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Appearance by Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon makes Paul McCartney show a rare experience

Paul McCartney @ MGM

Justin M. Bowen

Paul McCartney performs at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Friday, June 10, 2011.

Paul McCartney @ MGM

Paul McCartney performs at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Friday, June 10, 2011. Launch slideshow »

6/10/11: Paul McCartney at MGM Grand Garden Arena

Sir Paul McCartney at MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 10, 2011. Launch slideshow »
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Paul McCartney performs at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Friday, June 10, 2011.

Click to enlarge photo

Sir Paul McCartney at MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 10, 2011.

Click to enlarge photo

Sir Paul McCartney at MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 10, 2011.

Click to enlarge photo

Seated at MGM Grand Garden Arena for Paul McCartney's concert on Friday night were Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison.

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Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono, shown on an MGM Grand Garden Arena video panel, during "Give Peace a Chance" at Friday's Paul McCartney concert.

The song is called “Here Today.” It was written by Paul McCartney shortly after John Lennon was murdered on Dec. 8, 1980. As McCartney introduces the song, he says it is to remind us all to say what we want to say to those around us, because you never know when those people will be taken away.

“This was written after my dear friend John passed away,” he says, alone onstage while cradling an acoustic guitar. “It’s a conversation we never had.”

As he sings, “I still remember how it was before. And I am holding back the tears no more. I love you,” you are blanketed in chills, and you wonder what Lennon’s widow and youngest son would think of this performance.

Friday night at MGM Grand Garden Arena, there was no need to wonder. Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon were there, seated (and often standing) near the performance at stage left.

And you look over and there she is, a black-clad Yoko Ono, the woman most Beatles fans blame for sinisterly breaking up the band, the woman who irked McCartney himself for infiltrating Abbey Road studios and sitting on amps and driving a chisel between the greatest songwriting partnership in pop history.

Yoko Ono, the onetime villainess, is now gazing up at the stage, her hands folded and pressed to her face.

“What about the night we cried? Because there wasn't any reason left to keep it all inside.”

At the end, you realize you’d not remembered to even breathe. There is an exhaustive cheer, and Ono is clapping energetically. So is Sean, and Olivia Harrison, seated at Ono’s left. And up above is Sir George Martin, with his son Giles, and they are standing and applauding, too.

Give peace a chance, as someone wise once said. That was the rarefied atmosphere that 13,500 fans stuffed into MGM Grand Garden Arena experienced as McCartney played for three hours to cap a week when the stage show “Love” celebrated its fifth anniversary up the Strip at the Mirage.

That’s why McCartney, Ono, Harrison and the Martins were all in Las Vegas, to celebrate that landmark event. Only Ringo Starr was absent, touring Eastern Europe with his All-Starr Band. It is not known just how many McCartney performances Ono has attended, if any, but she seemed to have as much fun as anyone in the audience, often standing and waving her arms and flashing the peace sign. “Let It Be” and “Back in the USSR” were two evident favorites.

A relentless touring artist approaching his 69th birthday (which is next Saturday), McCartney has fronted his current band for nine years -- a year longer than the full lineup of The Beatles recorded. It’s worth noting first the fan favorites he left out of the updated set list: “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Here There and Everywhere” and “Coming Up” were whittled away in favor of such dusted-off classics as “And I Love Her,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and “I’m Looking Through You.”

The show could be split in three segments covering the phases of McCartney’s incomparable career: The Beatles, Wings and his solo work, the music from those eras shuffled like playing cards and flicked from the stage.

The Beatles’ classics rolled out included “Magical Mystery Tour” (to open the show), “All My Loving,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “Long and Winding Road,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Blackbird,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Paperback Writer” and, naturally, “Hey Jude.” Saved for the two encores were “Day Tripper,” “Get Back,” “Yesterday,” a customarily fierce “Helter Skelter” and the playout of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and drumbeat and guitar jam that ends Abbey Road with “The End.”

McCartney dusted off the ukulele for “Something,” reminding the audience, “George Harrison was a great ukulele player.” Amid a series of guitar changes, he used the same bass -- the Hofner he has played since 1962. For “Yesterday,” he pulled out the acoustic he played during the 1965 unveiling of the song on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

(My colleague at Las Vegas Weekly, Spencer Patterson, has a great take on last night's show, which also includes a listing of the evening's full set list.)

McCartney’s best Wings work fell nicely in line. “Jet” and “Band on the Run” are dependable rockers. “Live and Let Die” provided the expected pyrotechnics. McCartney seems to have summoned even more firepower for the song, leaving the stage obscured in a thick fog of smoke and guitarist Rusty Anderson laying supine on the stage.

“Mrs. Vanderbilt” forges a sing-along every time out, and “1985” reminds of the best moments of McCartney’s post-Beatles foray with Wings.

McCartney stayed with the proven commodities, not playing any of the relatively obscure solo numbers he’d favored during his most recent Vegas appearance at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel in April 2009. There was no “Calico Skies” or “Flaming Pie” from the album of that name. But he did play one song from the very good “Fireman” release, “Sing the Changes.” Unexpectedly (especially for those who had seen copies of the set list being texted through the arena before and during the show), he played one of his very best solo numbers, “Maybe I’m Amazed,” practically growling through much of the song as the indefatigable Abe Laboriel assaulted the drums.

As he has in previous tour stops, McCartney performed songs he did not chiefly write or sing. He pulled a song that both Rolling Stone and Sean Lennon have said is The Beatles’ best, ever: “A Day in the Life.” As the song reached its climax, he shifted into “Give Peace a Chance,” which is in fact a Lennon/Ono anthem, but which Lennon listed as a Lennon/McCartney partnership, in a brief nod to peace during The Beatles combative breakup.

As McCartney shouted, “All we are saying is give peace a chance!” Ono rose from her seat, the video panel beaming her image as she sang and smiled and waved the peace sign.

In the long history of The Beatles, peace and love have won out. Finally.

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