And suddenly the endearing and affable Sir Paul McCartney was center stage, playfully reaching out to test the temperature of the crowd and quickly pulling back, feigning surprise at the emotional electricity.
“Hey, New Orleans. How’re you doing?” he asked jovially. “How’s your mama ’n’ them? It’s brilliant to be back in this beautiful city.”
Then he broke into a more powerful and harder version of “All My Loving” than the one on the 1963 album “With the Beatles.”
It was, happily, typical of the night. McCartney played many songs beloved by his fans — updated to reinvigorate the crowd, and himself. At 72, he looked and moved like he was going on 17 and held the stage for nearly three hours playing sustained rock ’n’ roll.
Between songs, McCartney weaved in humorous anecdotes, like his story of the New Orleans recording of his album “Venus and Mars.”
“We had a great time,” he said, recalling the Wings’ session at Sea Saint Studios in 1975.
“Went to the Mardi Gras, and we thought, ‘OK, this is a brilliant idea: We’ll dress up as clowns, full makeup; no one will ever recognize us.’ We go out on the street, and we’re going, ‘Hey, throw us something, mister! Throw us some beads!’
“And they’re going, ‘Hey Paul, how’re you doing?’ ”
McCartney played more than 30 different songs and managed not to disappoint fans of any era.
If you loved the most recent album, “New,” there were a couple singles spun into the set.
Did you only know him from the Beatles? McCartney played “Paperback Writer,” “Try to See it My Way,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “Lady Madonna” among many others.
Were you a Wings fanatic? “Let Me Roll It,” “Jet” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” were present and potent.
But even in that repertoire, a few songs stood out.
“Blackbird” was as beautiful as it has ever been. McCartney made sure to make note of its dedication to civil rights workers during the 1960s. But he also expressed his appreciation for the song’s popularity.
“One of the great things, when I go around the world, I meet a lot of people who say, ‘Hey man, I tried to learn that ‘Blackbird’ on guitar.’ How many people here tried to learn ‘Blackbird’ on guitar?” he asked the crowd. Hands flew up in the air as the crowd bellowed its confession.
“How cool does that make me feel?”
He followed that song with a beautiful rendition of “Here Today,” dedicated to deceased Beatle John Lennon, which brought about a more solemn mood.
The emotional roller coaster was all part of the plan.
After he lifted the tone, he played another dedication: this one to the late George Harrison — a ukulele version of “Something.”
But the most impressive display was “Live and Let Die,” which included a pyrotechnic display so powerful the heat reached at least the 10th row.
The energetic song had McCartney standing up and jamming on the keys of his baby grand piano.
One song later, McCartney finished his set with the crowd-pleasing “Hey Jude.”
But the crowd was not done with McCartney and demanded he return.
And return he did, playing two encores. For the first, he raced out with his very capable bandmates, who have been touring with him for the past 12 years, carrying various flags.
McCartney carried an American flag, impressive keyboardist Paul Wickens toted a Louisiana flag, guitarist/bassist Brian Ray held up the Union Jack and drummer Abraham Laboriel waved a tiny pirate flag.
For the second and last encore, McCartney played an excellent, updated rendition of the medley on Side B of the album “Abbey Road.”
Then he walked up to a microphone as the crowd cheered.
“Tell you what,” he said, as cannons shot red, white and blue confetti all over the crowd.
“We’ll see you next time.”