Live photos/review: Paul McCartney at the Apollo Theater

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Photos: Cinzia Reale-Castello

You know what to expect from a Paul McCartney show, right? Alec Baldwin, one of the many celebs who turned up to watch last night's Harlem Apollo extravaganza, told cameras he was hoping Macca might do something a bit different: "Maybe he's gonna do some rap for us," he joshed. Later in the show, when McCartney played the inevitable "Yesterday," one man in the crowd whispered knowingly to his friend, "There it goes."

So yes, to an extent, you know what you're gonna get: total professionalism from one of the century's most gifted and agreeable musicians. But Rain this was not (see our review of the shlocky Beatles tribute musical here). That's partly down to the band, which launcheed into a glorious "Jet" and then "Drive My Car" with genuine attack; the old-fashioned guitar amps that crowded the stage declared an intention to rock.

And partly it's—fuck!—it's Paul McCartney! Playing in a club-size venue! It was a shock, and a delightful one, to see McCartney so very close at this Sirius XM special show, and the excitement was palpable (among the pretty much entirely white audience—a trifle strange, at the Apollo, but there you have it).

Click past the jump for the full review

McCartney, too, seemed genuinely thrilled to be playing the Apollo, calling it a Holy Grail, and jogging to the edge of the stage to touch the Lucky Log. After rattling through a handful of rocky numbers, he seated himself at a grand piano, tossing his jacket to the ground for a gloopy "Long and Winding Road." Who can tell if McCartney actually digs the song? As affable as his show banter is, it's almost entirely devoid of opinion (Drake to Lennon's Kanye?). The evening's most off-road moment was a weird little ukulele song about a Russian damsel named Petruska, which comes across like a drunken uncle's take on "Bungalow Bill."

Does that matter, though? "I'm just gonna take a moment to soak in the Apollo," said McCartney, before launching into a gorgeous "Maybe I'm Amazed." At his best, McCartney's trademark double-thumb's-up gesture simply embodies what his audience is feeling, and it's generally his Wings-era songs that deliver the greatest ka-pow. A Marvin Gaye cover ("Hitch Hike") had a troupe of dancing go-go girls taking the stage, until squealing feedback halted the number; McCartney was not delighted, but shrugged it off ("Now we've proven the show is live") and the show carried on.

Other standout moments—in an evening of watching a Beatle perform from possibly the greatest back catalog on earth—included singers from the Harlem Choir Academy coming onstage for "Wonderful Christmas Time," a heckler shouting, "Happy Christmas, man!" and a rocking take on "A Day in the Life." The band exited after two encores, and ticker tape cannons blasted the audience. Through the hail, you could still make out McCartney—trying to leave the stage, but autographing fans' handmade banners and records. It was a heartwarming moment, in a night where you could take your pick.

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