Friday, September 26, 2008

Macca, older than Israel, rocks Tel Aviv

Some killjoys were snarling about rapacious ticket prices, unwilling to boost the alimony of the world's most famous one-legged divorcee, Heather Mills. And death threats were issued against Paul--now half of the remaining Beatles-- if he dared to perform in Israel some four decades after Zionist bureaucrats banned the ultimate boy band. By now, the Fab Four is on the verge of becoming the doddering duo. But for two and a half hours, the sexagenarian Paul MacCartney (the cute one) put on quite a show last night. In the West Bank, at a Bethlehem music school, he had showed off his chops on the harmonica--but a hoped-for free concert for Palestinians failed to materialize.
He avoided Ramallah for security reasons after flash-mobs started to assemble for a protest demonstration at the music school there. Give Peace a Chance, anyone?

The Pipes of Peace or Live and Let Die? It must have been a tough choice for Paul McCartney, writes James Hider of The Times, considering the message of brotherly love that he hoped to disseminate with his first concert in Israel, a country under constant attack from militants of all stripes that prides itself on offing its foes with Bond-like ruthlessness.

Luckily for the crowd in Tel Aviv, McCartney put a bullet through the head of the insipid little peace ditty and opted for the James Bond setpiece that turned around what had been, up until then, a rather uninspired start.

It lit up the stage in a volcanic eruption of fireworks that must have been visible in the hills of the West Bank, where the Palestinian leadership were sulking about being snubbed by the ex-Beatle.

For a man six years older than the country in which he was playing, Macca gave an energetic performance, once he found his stride. The start of the show was not promising, with a few blander Beatles pop numbers like You say hello interspersed with some maudlin, instantly forgettable songs from the Wings years. Like Israel, McCartney bears a particularly heavy burden of the past, and he must have noticed how the crowd seized up for many of his solo efforts, only to come alive again once he steered back to favourites penned with John Lennon.

The high point of the first half was a tribute to his old writing partner, Give Peace a Chance, which struck a chord with the war-calloused crowd. After the last notes died away, one middle-aged man with a child on his shoulders and a heavy Israeli accent kept shouting, “Give peace a chance, give peace a chance,” as though he was channeling the trampled ghost of the Oslo Accords.

The problem with a Paul McCartney concert is that the Beatles songs are so familiar that they tend to resemble a karaoke session at an old people’s home, while the Wings numbers have a hazy, half-forgotten quality, with the uncanny ability to dredge up memories of grey Sundays on damp Welsh holidays in the 1970s — even on a warm Tel Aviv night.

Even worse was his foray into his very latest oeuvre. When he began last year’s mandolin-inspired Dance Tonight with a sprightly little jig, he looked up and noticed that he was the only person in Hayarkon Park actually moving, as though 40,000 people had suddenly, spontaneously, decided to play a round of grandmother’s footsteps.

It was only after Live and Let Die that McCartney seemed to find his stride, whipping up the crowd with rocking performances of Back in the USSR’ (with an amusing background video of May Day parades and dancing Cossacks, which must have brought back happy memories to members of the million-strong Russian community) before letting rip with Hey Jude and Get Back, when he finally got the reaction that he’d been looking for all evening: pure joy.

When the Beatles craze was sweeping the world four decades ago, Israel rather prudishly declined to allow the Fab Four to play. That decision made Israel wait 43 years before a Beatle would play here. Judging by the imploring crowd, it was worth the wait.

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