After a 43-year wait, Paul McCartney performed his first concert in Israel tonight kicking it off with the familiar Beatles’ song “Hello, Goodbye” to the joy of tens of thousands of cheering fans.
Paul billed the concert “Friendship First,” saying he is on a mission of peace for Israel and the Palestinians.
Singing “Give Peace a Chance,” he stopped and let the audience sing the chorus alone.
He told his fans: “Here tonight you sang it, you want it.” Fireworks lit the sky as he sang “Live and Let Die.”
After it was officially announced last month, the concert set off a wave of excitement throughout the country, where visits by A-list celebrities are still a novelty. Almost all of Tel Aviv’s nightclubs cancelled live entertainment tonight in deference to the rock legend.
A crowd made up of Israelis of all ages, estimated at 40,000, cheered Paul as he performed outdoors in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park on a warm late summer night. Some wore T-shirts with the slogan, “I love Paul.”
Paul greeted the crowd with a mixture of English and Hebrew, wishing them “shana tova,” happy new year, ahead of next week’s Jewish new year holiday.
His repertoire included many Beatles hits, as well as songs from his post-Beatles group, Wings.
Beatles songs, including a Hebrew version of “Yesterday,” have been playing virtually non-stop on radio stations for the past week, and newspapers have published numerous articles sharing Paul’s “Words of Wisdom” and describing the “Long and Winding Road” that led to the concert.
Paul was first scheduled to appear with the Beatles in 1965. But in one of the country’s most widely repeated tales, an Israeli official supposedly called off the concert for fear it would corrupt the nation’s youth. Only in recent weeks, it turns out the story may not have been true.
So pervasive is this story that Israel’s ambassador in London, Ron Prosor, sent a letter to the surviving members of the band to express regret over the matter.
“Israel missed a chance to learn from the most influential musicians of the decade, and the Beatles missed an opportunity to reach out to one of the most passionate audiences in the world,” he wrote.
He told them the country would like to make it up to them by inviting them to play during this year’s celebrations marking Israel’s 60th anniversary. Only two of the four Beatles, Paul and drummer Ringo Starr, are still alive.
When Paul announced plans for today’s concert, he acknowledged the ancient brouhaha, saying he was finally coming “43 years after being banned by the Israeli government”.
He promised to give Israelis “the night they have been waiting decades for”.
Ahead of the concert, newspaper columnist Yossi Sarid, son of the Israeli official who allegedly banned the Beatles, went on a campaign to clear his father’s name.
Sarid claimed his father had nothing to do with the decision, and that it involved a more mundane feud between two Israeli concert promoters.
Earlier Sarid said he had no plans to attend the concert. “The tickets are too expensive,” he said.
The steep price of the tickets, at least by Israeli standards, seemed to be a key reason the show wasn’t sold out.
Michael Gould, a local trumpeter who says he played with the Beatles as a studio musician on several albums, including Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, said he would have loved to have gone to the show, but simply didn’t have the money. Tickets ranged from about $150 (€102) to $1500 (€1,025).
“I really can’t afford it,” said Gould, 70.
For others, it was worth the price. “He’s one of the people I most admire,” said Arik Benari, a 25-year-old student who works at Tower Records in Jerusalem. “The event is more important than the money I spend.”
A small group of Palestinians urged Paul to call off the show, saying it was supporting the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. A radical Muslim preacher in Lebanon also called on Paul to cancel the show.
During a visit to the biblical town of Bethlehem yesterday, Paul brushed off the criticism.
“I get criticised everywhere I go, but I don’t listen to them,” Paul said. “I’m bringing a message of peace, and I think that’s what the region needs.”
Hundreds of police and private security guards were deployed at the concert. But police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said there were no concrete threats against the singer, and no extraordinary security precautions were being taken.
Paul dedicated the song ``Give Peace a Chance, to his fellow Beatle, John Lennon, who was killed in New York in 1980.
He also greeted the crowd in Arabic.
“Ramadan kareem,” he said to Muslims, who are marking their holy month.
His repertoire included many Beatles hits, as well as songs from his post-Beatles group, Wings. The songs included “Yesterday,” “Back in the USSR,” “Hey Jude” and “Jet.” He added two encores for the cheering crowd.