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Sir Paul comes to Harlem

JOHN BRODEUR | 4/12/2011, 5:30 p.m.

Sirius XM is having what some might call the best month ever, having recently surpassed 20 million subscribers and, this week, re-signing Howard Stern to a new deal reportedly worth more than $500 million. Monday night, the satellite radio provider held the kind of party only a massively successful corporation could: a private concert by Paul McCartney at the Apollo Theater. An audience of lucky subscribers and big-name celebrities (Stern, Martha Stewart, Tony Bennett and Jerry Seinfeld were just a few in attendance) packed the room to partake in the complementary open bar and finger foods (vegetarian, naturally)--and to watch the 68-year-old performer wrap up a whirlwind run of New York appearances.

Backed by his longtime band (who were fantastic), McCartney acknowledged his twin histories with openers "Magical Mystery Tour" (Beatles) and "Jet" (Wings), quickly setting the evening's nostalgic tone. Of the nearly 30 songs performed, just one, "Dance Tonight," dated from the last three decades. That was fitting, as the singer spent much of the night talking about how he used to fantasize about playing the legendary Harlem stage as a young man. Indeed, he was in touch with the Apollo's history, covering Marvin Gaye's "Hitch Hike" as a group of female dancers shimmied behind the band, and inviting the Choir Academy of Harlem onstage to sing along to his holiday staple "Wonderful Christmastime" (which came off better live than one might have expected). He even crossed to stage right to touch the "lucky log" early in the set.

The recently remastered release of Wings' 1973 LP "Band on the Run" had a strong presence, with four tracks making the cut, including the crowd-favorite title track and the impressive four-part harmonies of "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five."

Particular to this show, which was simulcast on several Sirius XM stations and recorded for possible later release, were a number of little-played selections. "One After 909," one of the very first songs McCartney wrote with John Lennon, got what was reportedly just its second airing since the Beatles' famous 1969 rooftop concert. "Maybe I'm Amazed" was a bit rough on the high notes, but a fine reminder that the man has written some brilliant love songs. (It also included a charmingly botched opening passage, one of many displays of his terrific sense of humor.)

A brief acoustic set included the folksy Rubber Soul gem "I'm Looking Through You" and a concert highlight, "And I Love Her," which featured keyboardist Paul "Wix" Wickens on claves and drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr., the stage's most animated character, on the bongo drum, making for a dead ringer for the 46-year-old recorded version.

If there was any question as to the lasting power of McCartney's music, it was put to bed with the final number, a raucous "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" that segued into "Abbey Road" closer "The End." It's the same way he's ended concerts for years, and yet, when those final chords sound and the singer reminds us "And in the end/the love you take/is equal to the love you make," it's impossible not to well up just a little. Cue the confetti and fake snow and back outside into the real snow. Not bad for a Monday night.