The hand-painted sign draped over the BC Place railings before the show read “Paul Thanks For The Music.”

It summed up the mood perfectly.

Last night began with a stadium full of pop pilgrims not exactly confident that the septuagenarian superstar could live up to his past glories. Fair enough. Paying homage to the living legacy of the ultimate cultural goalpost shifters, the key creative collective of the 20th century, was reason enough to be present. The Beatles still mean that much.

Greatness, it turned out, doesn’t wither with age.

IN PICTURES: Sir Paul McCartney in Vancouver

Not that anyone knew it during the night’s opening track, a booming “Magical Mystery Tour” that had a couple of missed vocal notes alongside its still-epic bass runs. The crowd, noticeably nervous, breathed a collective sigh of relief as McCartney’s voice stayed on track through “All My Loving” and “Jet”.

“48 years?” he asked, referring to the last time one of his bands played Vancouver. “That can’t be true.”

McCartney, although regularly dipping into his extensive Wings and solo back catalogue, seemed perfectly aware that his best material came from his time with that band. “Drive My Car” was bouncy fun, “The Night Before” pushed his vocals to their limits, “Purple Haze” (accompanied by a tribute to Jimi Hendrix) gave McCartney a chance to demonstrate his shredding skills, and “Paperback Writer” still resonated with pop genius. So far, so enjoyable.

It was only when McCartney sat down at the piano to sing “The Long and Winding Road” that he seemingly relaxed, producing his first great vocal performance of the night. He was just warming up.

Picking up an acoustic guitar McCartney launched into an astonishing sequence of “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” “And I Love Her,” a solo “Blackbird” and the unsentimental but honest tribute to John Lennon, “Here Today.” Each was delivered raw, allowing the brilliance of the songs to shine through. Simplicity, as Leonardo Da Vinci wisely observed, remains the ultimate sophistication.

It’s worth pointing out that McCartney, massive musical talent aside, is not a natural stadium rock star. The thumbs ups and grandpa-style booty wiggles between songs are clear pointers that Sir Paul, despite his residing on the cultural cutting edge throughout the 1960s, has long since dispensed with traditional ideas of cool. He’s gone beyond that, accepting his place as one half of history’s greatest song writing team with modesty, grace and a sense of humour, as a brief anecdote recalling his meeting with the Russian Minister of Defence indicated.

“We learned English from Beatles records,” he growled, imitating the Minister’s accent, “Hello Goodbye!”

The sighs of appreciation from the crowd were audible as classic slices of Beatles history began to mount up – “Back in the USSR”, “I’ve Got A Feeling” and a masterful “A Day In The Life” arriving one after another.

“Live and Let Die” was an out-of-place blast of bombast, its pyro explosions playing havoc with McCartney’s hair and leaving him with his fingers in his ears comically mouthing “It’s too loud” at the crowd. “Hey Jude”, sung by absolutely everyone in the building, put the good time ship back on course.

Two encores included a crackling “Day Tripper,” the timeless “Yesterday,” “Mull of Kintyre” (accompanied by the Delta Police Pipe and Drum Band, many of whom clearly couldn’t believe they were on stage with Paul McCartney), and a banging “Helter Skelter,” its proto-metal riffing clearly a performance favourite of his incredible band.

The heavily rumoured guest appearance by Bruce Springsteen never materialised. It didn’t matter. This was stadium rock built on warmth, not swagger. It was a night carried on a wave of love and admiration for Paul McCartney the artist and man, an incredible talent who has somehow remained down-to-earth despite the endless and wholly deserved accolades.

The concert finished with a bold choice; the medley from the end of “Abbey Road,” leaving McCartney’s last words of the night an echo of The Beatles’ great swansong.

“And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

After a spectacular journey through the past from one of the very greatest of the greats, Paul McCartney left the stage basking in the love of an entire stadium.

No one could deserve it more.


Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated McCartney sang "From Me To You" instead of "All My Loving".  We apologise for any confusion.