Thursday, May 16, 2013



A film featuring Paul McCartney and Wings
Review by Don L. Stradley

Paul McCartney in Rockshow
There is a moment in Rockshow, a concert film of the Wings Over The World tour of 1976, where Paul McCartney sits at a piano and tells the audience he is going to play a song that goes back a few years.

He hedges for a moment, and then, with the sneakiness of a pickpocket, begins hammering the familiar rolling cords of 'Lady Madonna,' a glorious Beatles hit from a decade earlier. The crowd knows it within two notes. Another Beatles gem follows: 'The Long and Winding Road.' Later in the show, when McCartney sits with an acoustic guitar and plays 'I've Just Seen a Face,' ' Blackbird,' and 'Yesterday,' the cameras pan over people in the audience: their eyes are misty; they are spellbound. A Beatle was actually playing some hits by The Beatles.

They may have been a '60s band, but anyone who grew up in the '70s will tell you The Beatles were still vital long after their breakup. Their music was played constantly on the radio, their movies were shown often on television, and there was enough Beatle literature in the bookstores to educate an army of junior high schoolers who weren't interested in Kiss or The Eagles. For many of us, they were still number one.

The Wings Over The World tour was a major undertaking, and a gamble, by McCartney. It was a chance to prove he was still, at 34, an important figure in the music world. His Beatle bandmates had gone into various degrees of seclusion by that year, but McCartney still craved a band situation. He'd made some strong albums with Wings, released some hit singles, and by the time of this tour, he was able to put on a two hour show that could compete with any rock act of the era.

The resulting live album, Wings Over America, was a massive three record set that was notable for its shear bulk, a surprise FM radio hit in 'Maybe I'm Amazed', and the fact that it featured a handful of Beatles tunes. The live album became a touchstone for late period Beatle fans, the ones who had missed the first round of Beatlemania. While they waited fruitlessly for a moptop reunion, they could be somewhat satisfied by McCartney singing 'Yesterday' on Wings Over America. That was something, anyway.

Of course, hardcore Beatle fans can always find something to gripe about, and McCartney was sometimes criticized for not playing enough of the old hits on this tour. He has played more Beatles tunes on his recent tours, almost at the exclusion of old Wings hits, which makes Rockshow all the more exciting; this is probably the most Wings music he ever performed live. McCartney was smart to limit the oldies in 1976. He was, after all, pushing Wings. Looking back, he was actually quite generous to include a few Beatle hits, and judging by the rapturous looks on the faces of fans as he crooned 'Yesterday', anything more might've resulted in a kind of mass meltdown.

The filmed account of the tour enjoyed a brief release in 1980 and '81, but has been painstakingly restored with a stunning new 5.1 mix courtesy of Abbey Road. McCartney allegedly was against releasing the film in years past - a shortened version had kicked around on tape during the '80s - but the new version is a treasure, documenting McCartney at the height of his powers and popularity. In a way, this tour was McCartney's equivalent of Elvis Presley's 1968 NBC comeback special. The triumph would be shortlived: in a few years McCartney would be out of favor, battling his image as the sappy Beatle. In '76, though, he competed in a turf war with Rod Stewart, Elton John, and The Stones; he whipped them all.

Rockshow was filmed at four locations, including the cavernous Seattle Kingdome. The band, featuring a classic Wings lineup of McCartney, his wife Linda, Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch, and Joe English, as well as a four piece horn section, was in top fighting form. The set list is phenomenal, including: 'Venus and Mars', 'Jet', 'Let Me Roll It', 'Live and Let Die', 'Bluebird', 'Beware My Love', the aforementioned Beatles tunes, plus McCartney's hits that were brand new at the time, such as 'Let 'Em In', 'What the Man Said', and McCartney's biggest hit that year, 'Silly Love Songs,' which gets the wildest fan reaction of the night.

What comes across in the film is that Wings was a great band, and McCartney was a veritable music machine, comfortable with rock & roll, blues shuffles, jazzy sounds, crooning, soul ballads, country and folk, beer chanteys, disco jive, and even a splash of reggae. Always a melodic and adventurous bassist, McCartney's playing here is brash and sinewy, anchoring the sound with even greater depth and confidence than he had with The Beatles. His voice, too, is impeccable here, as if months on the road had been the perfect stone on which to sharpen himself.

McCartney also took many opportunities to step back so others could sing. Laine is especially effective, offering soulful renditions of 'Go Now' and Paul Simon's 'Richard Cory'. Laine mugs and vamps throughout the show, a typically mad Brit rocker of the era, complete with ball-crushing tight pants and a razor blade necklace.
In fact, lovers of '70s kitsch will adore the look of Rockshow. There are strobe lights, smoke bombs and bubble machines, and enough shag haircuts and satin pants to make one yearn for the days of Don Kirshner's Rock Concert and Midnight Special. McCartney wears a glittery black sweater and black bell bottoms, looking a bit like Jimmy Page in The Song Remains The Same, minus the serpents. Linda, with padded shoulders and an enormous shag haircut, looks like she stepped out from the cover of a Roxy Music album.

And how nice it is to see Linda McCartney again. Here, Linda seems relaxed, glad to be part of the show. In a brief intro to the film, McCartney talks about being "slagged" for bringing his wife on stage with him, and talks with pride at how she gradually became the band's cheerleader. Watching Rockshow, one sees that Linda was a trooper, singing before thousands of people every night. The 1976 tour was a triumph for her, too.

At the end of the film, after explosive versions of 'Band on the Run', 'Hi Hi Hi', and 'Solly', McCartney flashes a two-fingered peace symbol as he leaves the stage. Linda, always tending to business, flashes the Wings hand sign - thumbs together, fingers out, like a W. She was part of the band, man. She was also reminding us that her husband's other band was history, and this was a Wings show.

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