Paul McCartney / Oct. 1, 2005 / New York (Madison Square Garden)

Paul McCartney slayed critics as well as box offices around the world on his 2002 tour, his first major outing in nearly a decade. Those shows found him dusting off Beatles songs he'd never performed

Paul McCartney slayed critics as well as box offices around the world on his 2002 tour, his first major outing in nearly a decade. Those shows found him dusting off Beatles songs he'd never performed in his former life or as a solo artist, and easing off the schmaltz to deliver a simply stunning musical experience.

The artist is back on the road again this fall, armed with the new "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," arguably his best album in ages. Indeed, McCartney may be three years older, but he seems even more energetic than he did in 2002. Much of the credit has to go to his ace, refreshingly streamlined band (mammoth, frantic drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr., multi-instrumentalists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, keyboardist John "Wix" Wickens), which allows him to effortlessly cherry-pick from all aspects of his catalog.

It would have been easy to simply replicate the set list from the last tour and toss in a few new tunes from "Chaos," but McCartney has gone back to the drawing board for a huge percentage of the show. The 2002 opener, "Hello Goodbye," has been replaced by a blaring "Magical Mystery Tour," while a fresh round of Beatles tunes both obscure and elemental have been revived. There was even a solo acoustic version of "In Spite of All the Danger," penned by the pre-Beatles group the Quarrymen.

That being said, McCartney is showing his age (he turned 63 on June 18). The high range of his voice has suffered significantly since the last tour, forcing him to tunelessly shout/bellow key portions of songs like "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Let Me Roll It" and "Helter Skelter." Luckily, thick three-strong backing vocals helped mask McCartney's imperfections when he was unable to get through on sheer zeal alone.

As usual, the newest songs were a mixed bag. "Fine Line" was an awesome slice of pounding piano pop, but McCartney's voice couldn't do justice to the tender, "Blackbird"-esque "Jenny Wren." Thankfully, he acknowledged the inherent dowdiness of "English Tea" when he pantomimed sipping a hot cup of the beverage while sitting at the piano.

But the classics were what everyone had come to see, and they materialized one after the other. Of particular note were solo acoustic renditions of "I Will," "For No One" and "Fixing a Hole," some of McCartney's most elegantly crafted, heartfelt Beatles songs. The full band put a charge into "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" and "Good Day Sunshine," before which McCartney related how the song was used to wake up astronauts on board the Discovery space shuttle earlier this summer.

Among the other welcome new additions to the set list were "Penny Lane," "Got To Get You Into My Life" and "Drive My Car," ultimate examples of the feel-good McCartney persona that may be cheesy, but were eaten up by the crowd.

The show peaked with joyous, stomping takes on "I've Got a Feeling" and "Back in the U.S.S.R," allowing McCartney to simply rock out in ragged glory without any pretensions of hitting every note. From there, it was onto such staples as "Hey Jude" (featuring the entire crowd on vocals), "Live and Let Die" (cue the pyrotechnics) and "Yesterday," which McCartney played on the same guitar he used for the Beatles' historic 1964 appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

The encores were all Beatles: a soulful "Get Back," the utter pop flashback "Please Please Me" and "Let It Be," which found the arena bathed in candlelight. A blend of "St. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" and the "Abbey Road" sendoff "The End" closed the evening, as Beatles freaks high-fived, parents stood waving with their arms around their teenagers and middle-aged couples kissed.

Such is the enduring appeal of McCartney, whose music has long since transcended simple pop and is at this point something even more special: a bond between generations and the soundtrack to important moments in millions of lives.

Here is Paul McCartney's set list:

"Magical Mystery Tour"
"Flaming Pie"
"I'll Get You"
"Til There Was You"
"Let Me Roll It" / "Foxey Lady"
"Got To Get You Into My Life"
"Fine Line"
"Maybe I'm Amazed"
"The Long and Winding Road"

Solo acoustic:
"In Spite of All the Danger"
"I Will"
"Jenny Wren"
"For No One"
"Fixing a Hole"
"English Tea"

Acoustic, with band:
"I'll Follow the Sun"
"Follow Me"
"Elanor Rigby"

"Too Many People"
"She Came in Through the Bathroom Window"
"Good Day Sunshine"
"Band on the Run"
"Penny Lane"
"I've Got a Feeling"
"Back in the U.S.S.R"
"Hey Jude"
"Live and Let Die"

Encore 1:
"Get Back"
"Helter Skelter"

Encore 2:
"Please Please Me"
"Let It Be"
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)"/"The End"