By Simon Vozick-Levinson
July 21, 2009 at 07:21 PM EDT

Tonight, Paul McCartney will play the final date of a three-night stand at Queens, N.Y.’s Citi Field. This is my review of the first of those shows, which took place last Friday, July 17. Watch a clip from that night featuring special guest star Billy Joel below, then read on (full text is after the jump) — and let us know in the comments section if you were at any of McCartney’s recent performances, and what you thought.

The crowd loses it the instant Paul McCartney takes the stage at the New York Mets’ shiny new home just before 9 p.m. For a minute or two, as ­approximately 40,000 fans scream their lungs out, you can almost imagine that it’s August 1965 and the Beatles are arriving at Shea Stadium, the now-­demolished Mets ballpark that had opened just next door the previous spring. Many in the sold-out stands, though by no means all, are surely old enough to remember that historic show. Tonight, however, McCartney is kicking off a six-city American tour by playing the very first concert Citi Field has ever seen. The look in his eyes says he’s determined to make it another night to remember.

McCartney stands inside a fortresslike edifice that looms over the outfield, dwarfing the Beatles’ rinky-dink Shea stage. Huge screens display mind-melting promo visuals from The Beatles: Rock Band, the video­game that’s set to hit shelves on Sept. 9. With him are the four younger sidemen who handle his heavy ­instrumental lifting these days. But it’s clear from the first Beep-beep, yeah! of opener “Drive My Car” that McCartney hasn’t lost an ounce of enthusiasm. From there on out it’s a nostalgic set, with tunes from his 39-year solo career outnumbered nearly 2–1 by hits from the Beatles’ single active decade, right up to the literal and figurative “The End” almost three hours later. Through it all he’s an ageless ham: pulling silly faces, expertly flirting with his adoring fans, and rocking hard enough to keep ’em dancing in the pouring rain.

For all the exhilaration McCartney conjures with such ease, there are other emotions in the air tonight as well. At 67, he’s mourned far too many dear friends; at times the set list becomes a litany of loss, with tearjerkers dedicated to his late wife Linda (“My Love”), John ­Lennon (“Here Today”), and George Harrison (“Something”). And while McCartney has always been eloquent on the subject of loneliness, his life experience gives songs like “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yesterday” an added poignancy that they didn’t have in his charmed 20s.

Yet McCartney remains a consummate crowd-pleaser, shaking off those sorrowful moments whenever they threaten to bring the stadium’s mood too low. After the two-hour main set, right when his energy might be expected to have flagged—he has, after all, just given us a finale including a spectacular fireworks-assisted “Live and Let Die” and an epic “Hey Jude” sing-along—McCartney dashes back for an encore. He invites Billy Joel on stage for a ­honky-tonk “I Saw Her Standing There.” He absolutely destroys “Helter Skelter.” At last, he reluctantly prepares to leave. The evening’s next-to-last song is “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”: “We’re sorry,” he sings, “but it’s time to go.” He’s not the only one. Grade: A

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