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A FEAST OF CONCERT EVENTS

Let me say upfront, I'm no rock critic. When I rate a concert, high marks generally go to the performers who interact with the audience as well as sing their songs.

If they don't interact, you might as well stay home and listen to their albums, which are sure to sound better. The receptiveness of the crowd also factors in, since having a good time is contagious.

I bring this up after spending four hours watching feel-good concerts by Paul McCartney, Tim McGraw and U2, which the networks are running on the long Thanksgiving weekend.

I would have watched Faith Hill's concert, too, but NBC sent just a 15-minute presentation tape. She looks and sounds great, but there wasn't enough there for review.

The one thing that all the concerts have in common is the attempt to humanize the performers during unguarded backstage moments.

In any event, here's a TV critic's review of the concerts that each network is running in hopes of keeping people inside during the holidays. I use the same criteria to judge them.

"Tim McGraw: Sing Me Home" (8 tonight, Channel 2):

Setting: C.W. Earle's Cotton Gin in Start, La., which is McGraw's hometown. He gets a hero's welcome, though there seemed to be some open spaces way, way in the back.

Appearance and athleticism: Terrific. McGraw certainly can run around the stage like the professional athlete his father, Tug, was.

Behind-the-scenes revelation: "This is the coolest stage I've ever performed in," said McGraw in one of the off-stage vignettes added to give the program more of a down-home feeling.

Audience love: Hey, it's his hometown - the crowd better love him.

Surprising revelation: He wears ear plugs, presumably so he can hear his wife, Faith Hill, sing at home and ask him to take out the garbage.

Positive statement: You can go home again.

Song recognition: Country fans will sing along, but those of us who didn't go to McGraw's famous Ralph Wilson Stadium concert will be lost for the most part.

Disappointment: Faith never shows up, not even to promote her own NBC special.

Highlight: McGraw's rooftop entrance tops the boat ride he takes to show his old neighborhood where, he says, "you couldn't get away with much."

Rating: 3 stars out of 4

Paul McCartney: "Back in the U.S." (9 tonight, Channel 7):

Setting: Indoor arenas around the United States, including Madison Square Garden, as well as his dressing rooms and bus, where McCartney relaxes and shows another side of himself in this two-hour concert movie. "It is always good to be in America," says Sir Paul. "It feels really cool." Hmm, there's that word again.

Appearance and athleticism: Hey, the guy is 60, so don't expect him to dance in the aisles. But at least he looks good for his age.

Behind-the-scenes revelation: His wife, Heather Mills, never heard the old Beatles tunes because she is a classical music lover.

Audience love: One of only two surviving Beatles, McCartney is loved by fathers and sons and mothers and daughters. As Beatles promoter Sir George Martin says, a new loving generation is introduced to the enduring work of McCartney and the Beatles every few years. The crowd shots, including shots of fans dressed in Sgt. Pepper's outfits, prove that.

Surprising revelation: Jack Nicholson, who is in the audience of one show, can dance. Nicholson, Michael Douglas, John Cusack, Sylvester Stallone and Jay Leno are among the celebrities spotted at the concert or backstage.

Positive statement: McCartney is against land mines, believes in civil rights and loves primates - and Heather.

Song recognition: Are you kidding me? It's safe to say that Heather is the only one in the adoring audience who can't sing along with every song.

Disappointment: The behind-the-scenes stuff is a little sugary, Ringo doesn't show up and the concert only lasts two hours. If you only tune in to one concert, make it this one.

Highlight: See Paul get choked up midsong as the concert crew on the final night of the tour stands in the audience, with love placards directed at McCartney.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

U2's Beautiful Day (10 p.m. Friday, Channel 4):

Setting: Slane Castle, Ireland.

Appearance and athleticism: Is it only me or does lead singer Bono look like former Buffalo Bill Lou Piccone when he takes off his sunglasses? The group has been around for decades, but the lead singer still is in great shape and still can run the stage with the best of them.

Behind-the-scenes revelation: Even rock stars need lip balm and have to go to the bathroom before shows, as we learn in off-stage remarks.

Audience love: It's by far the largest crowd watching the three concerts, with just about half of Dublin there. And Bono thanked them all while telling a story about how he and his band members started out by borrowing 500 pounds of currency from their parents.

Surprising revelation: Bono performed a day after his father was buried.

Positive statement: Though he's a social activist, Bono doesn't try to elevate his standing by preaching during the concert. But his story about the parental loans seems to say "Believe in yourself."

Song recognition: The instrumental openings of every song are just as memorable as most of the lyrics.

Disappointment: It is practically impossible to make out the writing on a button that Bono is wearing.

Highlight: Bono gives a beautiful thank you to the crowd near the end of "Where the Streets Have No Name." Overall, it's a beautiful, infectious night.

Rating: 3 stars

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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