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MUSIC REVIEW

McCartney, and his songs, make this tour magical

Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.

Paul McCartney's catalog precedes him, big time. We love Beatles songs so much we're happy to hear them mangled at the school assembly and lifeless in the supermarket and even, sort of, mashed with heavy dance beats at excruciating volumes by a DJ before the McCartney concert Monday night at the TD Banknorth Garden. So the prospect of listening to those songs played by that guy -- and making a sound judgment instead of just singing along -- requires full mobilization of critical edge.

So here's the hard truth: The video biography, stuffed with screaming-girl footage, was self-indulgent, overlong, and annoying. McCartney hardly needed to remind the 16,500 adoring fans in front of him of his popularity -- or his relevance. He took care of that over the next few hours, playing 38 songs spanning 45 years that testified not only to McCartney's iconic role in the history of popular music but his enduring passion for the craft.

Alternating among bass, piano, and guitar, McCartney and his impeccable young rhythm section performed sparkling, faithful reproductions of Beatles tunes down to the synthesized trumpet fills in ''Got to Get You Into My Life." They dipped sparingly into the dubious Wings repertoire and showcased a handful of tunes from McCartney's genuinely impressive new album, ''Chaos and Creation in the Backyard." The delicate and complicated ballad ''Jenny Wren" and ''English Tea," a proper British pop song, bristled with inspiration and introspection many people suspected was no longer a vital part of McCartney's songwriting process.

The true test for any song, of course, is how it stands up toe to toe with ''Fixing a Hole," ''Eleanor Rigby," ''Penny Lane," and ''Hey Jude." McCartney, youthful-looking at 63 in jeans, blazer, and Beatle boots, paced the long set beautifully, opening with the rallying invitation of ''Magical Mystery Tour" and moving through a range of moods as vast as his catalog. The best moments came when McCartney went to extremes. During the piano ballads ''Maybe I'm Amazed" and ''The Long and Winding Road," he found all of his high notes and all of his passion. During the backloaded barnburners -- ''Get Back," ''Helter Skelter," ''Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" -- McCartney, pushing toward hour three, banished the sensitive songwriter and merry prankster persona and reminded the world that John wasn't the only rocker in the band.

But the bottom line is we've heard it all before, and truth be told the really good stuff didn't have chords or melodies at all, but rather treasured bits of information. The Beatles had to learn a few cabaret numbers to get a gig at the higher-paying clubs: among them '' 'Til There Was You." McCartney fumbled through a classical guitar piece that he and George used to play together in his living room; the structure was the basis for ''Blackbird."

Neither time nor familiarity is likely to dull the impact of McCartney's parting words: ''And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." Neither the message, nor the messenger, has withered a bit.

Joan Anderman can be reached at anderman@globe.com

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