Paul McCartney Surprises Queens High School With High-Energy Concert
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By Jon Wiederhorn
The fortunate pupils at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, Queens, New York, often enjoy performances by guest musicians as part of their curriculum. But these students didn't have any idea what kind of treat they were in for when they were summoned to the Tony Bennett Concert Hall the afternoon of Tuesday, October 8...until the school's principal announced that none other than Paul McCartney was going to perform a special show just for them.
Coincidentally, the concert took place the day of two important dates: the birthday of late Beatle John Lennon, who would have been 73, and on a less somber note, the second anniversary of McCartney's marriage to third wife Nancy Shevell (who was in attendance, as was the school's founder, Tony Bennett). Sir Paul was certainly in the mood to celebrate, performing Beatles classics, Wings anthems, and a few songs from his upcoming album New, out October 15.
McCartney played the set with his current touring band, with the show split into five musical sections and four short Q&A breaks, during which the students asked surprisingly astute questions. But of course, it was the music that kept the crowd smiling, dancing, and singing along.
Dressed in a black suit and black tie, McCartney launched right into "Eight Days a Week," playing his trademark Hofner 500/1 bass and singing with the zeal of a young artist rocking a stadium for the first time. The vocal harmonies were spot-on and, as with many Beatles numbers, contributed greatly to the transcendence of the music.
"This beats going to class," quipped Paul, before he rocked the hall with the first new song of the day, "Save Us," an energized number propelled by slashing guitars and quirky back-up vocals reminiscent of ELO or Queen. Lyrics like "In the heat of battle, you've got something that will save us" suggested that New will feature political numbers in addition to Paul's famous love songs.
Speaking of love songs, McCartney dedicated the title track of his new album to his wife; the emotive, melodic tune was clearly written for Nancy, although it could have applied to practically any context. "We can do what we want, we can be who we choose/See, there's no guarantee, we've got nothing to lose," Macca sang. As he finished the final chord, he said, "Happy anniversary, baby."
Two more Beatles songs, "Lady Madonna" (with McCartney at the piano, making the tune swing) and "We Can Work it Out" (which featured him on acoustic guitar), followed. Then it was time for the strummy new pop song "Everybody Out There" and its Beatlesque message of positivity: "There before the grace of God go you and I/Do something good before you say goodbye."
"This is the big wardrobe change of the afternoon," joked McCartney, before he removed his jacket. Then he played a heartstring-tugging solo acoustic version of "Blackbird" and explained to the students how he wrote the song to inspire those who were suffering during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. "I wanted to write a song so if the people in Arkansas or Alabama heard it, it might give them a little bit of hope," he said.