by the same four whippersnappers that backed him on his last tour, the elder statesman brought the crowd to its feet with the opening chords of “Magical Mystery Tour.” And kept them there for much of the show. They were still standing when he finished his final extended encore with the peacey-lovey parting advice of “The End.” In between, he had them singing and swaying — and reliving their youths. And, strikingly for such a lighthearted performer, he had a good many of them in tears.

It’s hard to think of a major star who enjoys an easier rapport with his audience. He bathes in crowd approval after almost every well-worn hit — neither bored by his golden oldies, nor embarrassed. He pumps his fists, prowls the stage with hands clasped aloft in triumph, performs an endearingly ungainly little shimmy dance — anything to milk a few more squirts of affection from his fans-for-life.

He not only reads aloud from the homemade signs bobbing in the houselights, he claims to find them so diverting he’s apt to lose his place in the song he’s playing.

Before “Good Day Sunshine,” he proudly related how NASA chose it to wake up last summer’s Discovery crew on their last day in space. He returned to the atmospheric theme with a funny anecdote about the Russian authorities making cryptic guarantees that it would not rain on his 2003 open-air concert in Red Square. Sir Paul surmises they send the MiGs up — and that’s why you never saw rain on a Soviet military parade. Then, he and his adrenalized young sidemen tore into “Back in the USSR.”

He led the crowd in two singalongs — on one of the first songs he ever wrote, “In Spite of All the Danger,” and one of his most beloved, “Hey Jude,” by now a mass catharsis that McCartney audiences have come to expect as an entitlement.

He reminisces. Does he ever. Mr. McCartney has grown more sentimental and nostalgic with age. That may sound like a frightening thought. He is, after all, the man who wrote “Yesterday” in his early 20s.

But now he’s 63. That’s what a man that age is supposed do when he gets together with old friends. And that’s how this most haimish and accessible-seeming of pop legends seems to view his audience — as 20,000 of his dearest old friends.

Saturday night he asked the crowd for a moment of silence in appreciation of “our” (not “my”) “departed loved ones — John, George and Linda.” (He played “Happy Birthday” for John after one fan reminded him of the date.)

He introduced “Blackbird” by sweetly recalling how he adapted its delicate guitar intro from a Bach piece that he and George Harrison used to duet on as teenagers in Liverpool. The nostalgia flowed without restraint: how he selected “Till There was You” for the early Beatles so the bar band could snag some “sophisticated” cabaret bookings; how he wrote “I’ll Follow the Sun” in the “parlor” of his boyhood home. And, of course, he recalled that the Beatles’ first performance in North America was in D.C. 41 years ago.

If he weren’t Paul McCartney, you might say Sir Paul has developed excellent taste in Paul McCartney music. For his current set list, he has reached into the middle depths of his Beatles-era repertoire for some unexpected and unassuming gems that would make many a McCartney connoisseur’s list of favorite tunes, even if they’re not certified standards.

His cozy, mid-show solo acoustic suite, for example, included “For No One,” a fragile after-the-shouting ballad from “Revolver,” and “I Will,” an infectious avowal of undying love from the “White Album.”

During this Paul-by-myself interlude, he played “Jenny Wren” and “English Tea” from his new album, confirming what many have suspected: They fit comfortably alongside his patented hearthstone classics. The former echoes “Blackbird’s” intricate acoustic guitar figures but sounds like a survival from some older bardic tradition: It would sound great on a lute. The latter is one of those toasty McCartney music hall novelties: Add a pipe organ to it and it might as well be from side two of “Magical Mystery Tour.”

Of course, Paul McCartney is Paul McCartney, and he would not be permitted to leave an arena under his own powers unless he offered a generous selection of his soundtrack-of-a-generation standards. Saturday’s menu included the propulsive bubble-gum of “Jet,” the Stevie Wonderish “Got to Get You Into My Life” and probably his best post-Beatles piano ballad, the soulful “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

The concentration of megahits grew denser as the set’s momentum built to a climax with the crowd-pleasing spectacle and winking grandiosity of “Live and Let Die,” with its percussive blasts, jets of fire and rising puffs of smoke in Kool-Aid colors.

He came back alone for a perfunctory “Yesterday” before winding the crowd up all over again with full band on “Get Back” and his claim to being a forefather of heavy metal, “Helter Skelter.”

He came back again and just kept playing. By the time the show approached the three-hour mark, it was clear: The old boy didn’t want to leave.

Hanging around playing Beatles songs on guitars all night is a lot of fun. Generations of buskers and bar bands and campfire guitarists have known it. Why wouldn’t Paul McCartney?

The only thing bad about listening to Paul McCartney play his songs for three hours is that sooner or later it reminds you that you will never spend an evening listening to John Lennon play his.

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