HALIFAX, N.S. - For more than 2 1/2 hours he performed the soundtrack of their youth, and through it all they sang along with him, swayed arm-in-arm with their spouses or children and, at times, even cried.

Tens of thousands gathered on the Halifax Common on Saturday night as Paul McCartney brought one of the most venerated canons in all of pop and rock to the Nova Scotia capital.

From the moment he strolled onto the massive stage in a Beatlesque dark blue suit and carrying his iconic Hofner bass, the 67-year-old pop legend held the crowd in his thrall.

And from the opening chord of the Beatles' classic "Drive My Car," the sea of people that covered much of the recreational green space in central Halifax stood and cheered.

"Can you believe the energy?" screamed fan Susan Wellmann before McCartney came out for a second encore.

"This is the best concert ever in Halifax."

Backed by his ace band of drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., keyboardist Paul (Wix) Wickens and guitar players Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, McCartney performed 36 songs during the two hour and 38 minute performance - his first-ever in Atlantic Canada and his only one in Canada this year.

"Good evening Halifax. Good evening Nova Scotia. Good evening Canada," McCartney said early into a set list heavy with Beatles, Wings and solo classics.

Through it all, he chatted with the crowd, told stories and seemed to enjoy and appreciate every minute of it.

One of the night's highlights came early in "Calico Sky" when he flubbed a line after looking into the crowd to see a teenage girl holding a sign that read: Will you sign my arm so I can get it tattooed?

He finished the song, brought the ecstatic girl on stage and signed her shoulder with a marker. As a bemused McCartney looked on, she ran screaming around the stage to hug the band before being escorted off by security.

"You'd better get the tattoo done now," he said as she left to laughter and cheers.

During the first encore, the 78th Highlanders Pipe Band from Halifax joined McCartney on stage for a stirring rendition of "Mull of Kintyre."

Angela Loughead, a lifelong fan from Truro, N.S., reminisced about listening to her older brother's Beatles albums as a child.

"I would have gone anywhere in Canada to see him," she said shortly before the show began.

In the end, Loughead only had to travel an hour to Halifax to see McCartney in person. But without John, George and Ringo, she predicted it would be bittersweet.

"I never dreamed I would actually be able to see him," she said. "It will be emotional because it's just him instead of all of them as it should be."

Hours before McCartney was set to take the stage, thousands of fans lined up outside fenced-in Common anxiously waiting for the gates to open.

Even people without tickets stopped to watch the pop legend as he treated the crowd to a lengthy sound check that included "Yesterday" and "Lady Madonna."

Marcia Ward, who secured one of the first spots at the front of the line, said she'd been waiting all her life to see McCartney.

"I was born on his ninth birthday and I've been a fan since I was 13 years old," said Ward, 58.

Ward said she flew in from Indiana on Thursday night and went straight to the concert site and camped out for two nights. She said the ground was hard, but a couple of uncomfortable nights were well worth it.

Before McCartney's performance, Halifax rockers Wintersleep warmed up the massive crowd under a bright, cloudless sky.

They were followed by Nova Scotia singer-songwriter Joel Plaskett.

As the hours wore on before McCartney's big entrance, fans shared their memories of the Beatles and spoke of their favourite songs.

Adele Johnson of Stellarton, N.S., said she vividly recalls watching their first North American television appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, while an undergraduate living in residence.

Johnson said she and her husband, Jim, don't usually attend outdoor concerts but made an exception for Paul.

"It's our generation, it's the Beatles for heaven's sake, what else can you say," said Jim Johnson. "I'm sure this place will just be rocking."

Jesse Melanson, 13, of Moncton, N.B., could barely stand still he was so excited.

"I'm pumped. They're my favourite band - the Beatles - and (McCartney) has a bunch of Wings songs that are really good," he said.

Brent Randall, 21, echoed that sentiment.

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