'Happy birthday, Quebec,' says McCartney

Music icon Paul McCartney gave an explosive show on an old battleground Sunday, churning out a song list laden with Beatles tunes to a pumped-up crowd on the historic Plains of Abraham.
Paul McCartney, centre, played to a crowd that had been expected to reach more than 200,000 on Sunday. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))
Music icon Paul McCartney gave an explosive show on an old battleground Sunday, churning out a song list laden with Beatles tunes to a pumped-up crowd on the historic Plains of Abraham.

The knighted ex-Beatle was in town to help Quebec City celebrate its 400th birthday.

"Bonsoir les Québécois, bonsoir toute le gang," McCartney shouted to his faithful after he opened the show with the Wings song Jet.

The crowd erupted and the band turned it up a notch by ripping into the Beatles' classics Drive My Car and All My Loving.

"I only speak a little bit of French," he said in French before switching languages. "So, I will be speaking in English."

But McCartney, whose appearance riled some Quebec nationalists who said a Brit shouldn't be part of the city's festivities, alternated between the languages when addressing the crowd throughout the concert.

At one point, a huge image of Quebec's flag covered the stage backdrop during Mrs. Vanderbilt. Later, he strutted around the stage waving the fleur-de-lis banner.

During Yesterday, he came out wearing a souvenir-shop sweatshirt with "Quebec" written across the chest.

Organizers had expected some 200,000 people at the free outdoor concert.

A massive tangle of swaying arms and bodies covered the rolling fields in front of the stage. It was McCartney's first appearance in Canada since 2005. 

"C'est ma premiere visite a Québec, and it's a great place," he said, earning a roar from fans.

Fans trip down memory lane

On several occasions, McCartney's English comments were translated into French and the words scrolled across the giant screens.

People fall as they rush towards the concert grounds after waiting in line for hours. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))
An energetic McCartney played 36 tunes through the 2½-hour show.  During the first half of the concert, he performed a mixed bag of Beatles, Wings and solo tunes.

The show was heavy on Fab Four hits, including Hey Jude, Get Back and Let It Be. He started off Something on a ukulele that he said was a gift from George Harrison. "That one was for George," he said.

He also paid homage to John Lennon. "This song is dedicated to my friend John," he said in French, before starting into A Day In The Life and then Give Peace A Chance.

McCartney later launched into an anniversary tribute with Birthday

"This song is for a woman who is 400 years old," he said in French. "Happy Birthday, Quebec."

Montreal band The Stills and up-and-coming Quebec City singer Pascale Picard opened the concert to set the stage for the legendary rock star. 

Front-row spots coveted overnight 

Tens of thousands of music fans streamed onto the Plains of Abraham and spilled into the surrounding streets of Quebec City on Sunday in hopes of securing a good vantage point to watch the concert.

People celebrate on the concert grounds awaiting the show. for the Paul McCartney concert Sunday July 20, 2008 in Quebec City. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))
Dozens of people started lining up as early as Saturday afternoon for a shot at nabbing coveted ground at the front of the stage. When the gates finally opened a couple of hours before the show, a mass of fans flooded down a slope, as hundreds sprinted for the front row.

Seven jumbo screens were set up on the historic battlefield and along downtown streets, several of which were closed to traffic.

Hoping to guarantee themselves a spot in front of a screen, thousands of people camped early Sunday in the middle of the Grande-Allée, one of the provincial capital's main boulevards, while others were stretched out on the lawn of the provincial legislature.

The party in honour of Sir Paul also got underway early.

Beer vendors on the Plains did swift business throughout the day, which contributed to long lineups of swaying patrons waiting impatiently for portable toilets. Many beer kiosks ran out of cold drinks before the show started.

Meanwhile, whiffs of marijuana wafted through the crowd.

Restaurants, bars, buskers and cars along the main drag blasted Beatles tunes,  and souvenir tents offered up the latest McCartney gear.

Fans travelled from afar

Carol Cleeland travelled from New Jersey to see the show.

Paul McCartney played 37 songs during his lengthy show. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))
"We've been fans of the Beatles and Paul McCartney since the beginning," said Cleeland, who headed to the Plains of Abraham with her sister, Elizabeth, more than 12 hours before McCartney's concert. "We love Paul McCartney's music and everything about him. He's just a really great guy."

Fan Leo Rodrigue sported a red Montreal Canadiens sweater with the name "McCartney" emblazoned across the back above the No. 1.

"I saw him the first time at the Montreal Forum, Dec. 9, 1989," Rodrigue said. "It's the greatest. [He's] the greatest artist. All songs of McCartney [are] beautiful."

On a local overnight radio talk show, fans gushed about McCartney's "generous" performance and called his free show a "special gift" to the city. 

McCartney happy to visit la vieille capitale

McCartney arrived in Quebec City on Saturday evening and was greeted by hundreds of fans, many of whom had waited several hours outside the Chateau-Frontenac Hotel to catch a glimpse of him.

Fans approached his car as it drove through the hotel parking lot and McCartney, who had his window partly down, waved to the crowd.

Journalists yelled questions at him from a distance as he got out of the car in the hotel's underground garage and he waved and replied, "Bonjour."

McCartney took a quick car tour of the old city before dining at a local restaurant with his band and entourage. 

The much-anticipated show, McCartney's only scheduled performance in North America this year, was part of Quebec City's 400th birthday bash. But there are some in the province who would have preferred that McCartney had stayed home.

Several Quebec sovereigntists have been questioning McCartney's participation in Quebec City's 400th anniversary celebrations because of his British roots.

They claim his presence evokes painful memories of Britain's conquest of New France in 1760.

Plains battle holds meaning

The Plains of Abraham was the site of the pivotal 1759 battle between British Gen. James Wolfe and France's Marquis Louis-Joseph de Montcalm.

In an interview with Radio-Canada on Thursday, the 66-year-old bassist brushed off the nationalists' claims. 

"I think it's time to smoke the pipes of peace and to just, you know, put away your hatchet, because I think it's a show of friendship," McCartney said.

McCartney played to 350,000 people in Kiev, Ukraine, in June.

Céline Dion is set to perform on the Plains of Abraham for Quebec City's birthday on Aug. 22.