By Steve Hochman
As some preliminary business took place Friday evening on the Los Angeles Convention Center stage of the 2012 MusiCares Person of the Year event honoring Sir Paul McCartney, some may have noticed some odd people starting to mill about in the aisles. Some may have known what was coming, but for most it was a delightful surprise as the cast of the Cirque du Soleil production The Beatles' "Love" filled the large hall with colorful, surreal and often acrobatic delights. But that, it turned out, was just a distraction — though a thrilling one — from the real surprise. As the final notes of the "Love" mash-up medley of Beatles music faded away, some other familiar notes blared from the stage: It was McCartney himself and his four-piece band, launching into "Magical Mystery Tour."
And instantly, each of the roughly 3,000 of us in the room was 7. Or 12. Or 20. Or whatever age at which each first heard the Beatles' music. (Or in the womb, as with, among others, Paul's son James McCartney, sitting next to Yoko Ono at the family table.) It didn't matter whether it was one of the dozens of mingling stars (Bonnie Raitt, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks, Brian Wilson, Smokey Robinson, Steven Van Zandt, just to start the list) or a fortunate fan. Heck, everyone was a fortunate fan here.
Perhaps the key image of the evening, at least in this regard, was during "Magical Mystery Tour" when the video screens showed David Crosby in the audience, a grin on his face and sparkle in his eyes that even a mustache 10 times as big as his walruslike hedge couldn't have hidden.
For all the musical and cultural changes attributed or tied to McCartney and the Beatles, the real legacy is that many of us were so deeply impacted by the music when we first heard it, that we've been on a lifelong quest to have that experience again and again. Yet, no matter how much anything else may approximate that feeling, only this music is that feeling.
At some points in the subsequent all-star tribute concert it really did feel like the songs were brand-new. Tony Bennett put some zingy swing into "Here, There And Everywhere," playing with the lyrics' cadence to great effect. Alison Krauss And Union Station, one of the acts showcased on a rotating small stage in the middle of the hall, revealed the true greatness of McCartney's "No More Lonely Nights." And Neil Young, in keeping with the spirit, pretty much was back in a mid-'60s Toronto garage as he and Crazy Horse powered through the early Beatles classic "I Saw Her Standing There."
Highlights were too numerous to mention — well, every performance was a highlight, and that's no hype. The Foo Fighters, who literally followed McCartney's opening pair of songs (a rocking rendition of "Junior's Farm" being the second), scorched out "Jet." Alicia Keys followed (after one of host Eddie Izzard's interludes of comically falsified versions of Macca's biography) with a touching "Blackbird" at the piano. James Taylor, accompanied by pianist Diana Krall and string bassist John Clayton, performed a gorgeously brittle "Yesterday," and then Krall sang vocals on "For No One." Duane Eddy twanged up "And I Love Her"; Norah Jones cooed "Oh! Darling"; Sergio Mendes reprised his late-'60s bossa nova'd "Fool On The Hill"; Katy Perry (her head adorned with a piece that could have served either as a hat or a sail) led the "na-na" singalong on "Hey Jude"; Coldplay offered a spare, lovely "We Can Work It Out" — all magical mysteries on this tour.
After Recording Academy and MusiCares President/CEO Neil Portnow gave McCartney his award, the man of the night again moved to center stage. This time with a full mini-orchestra/jazz combo, featuring Krall on piano and both Joe Walsh and John Pizzarelli on guitars, supporting the star on two numbers from his new Kisses On The Bottom album: the original "My Valentine" (written for wife Nancy Shevell and here featuring a delicate Walsh acoustic solo) and "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter," one of the classic standards that make up the bulk of the charming collection.
Then it was back to the rock band for a concluding blast featuring the Abbey Road suite. Walsh and Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl joined McCartney and his axe men Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray for a five-way guitar shootout, sending us home renewed by, and with, the magic we've craved all these years.