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Let Him Be

Sir Paul's best years may be far behind him, but he's still worth checking out, if you can afford it

According to his most famous song, Paul McCartney believes in yesterday. If you were him, wouldn't you? Forty-five years ago, he and John Lennon formed a skiffle-inspired group that, after a few years and a few personnel changes, came to be known as the Beatles. Perhaps you've heard of them.

In the years since that band summarily changed the world and then split up, the public's seemingly unquenchable thirst for all things Fab (the Beatles' greatest-hits collection, 1, released three decades after the group's demise, was the best-selling CD of 2001), McCartney's long and winding solo career and his canny investment portfolio (he owns, among other things, the publishing rights to everything from "Peggy Sue" to "On Wisconsin"), have made him the first rock & roll billionaire, a knight of the realm and, arguably, the most famous musician on the planet.

Oh, and he has a young pretty wife, too.

Now, before any of you stand up and shout about the unfairness of it all or wonder aloud how the guy who made Give My Regards to Broad Street, say, or Press to Play still has a career, much less one that, at this late date, finds him on a mostly sold-out tour of the States (at press time, tickets were still available for his show on October 9 at Savvis Center), it should be pointed out that Macca's not the only one on a nostalgia trip this year. The Rolling Stones, the Who and other old gods almost dead (in a phrase of Robert Graves' that was recently appropriated by Stones biographer Stephen Davis) are out on the road proving that the occasional peek back over your shoulder isn't a vice.

At least it's not a vice in McCartney's case. His current "Back in the U.S." tour -- really just the second leg of his spring outing, dubbed "Driving Rain" after his latest album -- finds the freshly minted sexagenarian revisiting numerous Beatle classics such as "Hey Jude," "Eleanor Rigby," "Lady Madonna," "Blackbird," "I Saw Her Standing There," "Back in the U.S.S.R.," "Hello Goodbye" and others. Strange, isn't it, how Beatles songs never really seem to age and continue to sound fresh in ways that so many other relics of the '60s do not?

On this leg of the tour, McCartney has retooled the setlist a bit, dropping songs from his solo years such as "C Moon" and "Vanilla Sky" in favor of still more Beatles tunes, including "Michelle" and "She's Leaving Home." The latter number and "Getting Better" are special treats for serious fans: Until this year, they've never been performed live by the Beatles or any individual member of the group. What dyed-in-the-wool Beatlemaniac wouldn't want to hear them for that reason alone?

McCartney's years with Wings are sometimes ridiculed (and rightly so -- c'mon, Back to the Egg?), but as the recent compilation Wingspan proved, there are some fine hits from that era, some of which ("Live and Let Die," "My Love," "Let Me Roll It," "Jet" and, of course, "Band on the Run") have found their way into the show as well.

As McCartney albums go, Driving Rain is a middling one, but he's actively promoting it by playing several of its songs, including "Lonely Road," "Your Loving Flame" and the title track. (Hey, gotta keep those sheep on his Scottish farm fed, right?) But he's also playing them to spotlight his love for the missus, who's addressed in some of the new numbers. Happily, the new songs he's playing -- apart from the insipid and simplistic (however well-intentioned) "Freedom" -- are also the best of the lot from the album.

True, Macca is starting to show signs of his age. At a show earlier this year in Chicago, he flubbed the words to several songs, including, of all things, "Yesterday" ("Oops, Sparky made a little mistake," he quipped afterwards). He also required a TelePrompTer to get through several other songs. Fans have shown an extraordinary tolerance for this sort of thing lately, though at this rate, there's no telling whether we'll still need him/feed him when he's 64.

Of course, by that time he may not have much use for us, either. In the near future, there'll be several new products on the market to increase his accounts considerably, including a live CD and DVD from the first part of the tour (both are due in November). Already in the stores is his new Wingspan book, featuring photos and comments by McCartney that document the middle years of his career.

Beatle fans who've been snapping up the new DVD version of A Hard Day's Night are also hotly awaiting the next archival release, a version of Let It Be minus Phil Spector's string arrangements. This new version is said to be more in line with the way McCartney wanted the album to sound in the first place.

Also recently unearthed is a fifteen-minute-plus Sgt. Pepper outtake called "Carnival of Light" that will be used on a soundtrack to a movie being made of Beatle photographs taken by McCartney's late wife, Linda. (A side note: a display of Linda McCartney's photographs, titled Linda McCartney's Sixties: Portrait of an Era is on display at the Sheldon Art Galleries through November 2.)

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