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MUSIC REVIEW

McCartney brings the whole package

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By James Reed
Globe Staff / August 6, 2009

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The whole evening could have gone like this, and the entire stadium of cheering fans probably would have been tickled and content to sing along.

“Baby, you can drive my car.’’

“Hey, Jude, don’t make it bad.’’

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.’’

Instead, last night Paul McCartney kicked off the first of his two concerts at Fenway Park with a nearly flawless performance that played heavily to audience favorites while allowing him to stretch out as an artist who is obviously still vital and relevant.

Given his deep catalog, there was a lot of ground to cover, and McCartney balanced it beautifully in a 2 1/2-hour show with more than 30 songs that spanned his work as a solo artist and with the Beatles and Wings, right up to his latest project, the Fireman.

The Beatles’ legacy was alive and well in the set list (“Let It Be,’’ “The Long and Winding Road,’’ “Get Back’’), but McCartney made a point of giving his late band members their due. A photo montage of George Harrison unfolded behind McCartney as he played “Something’’ on a ukulele Harrison gave him. He later ignited a singalong of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance,’’ complete with a sea of fingers flashing the peace sign.

McCartney couldn’t have picked a better time to be out on the road. In early September, the Beatles’ remastered catalog will be released, along with the anticipated arrival of the video game “The Beatles: Rock Band,’’ which fans got a sneak preview of during “Got to Get You Into My Life.’’

McCartney is not an ostentatious performer, but he’s a lovable ham. A few songs in, he removed his buttoned-up jacket to reveal a white Oxford shirt with red suspenders. On two occasions, he rallied the ladies to scream by casually mentioning how the Beatles could never hear themselves in the old days because of the deafening shrieks. You have to hand it to him: This guy knows he’s beloved and loves his fans right back.

Aside from a pop of pyrotechnics onstage and glittering fireworks in the sky during “Live and Let Die,’’ McCartney kept the focus squarely on his playing.

His taut, muscular band disappeared for a pair of songs, allowing McCartney to fingerpick a crisp and lovely version of “Blackbird’’ and “Here Today,’’ which he explained he wrote after Lennon died as an imaginary conversation they never had. “Everyone’s gone and left me alone with you,’’ McCartney remarked. “But it’s OK. I kind of like it.’’

MGMT had the unenviable task of opening, but the Brooklyn band, whose praises McCartney has sung in recent months, held its own. Amid the psychedelic, electro-pop confections, there were glimmers of the Beatles’ early, jangly songcraft, not to mention guitarist Andrew VanWyngarden’s mop of hair that resembled McCartney’s circa ’64.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.

PAUL McCARTNEY With MGMT

At: Fenway Park, last night (repeats tonight)

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