Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: 'Paul McCartney and Wings: Rockshow'

When The Beatles retired from the stage in mid-1966, venues were getting bigger but bands had yet to adapt to the changing nature of rock shows. They were all still twanging through inadequate amps and chirping over inadequate sound systems. What a difference a decade made. No more Beatles. No more weak equipment. No more fumbling with how to meet the challenge of entertaining a stadium of 60,000 people. 

There was nothing inadequate, unprofessional, or unpolished about Paul McCartney and Wings’ 1976 tour over America. This was a big band putting on a big show complete with smoke bombs, lasers, a projection screen, and fancy lighting while rolling out song after song flawlessly for well over two hours. That’s about five times as long as the average Beatles performance. 

So Wings’ stage act was big and showy and choreographed and incredibly well rehearsed. It was also genuinely exciting. 37 years ago, a good part of that excitement must have resulted from McCartney’s realization that Wings was well established enough in its own right that he no longer had to feel like he was cashing in on past triumphs by tossing in a few songs by his old band. The inclusion of “Lady Madonna,” “The Long and Winding Road” (in a rendition that bests the one on Let It Be), “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Blackbird,” and “Yesterday” makes the resulting concert film so much more than the ultimate document of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles career. Strange then that Rockshow has gotten so little attention since its brief theatrical run and home video release in the early eighties. I remember seeing that 75-minute film on MTV or VH-1 several years later, and it has always enjoyed a fairly healthy life on bootleg, but it’s anyone’s guess why this terrific film hasn’t gotten more attention in McCartney’s very well-covered career. 

That’s all changed with Eagle Vision Entertainment’s DVD and Blu-ray release of Rockshow. Restored from the original 35mm film in fabulous widescreen with all 130 minutes intact, and packaged in a lovely hardback case, Rockshow is getting some much belated respect. Wings, once a mega-selling punch line for cynical critics, may find themselves enjoying the same treatment as the critics of today review this performance. Yes, some of McCartney’s Little-Richard-lite stage act plays a bit corny, and a couple of songs (Denny Laine’s “Spirits of Ancient Egypt,” Paul’s ghastly “My Love”) remain piffle, but there’s a lot of great Rock and pop to rediscover in this 28-song set, and not just among Wings’ hits and the old fab favorites (which include a cover of Paul Simon’s “Richard Cory” and Denny’s gorgeous Moody Blues-era nugget “Go Now”). Album tracks such as “Letting Go,” “Let Me Roll It,” “Time to Hide,” and the show-stopping soul surge “Call Me Back Again” are great numbers that sound even better on stage performed by a cracking band— by far Wings’ best line up (joined by a horn section that never blasts notes where they don’t belong). It’s also nice to see how well democratized Wings were despite being led by the biggest rock star on the planet. Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch feel like particularly integral, full-fledged members of the band. The musicians’ constant instrument swapping also varies the mood of a really long concert film nicely, as does the mid-set acoustic hoedown. 

There’s only one bonus feature, but it’s a pretty cool one: ten minutes of well-edited backstage and home movie footage with cameos by John Bonham, Harry Nilsson, Elton John, Cher, and a very chummy Ringo Starr (I remember seeing some of this stuff appended to the 75-minute film). Not sure where the strange additional footage of Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chuck Norris, and what appears to be a local company of The Wiz fits in, but it completes the Super-Seventies Time-Capsule vibe nicely.

Get Paul McCartney and Wings: Rockshow on DVD and Blu-ray at Amazon.com here:

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