paul mccartney bethlehem 224 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Forty-three years after The Beatles were first denied the chance to perform in Israel, Paul McCartney rocked a near-full capacity crowd of 50,000 Thursday night at Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv.
Whatever reasons were behind The Beatles' aborted 1965 arrival here, they were immediately forgotten as soon as McCartney, playing his trademark HÃ¶fner bass guitar, burst into his first song, "Hello, Goodbye."
The fans who filled the park, both standing in front of the stage and in the more expensive bleacher seats, stood throughout the show as McCartney and his four-piece band played a generous selection of Beatles songs, including "Drive My Car" and "All My Loving," as well as solo hits like "Jet" and "My Love," which he dedicated - in Hebrew - to his late wife, Linda.
The show, which lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours, included two encores which featured songs like "Yesterday," and "The End," from Abbey Road.
After the second song, McCartney spoke to the audience and said, "Shalom, Tel Aviv, Shana Tova, Ahlan!"
"I will also speak some English tonight," he added.
There was a carnival atmosphere around the park, with vendors, picnickers and even a Habad tefillin station greeting arrivals. Early arrivals were treated to an informal McCartney sound check as they waited outside the gates.
McCartney performed renditions of "I'll Follow the Sun," "The Midnight Special," and "Something," by former bandmate George Harrison, which he played on a ukelele.
The crowd was a heterogenous mix of older, middle-aged and young fans, both secular and observant.
Moshe, 30, from Ma'aleh Adumim, said he only decided at the beginning of the week to attend the show. "I've been a Beatles fan for as long I can remember. I hesitated at first, but ultimately it was something I could not pass up," he said.
Coren Feldman, 15, from Beit Shemesh, said he had been visiting family in the US when he heard that tickets went on sale. He immediately called his father back in Israel and begged him to buy his ticket. "My dad used to play Beatles music all the time, it's what I've grown up with," he said.
He said he hoped McCartney would play his favorite Beatles song, "Back in the USSR."
Feldman's friend, Yaniv Kopelewitz, 12, from Jerusalem, said he got hooked on The Beatles last year when he began taking guitar lessons. "My teacher gave me a CD of theirs and I can't stop listening and learning songs. I think Paul had a better voice but John had better lyrics."
Contrary to Hebrew press reports, McCartney did not tour Jerusalem's Old City on Wednesday. But it was revealed on Thursday that before travelling to Bethlehem, he visited the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Beit Sahur, to the east of Bethlehem. Together with his American girlfriend, Nancy Shevell, McCartney brought T-shirts as a gift for the students, aged five to 12.
"His team felt that even though there was no sign of a security risk in Ramallah, it wouldn't be the best atmosphere to meet children in," said a British diplomat who accompanied McCartney and Sewell.
"The visit to the school was wonderful," the diplomat said. "I've dealt with all sorts of VIPs and I've never met someone who was so effortlessly gracious and relaxed.
"When we got to the school, there were 20 children in a music theory class, and he went right in and sang 'do, re, me' with them. Then, next door, there was a girl about 12 years old having a violin lesson. She started off okay and then you could see she was getting nervous and close to crying. Paul took the violin and made some scratching noises with it, and told her, 'See, I'm much worse than you.'"
According to his spokesman Stuart Bell, McCartney's visit to the school lasted an hour and he sat in on music lessons, jammed with the students, and talked to the teachers about the importance of using music as a gateway to tolerance.
In the garden of the school, he entertained the students with a song on the harmonica.
The visit, arranged by the British Consulate in Jerusalem, was originally intended for the school's branch in Ramallah. But evidently Palestinians who were angry at McCartney for performing in Israel got wind of the visit and began staging a protest outside the school. At the last minute, consulate officials decided to transfer the visit to the Beit Sahur branch of the conservatory.
McCartney also met with representatives of OneVoice, a grassroots group working for a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. At the meeting, McCartney said he would perform with a OneVoice pin on his lapel and added: "I'm not a politician, I just want to bring a message of peace."