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Review: Paul McCartney looks forward and back again at world tour kickoff in Fresno

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney performs in Fresno on Wednesday to kick off his One on One tour.

(Steve Jennings / Getty Images)

There seems to be no end to the stories of how the Beatles impacted people across the globe, a fact that about 13,000 fans were reminded of in two key moments during the opening night of Paul McCartney’s new world tour.

Performing for the first time in Fresno on Wednesday, McCartney shared an anecdote about meeting officials in the Russian government during his 2003 visit to perform in Red Square.

“We met the defense minister, and he said, ‘First record I ever bought: ‘Love Me Do,’ ” the 73-year-old musician said, mimicking the official’s thick accent. “Another official told me, ‘We learned English from Beatles records — Hello, goodbye!’ ”

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Then toward the end of the show, McCartney singled out a family that had collaborated on a sign campaign aimed at grabbing his attention. He brought them onstage to grant an autograph to a man whose sign said his mother named him Jude because of “Hey Jude.”

He happily grabbed a sharpie and signed his name across the shoulder of the woman, also accompanied by a daughter, who introduced herself as “Jessica, but my nickname is Jet.”

From helping to thaw the Cold War to inspiring children’s names, McCartney’s impact on the world reaches far and wide, which makes his solo performances emotional affairs.

For nearly three hours, McCartney surveyed the full breadth of a career that’s closing in on six decades, since he was introduced to John Lennon in Liverpool in 1957 and soon joined his band, the Quarrymen, which would evolve into the Beatles.

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He and the four members of his touring band sang “In Spite of All the Danger,” the song he described as “the first song we ever recorded.”

“It cost 5 pounds,” he said of the do-it-yourself recording session.

He brought things up to date with “FourFiveSeconds,” the 2015 track on which he collaborated with rapper Kanye West and pop-R&B superstar Rihanna.

If that song is unlikely to go down as a bellwether musical moment, it demonstrated McCartney’s continuing interest in looking forward while still acknowledging the monumental impact of his past.

The majority of the 38 songs in his set were from the Beatles, but that left room for more than a dozen from his considerably longer solo career, from “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Band on the Run” to quirkier solo efforts, including “Temporary Secretary” and “Queenie Eye,” the latter one of three songs from his most recent solo album, 2013’s “New.”

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this posted identified the album “New” as a 2014 release. It came out in 2013.

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A couple of noteworthy additions for this tour: He opened with “A Hard Day’s Night,” the first time he’s sung that 1964 Beatles standard in his solo outings. The same goes for “Love Me Do,” which he included in its entirety as a nod to Beatles producer George Martin, who died in March.

McCartney told a sweet story of their nervousness working with Martin for the first time in a studio on that track, and how the producer asked McCartney to sing the hook line “Love me do,” which Lennon had been singing until then, to free Lennon to play the song’s harmonica riff over his words, rather than after them.

It remains a remarkable feat that McCartney hardly seems to break a sweat during his extended performances and doesn’t so much as stop even to take a sip of water. But perhaps for the first time, there were signs that what has always appeared to be so effortless is now requiring more work.

McCartney’s voice has long operated in a demandingly high range, and at 73, he had to push to reach some of the highest notes he wrote for himself all those years ago.

But the signs that McCartney is a mere mortal were few and far between, and were counterbalanced by the meticulous arrangements of Beatles and solo songs spun out by longtime band guitarists Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson, keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., who have now been backing him longer than the Beatles were a unit.

McCartney has assembled a dazzling new stage production, beginning with two vertical video screens flanking the stage that scroll images from throughout his life before the band took the stage. An elevated stage lifts McCartney high up over the crowd during one segment of the show, and a dizzying array of images and graphics are displayed on another screen that provides a backdrop for the band.

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At one point, the multitiered screens offer up a projection of an old tin shack in the country for a stripped-down, semi-acoustic segment that included “We Can Work It Out,” “In Spite of All the Danger,” “You Won’t See Me,” “Love Me Do” and “And I Love Her.”

On the flip side, McCartney and his crew pulled out all the stops for his James Bond movie theme “Live and Let Die,” for which images of an exploding model of London played out on the big screen behind the musicians.

Few musicians could follow a career-topping number like “Hey Jude,” an epic seven-minute hit single that spent nine weeks at No. 1 in 1968, and which McCartney used to end the regular portion of the show. Yet he returned for a half-dozen more songs: “Yesterday,” “Hi, Hi, Hi,” “Birthday” and the multifaceted medley from the “Abbey Road” album, “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End,” which extended the show by 30 minutes.

With that, he promised, “I’ll tell you what: We’ll see you next time,” and exited the stage. The tour moves on to Portland on Friday.

randy.lewis@latimes.com

Read more from me on Twitter: @RandyLewis2.

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