McCartney Performs Radio Concert At Apollo

At age 68, Paul McCartney has the richest catalogue in pop music to wander around in. Only Bob Dylan could argue the point.

On a snowy night at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater, with a frisky band and a live radio audience, McCartney clearly enjoyed the journey. He performed a two-hour, 27-song set in front of Sirius XM Radio subscribers and celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld, Alec Baldwin, Martha Stewart, Tony Bennett and Rolling Stone Ron Wood.

Photo: AP Photo
Paul McCartney performs in concert for the first time at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater in New York.

His concert served dual purposes. Sirius, relieved to get a new contract for Howard Stern, is approaching 20 million subscribers and wanted to celebrate. McCartney is promoting a deluxe reissue of his Band on the Run album, and Sirius is devoting a special channel to his music.

The Harlem theater was dressed up in searchlights and a red carpet for the event. McCartney alluded to the influence that many of the musicians who played the Apollo had on him.

“I know it’s special to you New Yorkers,” he said. “To us British boys, it’s really special.”

His one tribute to the locale, a spirited cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1962 hit “Hitch Hike,” was unfortunately marred by technical difficulties. The vocal microphones went quiet halfway through the song, forcing McCartney and his four-piece band to stop. They tried again, only to have to stop again. The third time worked.

In a trim black suit with white shirt and hair – naturally or not – still black and in a modified moptop, McCartney looked almost unnervingly like he did decades ago, especially when he held his Hofner bass. But the years have passed, and two of his former Beatle mates are dead.

McCartney has an energetic young band with him now, and it serves him well. Most of his show was full-on rock ‘n’ roll, to the point where he joked at one point, “hope we haven’t deafened you.”

The band makes some of McCartney’s songs, like “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” far more muscular than they are on record. Three of his band members are good singers, and their work on “Drive My Car” and others helps cover for the fact their boss’ voice has lost some of its youthful suppleness.

McCartney manages the deterioration well, and his performance of “Blackbird” benefited from a deeper, more mature voice. On “All My Loving,” though, the voice reminded us that many years have passed.

The hits came fast and furious toward the end – “Let it Be,” “Hey Jude,” “Get Back,” “Yesterday.” But this concert was most delightful when McCartney reached toward some less expected material. They included one of the oldest Lennon-McCartney compositions, “One After 909,” the Rubber Soul chestnut “I’m Looking Through You” and his ukelele-accompanied “Dance Tonight.” Also fun were the handful of cuts brought out to highlight the Band on the Run disc.

As he did on “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend, McCartney performed “A Day in the Life” as a medley with “Give Peace a Chance,” a John Lennon solo cut that had a Lennon-McCartney songwriting credit upon its 1969 release.

Photo: AP Photo
Apollo Theatre, New York City.

In a tribute to the season, McCartney even gathered a local choir to perform his holiday hit, “Wonderful Christmastime.”

As the show ended, fake snowflakes drifted to the stage to match the real ones blowing outside.