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Paul McCartney Finally Back in the U.S.S.R.

ReutersPutin, flanked by Luzhkov and Makarevich, enjoying the concert by Paul McCartney with thousands of fans on Red Square on Saturday evening.<br><a href="/photos/photo-essay/2003-05-26/page1.html" target="PhESSAY" onclick="window.open('','PhESSAY','width=500
Legions of Russian Beatles fans who never got to see Lennon and McCartney instead got Lenin and McCartney on Saturday when the former Beatle played to about 20,000 people and President Vladimir Putin just a few hundred meters from Lenin's Mausoleum on Red Square.

After missing out on the Beatlemania that took over the world in the 1960s, Moscow fans made up for lost time by eagerly welcoming McCartney to Russia for the first time.

"30 years waiting for you," read one banner hoisted over the crowd, as many concert-goers wept tears of happiness.

Although the Beatles were deeply disapproved of in the Soviet Union, their popularity knew no bounds and far outreached any other Western rock groups.

"There's no one higher than Paul McCartney, only God," said an office manager with a Western firm who had been a fan since her student days.

"This is my youth come back!" said a middle-aged woman as she danced during the concert. "I never thought I would be here in Moscow listening to him."

"This hand shook Paul's," a stunned fan told TVS television, after meeting McCartney before the concert. "I don't plan to wash it for several days."

Although the Beatles were derided as the "belch of Western culture" and McCartney was refused permission to play in the 1980s, he received a welcome worthy of a royal visit on Saturday.

There were objections. More than 100 State Duma deputies tried to have the concert canceled, saying it was too close to the graves of Lenin and Stalin or that the loud music might damage St. Basil's Cathedral.

But this time McCartney had a powerful fan. A clearly starstruck Putin showed McCartney and his wife, Heather Mills, around the Kremlin on Saturday afternoon after they arrived from a stop in St. Petersburg, where the former Beatle was feted by the local conservatory. McCartney then performed an informal rendition of "Let it Be" especially for Putin.

Putin, 51, who was a teenager at the height of the Beatles' popularity, told McCartney how much Russians loved the group in Soviet times.

"It was very popular, more than popular. It was like a breath of fresh air, like a window on the outside world," he said in a meeting shown on television. "I'm sure a lot of people play and sing your songs. They like you a lot."

The concert, one of the last in a 14-month world tour, was obviously something special for the 60-year-old McCartney as well.

"I hear a lot of you learned English through the Beatles. ... How proud does that make me feel," he told fans on Red Square.

Doing his best to charm the audience, he spoke in Russian, reading from prepared notes throughout the show, starting with "Privet rebyata."

Beginning the 2 1/2-hour concert with "Hello, Goodbye," he ripped through a hit list of Beatles' songs including "Hey Jude," "Lady Madonna" "Getting Better" and "She's Leaving Home," as well Wings and solo numbers. But the song the audience and McCartney himself seemed to be waiting for the most was a simple parody of the American rock songs by The Beach Boys and Chuck Berry: "Back in the U.S.S.R." When McCartney began to sing, the crowd went wild.

"Finally we got to do that one here," he said after the song.

For many fans, the song was seen as a special link between the Soviet Union and the Beatles, but when asked before the concert McCartney said he had known little about the Soviet Union when he wrote it. "It was a mystical land then," he said. "It's nice to see the reality. I always suspected that people had big hearts. Now I know that's true."

Putin, although not scheduled to attend the concert, strolled out of the Kremlin about a half hour after the concert started and sat down between Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and rock singer Andrei Makarevich.

Having missed the first raucous rendition of "Back in the U.S.S.R.," Putin may have been behind a decision by McCartney to diverge from his set list and play the song again for an encore. McCartney said only that it was a request from a special person.

Perhaps due to high ticket prices of 1,000 rubles to 10,000 rubles ($30 to $320), the number of people at the concert was far from the expected 50,000. Anyone with the 1,000-ruble standing-only tickets saw little of McCartney performing at the St. Basil's end of the square, apart from the display on large video screens. Those who got the posh front-row seats looked at times like they belonged more at a fashion show than a rock concert.

It was a pity, said one fan on the Beatles.ru forum, that McCartney didn't recycle John Lennon's famous quip at the Royal Variety Performance in London in 1963, when he said, "Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry."

Although crowd control seemed more courteous than usual at such events, the police and security guards still managed to be a bit heavy-handed, confiscating bottles of water and telling people to stop dancing and being so excitable.

"You're not at B-2," one security guard told a group of fans, referring to the Russian rock group.

"How right he was," retorted a fan.

Lyuba Pronina contributed to this story.

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