Paul McCartney BC Place, Vancouver, BC, November 25

Paul McCartney BC Place, Vancouver, BC, November 25
Photo: Steve Louie
In the 48 years since Paul McCartney last performed in Vancouver, the so-called "cute" Beatle has shaped the course of pop music history and become one of the most famous and influential songwriters of all time. Needless to say, he had a lot of ground to cover.

The tens of thousands of fans who packed BC Place ranged from toddlers to folks old enough to have been in attendance when the Fab Four played Vancouver's Empire Stadium back in 1964. Even before he took the stage, the nostalgia parade was already well underway, as a DJ spun remixes of some well-known Beatles hits.

When Sir Paul arrived, he immediately delved into his classic material, clutching his signature Höfner 500/1 bass and leading his band in a rousing version of "Magical Mystery Tour." He was joined by a relatively stripped-down lineup consisting of a drummer, a keyboardist and two guitarists (one of whom switched to bass when the singer played a different instrument).

The group adhered closely to the original arrangements on nearly every song, with the keyboardist employing a variety of synthesized sounds to imitate the Beatles' ornate orchestrations. He utilized haunting string sounds during a chilling version of "Eleanor Rigby" and conjured up a cacophonous orchestra for the epic "Day in the Life," which finished with a sing-along interpolation of "Give Peace a Chance" by late Beatle John Lennon. McCartney's voice sounded a little weathered and shaky — he is 70 after all — but it mostly held up well enough to convey the material.

Despite Macca's many years in the business, he hasn't grown tired of hamming it up on stage. He frequently milked the crowd for cheers, performed wiggly dances between songs, declared Vancouver "a mover and a groover," and, at one point, ran around brandishing a massive Canadian flag.

His antics were corny yet lovable, and the crowd roared with delight at anecdotes about the likes of George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. When McCartney stripped off his tightly buttoned suit jacket to reveal a white shirt and a pair of red suspenders, he joked, "That is the only wardrobe change of the evening."

Occasionally, he ventured into his recent solo work, playing the romantic "My Valentine" from this year's Kisses on the Bottom and the mandolin-driven "Dance Tonight" from 2007's Memory Almost Full. The latter was particularly memorable thanks to mountainous drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., who stood behind his kit and performed a comical array of dances, including the sprinkler, the "Macarena" and the ubiquitous "Gangnam Style" gallop.

As the three-hour set wore on, it was impossible not to be awed by the sheer volume of timeless songs in McCartney's repertoire. The band tore through sprightly versions of "All My Loving," "Drive My Car," "Paperback Writer," "Back in the U.S.S.R." and "Day Tripper," as well as an acoustic version of "I've Just Seen a Face." McCartney took up a ukulele for the Harrison-penned "Something," and he switched to the grand piano for crowd pleasers like "Let It Be," "Maybe I'm Amazed," "The Long and Winding Road" and "Hey Jude."

One of the best moments came when he was left alone on stage with an acoustic guitar for "Blackbird," which was gorgeous in its delicate simplicity. During this tune, the large screens behind him showed a still image of a full moon.

He saved one of his most entertaining tricks close to the end of the set, as the 1973 Bond theme "Live and Let Die" was punctuated by massive blasts of pyrotechnics. Seated at his piano, McCartney's hair was quite literally blowing in the wind created by the billowing fireballs that rose up just a few feet from his head.

During the second of the two encores that ended the night, the singer followed "Yesterday" by bringing out a few dozen kilt-wearing bagpipers and drummers from the Delta Police Pipe Band for the folksy "Mull of Kintyre."

The night closed with a chunk of the medley from 1969's Abbey Road, finishing, appropriately enough, with "The End." After bowing, McCartney told the crowd, "We'll see you next time," and departed with a massive blast of red and white confetti.

Given that he is 70 years old, and considering how long it's been since he last came to town, it seems very unlikely that there will ever be a "next time." This, of course, only made the evening's hit parade all the more special.