Live and Let Die: The next thing to McCartney

If you saw Paul McCartney play live here in 2010, you could have paid $128 to sit all the way across from him in Time Warner Cable Arena. Fantastic concert, but he was about the size of a beetle, unless you watched the screens flanking the stage.

If you saw the Live and Let Die concert Friday, you could have paid half that much to sit within literal spitting distance of McCartney impersonator Tony Kishman at Knight Theater. He fronted the four-piece band of that name and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, performing hits from the Beatles, Wings and a bit of McCartney’s solo career.

McCartney and producer George Martin incorporated classical influences almost from the beginning, whether using a string quartet on “Eleanor Rigby” (beefed up with extra strings here) or massive orchestration on the Oscar-nominated “Live and Let Die” (played with heft Friday). They hired great classical musicians for solos: David Mason of the Philharmonia Orchestra was brought in to play a piccolo trumpet interlude in “Penny Lane,” which the CSO’s Rich Harris echoed with a flourish.

So symphonic expansion suits a lot of McCartney’s music, and conductor/orchestrator Martin Herman (a Duke University alumnus) used the classical musicians well. Sometimes they were a wall of sound; sometimes they were “a big guitar,” as Wagner said of Verdi’s orchestra when it backed singers in a subdued fashion. Sometimes woodwinds or brass doubled or tripled parts from recordings.

Yet this was clearly a rock concert, not purely a re-creation. Guitarist John Merjave and keyboard player Richi Ray played solos almost note for note, but they bent a few notes just to show they’re not human Xeroxes. (So does Kishman.) Chris Camilleri duplicated Ringo Starr’s famous drum solo at the end of “Abbey Road,” but his energy made it vital.

This experience has been sold as a tribute concert, and Kishman delivers on that score: He looks, sounds and phrases like Paul, though he plays guitar as well as bass and piano. (And he’s right-handed, the opposite of McCartney.)

His work at the keyboard has the same verve as McCartney’s, and he somehow manages to embody Sir Paul while referring to McCartney in the third person during brief speeches. Merjave and Ray contribute impersonations, too, doing George Harrison on “Here Comes the Sun” and John Lennon on “I am the Walrus,” respectively. (Camilleri, like Ringo, gets no vocal solos.)

Nobody’s faking anything here. All have experience in rock bands and tribute bands; Kishman played with the British rockers Wishbone Ash after touring in “Beatlemania” and before restarting his career as a McCartney impersonator. At the end, when Kishman urged the crowd to its feet, he didn’t have to ask twice. The audience was ready to rise.