Coldplay, Katy Perry, Tony Bennett and Neil Young plumbed Paul McCartney’s vast songbook in taking the former Beatle on a musical journey of his more than 50-year career.
They joined James Taylor, Diana Krall and Foo Fighters among others in launching Grammy weekend Friday night by honoring McCartney as the MusiCares Person of the Year.
McCartney, who turns 70 in June, was toasted for his musical achievements and philanthropic work two days before the Grammy Awards. “It’s great for me to be here,” he told the crowd in the Los Angeles Convention Center. “It’s fantastic to hear all these fantastic artists doing my songs.”
The dinner menu even reflected his vegetarian lifestyle, from the tomato and fresh mozzarella tower to the main course of grilled seitan and roasted vegetables in puff pastry. Seitan is a wheat gluten used as a meat substitute.
The former Beatle singled out Young’s rowdy version of “I Saw Her Standing There” and “all the others putting nuances on the songs I didn’t know were there.” He was on his feet leading the applause after Foo Fighters tore through the Wings hit “Jet.”
Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin said, “We love Paul and we’re happy to be here” before launching into “We Can Work It Out.”
It also was a working night for McCartney, who capped an opening medley by the cast from the Beatles’ “Love” by Cirque du Soleil with “Magical Mystery Tour.”
At the end of the evening, McCartney turned the vast hall into an intimate jazz club with “My Valentine,” a song he wrote for new wife Nancy Shevell, and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” two cuts off his latest album, “Kisses On the Bottom.” He was accompanied by Krall on the piano.
He whipped off his jacket and raced to the piano for the Wings song “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five.” He strapped on the bass for a closing medley of “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End,” with Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and former Eagle Joe Walsh backing him.
Alicia Keys performed a soulful “Blackbird,” tweaking the lyrics to sing “I’ve just been waiting for this moment to be free.”
“I never knew how much this song is about me,” she said.
Perry fooled the audience when her four-piece backing band launched into the opening notes of “Live and Let Die.” She quickly switched to “Hey Jude,” leading McCartney and Shevell in a crowd sing-along of the chorus as Perry conducted with a sparkly baton. Perry wore a large pale pink floral bud hat that would have fit in well at the Kentucky Derby.
Bennett lent a swinging touch to “Here, There and Everywhere,” while Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas performed a bluegrass-tinged “No More Lonely Nights.’”
“Hello, sir,” Norah Jones cooed to McCartney as she settled in at the piano to sing the Beatles tune “Oh! Darling.”
British comedian Eddie Izzard got laughs with his trademark rambling, this time a whimsical story of McCartney’s life that bore little resemblance to the facts. He eventually got serious, saying: “For Paul McCartney, words are not needed. The music speaks for itself.”
Among the star-studded crowd of 2,800 were Yoko Ono, “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson, David Crosby, Rosanna Arquette, Bonnie Raitt, Berry Gordy, Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson, music executive LA Reid, songwriter Diane Warren, Piers Morgan, and actor John Stamos.
Friday’s dinner and auction produced the highest-grossing evening in the tribute’s 22-year history, with more than $6.5 million raised, said Recording Academy president Neil Portnow.
MusiCares, run by the Recording Academy, provides financial assistance to individuals in the music industry during times of need. Portnow said the charity served 2,700 people in 2011, the most in a single year.
He said Perry has pledged to donate a minimum of $250,000 to MusiCares from sales of a benefit single she was moved to record after learning more about the organization.