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Singer Paul McCartney performs during the Super Bowl XXXIX halftime show at Alltel Stadium.
Singer Paul McCartney performs during the Super Bowl XXXIX halftime show at Alltel Stadium. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

Sir Paul comes to the NFL's rescue

Forty years ago, Paul McCartney might have scared broadcasters. Yesterday, the family-loving ex-Beatle was the perfect Super Bowl halftime answer to Janet Jackson's ''wardrobe malfunction" that prompted a $500,000-plus fine last year for red-faced CBS executives.

Now when you say ''God, mom, and apple pie," you can also add Paul McCartney to that list.

Sir Paul, as he was introduced to the Super Bowl crowd, delivered a royal -- but surprisingly, rocking -- four-song set last night. He was dressed in an unpretentious suit and red shirt, which emphasized his remark at a Jacksonville press conference last week: ''I can tell you I won't have a wardrobe malfunction . . . I don't have have a wardrobe to malfunction."

True, but he still had his vocal pipes. McCartney and his touring band played the NFL's ''Building Bridges" halftime show and didn't settle for the ''silly love songs" for which he has sometimes been known. Instead, he quickly ripped into a pair of Beatles tunes in ''Drive My Car" (coming down hard on the phrase ''baby, you can drive my car, yes I'm gonna be a star") and ''Get Back," featuring the only line that might have raised any eyebrows: ''She gets it while she can." But Fox executives had signed off on the songs after checking their lyrics beforehand; and they didn't even use a tape-delay precaution, showing an implicit trust in McCartney. He didn't disappoint by changing any lyrics or adding extraneous trickery.

He kept rocking with ''Live and Let Die" from his post-Beatles Wings era (the tune was accompanied by fireworks going off over the stadium), then rode home with the transcendent Beatles anthem ''Hey Jude," during which he jumped up from the piano and let the crowd sing the ''na-na-na" chorus. He was a master at work, confirming another promise he made at the pre-show press conference: ''The band will use the time allotted to just rock." It was an exhilarating performance by any standard -- and especially impressive given that Sir Paul is now 62 years old.

While last year's MTV-booked halftime was a study in titillation, this year's put the focus on music and decorum. Indeed, the fans allowed to encircle McCartney's stage were all dressed normally, with no scantily clad men or women in sight. The flashiest part of the presentation entailed video images beamed from four long ramps that extended from the stage. The images were often caught by an aerial camera for added effect, though the most memorable was a large shot of the Statue of Liberty -- a patriotic touch that no doubt wouldn't have bothered McCartney, because he was one of the first in line to perform at the ''Concert for New York" at Madison Square Garden shortly after 9/11.

National Football League executives are probably wondering how they can get McCartney every year for the halftime show. He sure saved them a lot of headaches last night.

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