Maximum Performance

Paul McCartney Surprises Queens High School With High-Energy Concert

Maximum Performance

Tune in Monday, October 14 at 6pm PT/9pm ET to see Paul McCartney's Frank Sinatra School of the Arts concert stream EXCLUSIVELY on Yahoo

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photo: MJ Kim/MPL Communications for iHeartRadio

By Jon Wiederhorn

The fortunate pupils at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, Queens, New York, often enjoy performances by guest musicians as part of their curriculum. But these students didn't have any idea what kind of treat they were in for when they were summoned to the Tony Bennett Concert Hall the afternoon of Tuesday, October 8...until the school's principal announced that none other than Paul McCartney was going to perform a special show just for them.

Coincidentally, the concert took place the day of two important dates: the birthday of late Beatle John Lennon, who would have been 73, and on a less somber note, the second anniversary of McCartney's marriage to third wife Nancy Shevell (who was in attendance, as was the school's founder, Tony Bennett). Sir Paul was certainly in the mood to celebrate, performing Beatles classics, Wings anthems, and a few songs from his upcoming album New, out October 15.

McCartney played the set with his current touring band, with the show split into five musical sections and four short Q&A breaks, during which the students asked surprisingly astute questions. But of course, it was the music that kept the crowd smiling, dancing, and singing along.

Dressed in a black suit and black tie, McCartney launched right into "Eight Days a Week," playing his trademark Hofner 500/1 bass and singing with the zeal of a young artist rocking a stadium for the first time. The vocal harmonies were spot-on and, as with many Beatles numbers, contributed greatly to the transcendence of the music.

"This beats going to class," quipped Paul, before he rocked the hall with the first new song of the day, "Save Us," an energized number propelled by slashing guitars and quirky back-up vocals reminiscent of ELO or Queen. Lyrics like "In the heat of battle, you've got something that will save us" suggested that New will feature political numbers in addition to Paul's famous love songs.

Speaking of love songs, McCartney dedicated the title track of his new album to his wife; the emotive, melodic tune was clearly written for Nancy, although it could have applied to practically any context. "We can do what we want, we can be who we choose/See, there's no guarantee, we've got nothing to lose," Macca sang. As he finished the final chord, he said, "Happy anniversary, baby."

Two more Beatles songs, "Lady Madonna" (with McCartney at the piano, making the tune swing) and "We Can Work it Out" (which featured him on acoustic guitar), followed. Then it was time for the strummy new pop song "Everybody Out There" and its Beatlesque message of positivity: "There before the grace of God go you and I/Do something good before you say goodbye."

"This is the big wardrobe change of the afternoon," joked McCartney, before he removed his jacket. Then he played a heartstring-tugging solo acoustic version of "Blackbird" and explained to the students how he wrote the song to inspire those who were suffering during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. "I wanted to write a song so if the people in Arkansas or Alabama heard it, it might give them a little bit of hope," he said.

McCartney told an equally interesting story about the psychedelic number "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite." Diehard Beatles fans probably already know the tale, but the students, who were likely hearing it for the first time, seemed fascinated. "The day John and I wrote this song, we were looking at a poster on his wall, and for the lyrics we pretty much wrote down everything that was on this poster," McCartney recalled.

The remainder of the set featured the epic Wings number "Band on the Run" and three more Beatles songs, "Back in the U.S.S.R.," "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," and "Hey Jude," the latter of which inspired feverish singalongs from students and teachers alike.

It was an afternoon about possibilities and rewards, a demonstration that ambitious musicians can accomplish their dreams. McCartney clearly enjoyed the intimate environment, joking with the audience and encouraging the kids to pursue their own artistic passions. "You rock on. You be great. You be lovely in your careers," he exclaimed, right before leaving the stage.

Even after he was gone, the dazed and inspired students continued to sing the chorus of "Hey Jude" for several minutes. A more entertaining and invigorating assembly they will likely never attend.

Paul McCartney's setlist at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts was as follows:

"Eight Days a Week"
"Save Us"
"Jet"
Q&A
"New"
"Lady Madonna"
Q&A
"We Can Work It Out"
"Everybody Out There"
"Blackbird"
Q&A
"For the Benefit of Mr. Kite"
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"
Q&A
"Band on the Run"
"Back in the U.S.S.R."
"Hey Jude"

And on Thursday, Paul had another surprise in store for New York fans, when he tweeted:

Come back for more details on McCartney's latest New York pop-up show, and make sure to tune in Monday, October 14 at 6pm PT/9pm ET to see Paul McCartney's Frank Sinatra School of the Arts concert stream exclusively on Yahoo.

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