First Night: Sir Paul McCartney, Hayarkon Park, Tel Aviv

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After 40 years, Macca makes his mark in Israel

The Hebrew was on the basic side but no less appreciated for that by the crowd of 45,000 in Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Park last night. "Shalom Tel Aviv, shana tova," ("happy new year"), Sir Paul McCartney told them before wheeling into "Hello Goodbye".

But as one of the great audience wooers of modern times he kept at it, striking a special chord with "ha shir haze mukdash le Linda" ("This song is for Linda") before sitting at the piano on a huge stage to pay a widower's homage to his first wife with "My Love".

The audience – overwhelmingly secular, many with plastic glasses of beer and the more than occasional whiff of cannabis in the air on this typically warm evening in Israel's least uptight city – began in respectful rather than ecstatic mood at the concert Sir Paul was playing here for the first time more than 40 years after the Beatles were banned from Israel for fear they would be a "corruptive influence".

But by the time he got to "Here Comes The Sun" and "Back In Ihe USSR", an hour into the set, the crowd were warmed up – with even the paramedics dancing on the grass. They joined in with "Let It Be" and "Get Back" and when he exhorted them to "ashiru iti Alan Jude" ("sing with me Hey Jude") they were well up for it.

After all, at 66, Sir Paul, who switched with all his old virtuosity from bass to lead to acoustic guitar and then piano, is one of the few musicians anywhere who can make even a ukelele sound funky, as he consummately did during "Dance Tonight". By the time he got to "I Saw Her Standing There" they were rocking. "You're so cool tonight," he told them appreciatively before delighting them – of course – with "Yesterday".

Politics was never far away. Ron Prosor, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, had, after all, declared the "positive things" Sir Paulhas said about Israel as an "Israeli diplomatic and PR success of the first order". But Omar Barghouti, the leader of the Palestinian campaign for a cultural boycott of Israel, said the ex-Beatle was "supporting occupation" by playing last night at all. But Sir Paul's people believe he made a serious if low-profile effort to strike a balance by visiting the West Bank on Wednesday.

While he didn't end with "Give Peace A Chance", he made sure to reinforce it with a spoken exhortation after the last chorus: "You can find it if you want it – give peace a chance." After repeating "shana tova" to his overwhelmingly Jewish audience, he reminded them that the great Muslim month of fasting also ends next Monday. "Ramadan karim," he said, before adding with an almost pleading question mark in his intonation: "Everyone together."

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