A chilly morning wind was blowing down Sixth Avenue, but it was warm inside Radio City Music Hall even though the grand old palace was hushed and its balconies deserted. A production team was busy preparing for the night's concert, an all-star charity event, and a few dozen lucky VIPs were loitering in the back and craning their necks to see the stage. There, loose-limbed and cheery in the spotlight, stood Paul McCartney, a performer who has been in the ear of the world so famously and for so long that it's a bit startling to see him in a quiet moment and realize that he is in fact an actual human being, not just a songbook with a voice and a name.
After playing the brassy Beatles classic "Got to Get You Into My Life," McCartney sat at a piano and, without looking down, his fingers found the familiar first notes to "Let It Be." It's a song that could make a bare cinder-block building feel like a cathedral, but there, echoing in the regal hall's empty corners, it had witnesses dabbing their eyes. After the church-steeple finale, a cheer went up and McCartney acknowledged what might be one of the smaller ovations of his career: "Thank you for that ripple of kindness pouring down the red-velvet rows. . . . "
Less than an hour later, sitting backstage, McCartney mentioned that "Let It Be" sounds very different to him now than when he recorded it in 1969. "In truth, a lot of them mean new things to me, I hear stuff I didn't hear in the past," said the 66-year-old singer. Like a man thumbing through a box of old love letters, he sees unexpected between-the-lines messages, such as hints of mysticism he now detects in the simple lyrics of "Got to Get You Into My Life."
Photo credit: WireImage