Saturday, June 1, 2013

Movie Review: Paul McCartney's "Rockshow"

Paul McCartney in "Rockshow," 1976.

Paul and Linda McCartney in "Rockshow," 1976.
Paul McCartney’s concert movie “Rockshow” was recently re-released in theaters, as the movie and the live album “Wings Over America” are both getting re-released as part of McCartney’s ongoing Archives reissue series. “Rockshow” was filmed during Wings’ 1976 North American concert tour, which would prove to be the only time that Wings toured North America. The “Wings Over America” tour was the first time McCartney had played live in the United States since The Beatles’ 1966 tour, and Macca didn’t tour the States again until his 1989 world tour. Most of “Rockshow” was filmed in Seattle at the Kingdome, on June 10, 1976. However, during the concert Paul makes comments about it being “the last night of the tour,” which means some songs could be from the Los Angeles concert on June 23rd. The “Wings Over America” album was culled from several shows on the tour, and features the same set list as “Rockshow.” Curiously enough, while “Wings Over America” was released in December, 1976, just in time for Christmas and while people still remembered the tour, “Rockshow” didn’t premiere in movie theaters until November, 1980, by which time Wings had broken up. 

“Rockshow” is a rocking romp through some 28 songs, ranging from Beatles classics to many songs from Wings’ then-current album, “Wings at the Speed of Sound.” McCartney is at full throttle for the entire show, and the concert shows the full range of his talents. The film doesn’t capture Paul’s best hair day, but his almost-mullet was in perfect keeping with rock and roll style in 1976. Throughout the concert, Paul displays his signature charm, bantering with the audience, goofing off between songs, and having a grand time. 

What struck me most about “Rockshow” was how good Wings were as a band. This lineup of Wings featured Denny Laine on guitar, bass, and backing vocals, Jimmy McCulloch on lead guitar and Joe English on drums.  Laine, McCulloch, and English were all very talented musicians, and they all get an opportunity to shine during “Rockshow.” Sure, I know that for all the pretenses of democracy surrounding the band, “Wings” was always really going to be “Paul McCartney and the rest of the group.” Or, to be more accurate, “Paul, Linda, and Denny Laine plus the rest of the group.” (Laine was the only member of Wings besides Paul and Linda who was in the band from beginning to end.) But watching and listening to “Rockshow,” you can hear how good this version of Wings was as a touring band. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and playing great music together. Paul had wanted very much to be in another band after the Beatles, and be able to tour again, and now he had his wish. 

I also left “Rockshow” really impressed with Linda McCartney. It took guts/stupidity to put your musically untrained wife in the band that you formed after the greatest band ever, but Macca did it, and Linda was a trouper for going along with it. Yes, she wasn’t very polished, but she did the best she could, which is pretty admirable, considering how much flak she and Paul took for having her be in the band. And during “Rockshow” she looks really into it, performing with great enthusiasm. From what I’ve heard, Linda didn’t especially want to be in Wings, but Paul made her join the band so she could be with him on the road. It was a difficult situation for her to be thrust into, and to her credit she embraced it. While on the records it might be hard to discern what Linda was contributing to the music, on screen in “Rockshow” you can see and hear it-a synth line here, a harmony vocal there. It’s also really neat to see Paul and Linda just feet away from each other as he performs love songs that he wrote for her like “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “My Love.” 

Since this tour was Paul’s first in the United States since 1966, he could have easily just traded on Beatles nostalgia and performed a set comprised only of Beatles oldies. But Paul very much downplayed his Beatle past, including only 5 Beatles songs in the set list. He was making it clear that he was more than just the Beatles. Songs from “Venus and Mars” and “Wings at the Speed of Sound” are heavily featured, as those were Wings’ two most recent albums. Wings’ lineup for the tour also featured a 4-man horn section, which greatly added to songs like “Silly Love Songs” and “Let ‘Em In.” The concert begins with the rocking medley “Venus and Mars/Rock Show,” which goes straight into “Jet,” still a McCartney concert favorite in 2013, and one of his best rockers. Other highlights include a great version of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and a scorching rendition of “Call Me Back Again,” on which Paul tears his voice apart. One of my favorite songs from the concert was “The Long and Winding Road.” It isn’t my favorite Beatles song, but Paul does a great version of it, and the whole song is presented from just one camera angle focusing on Paul at the piano, with hardly any breaks or edits, which really made the emotion of the song come across very strongly. 

Throughout the concert, Paul switches effortlessly from bass to piano to acoustic guitar, highlighting his skill on each instrument. Paul’s bass playing is amazing. His bass is very high in the mix on both “Wings Over America” and “Rockshow,” as though he wanted to prove how great his bass playing is. I’ve long wondered if Paul’s amazing gift for melodies, and that fact that he played piano and guitar before ever picking up a bass led to his gorgeous, melodic bass lines. 

Other highlights of the concert for me included a lovely, jazzy version of “Bluebird,” a rare airing of “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” a rendition of “Listen to What the Man Said” that is in a more New Orleans/Fats Domino style, a great bass-heavy version of “Silly Love Songs,” and the closing few rockers, “Beware My Love,” “Letting Go,” “Hi Hi Hi,” and the obscure finale “Soily,” which was never released in a studio version. 

“Rockshow” is a great concert film that shows how good Wings could be as a band, and what a gifted performer McCartney is. It made me even more excited to see Paul in concert in Milwaukee this summer!

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