Paul McCartney, in his green metal suit, prepares once again to shoot up the city. And the ring at the end of his nose (oh, yes it does) makes him look rather pretty. And just like that, Rockshow — this once lost artifact — is underway.
What you’re struck by, as McCartney launches into those memorable lines from the title track to this belatedly released DVD/Blu-ray, is how loose and engaged he seems — how utterly thrilled by it all. To be on stage playing his own songs, separate from the Beatles; to be part of a band again.
And Rockshow (due with a sparkling new finish on June 11, 2013, from Eagle Vision and MPL) underscores that sense of musical camaraderie early and often.
After a titanic opening medley of “Venus and Mars,” “Rock Show” and “Jet,” followed by the tart, Lennon-esque “Let Me Roll It,” McCartney quickly (and, it seems, quite happily) hands over the spotlight — first to Denny Laine (on the layered, proggy “Spirits of Ancient Egypt”) and then to Jimmy McCulloch (with the foreboding, sadly ironic “Medicine Jar”). Throughout, I swear, a smile is always working at the corner of McCartney’s mouth.
It goes on this way, with McCartney — and, thus, Rockshow — making a few implicit points: That this was his new thing, and that it was a pretty good thing, and that he was having a complete ball.
Modern audiences might blanch at the idea of so many deep cuts, of such a low-fi stage set up — a banner featuring some cartoon characters falls behind Wings for their performance of “Magneto and Titanium Man,” rather than a digital display with, you know, actual moving pictures — and of so many people not named McCartney singing. But it’s worth noting that songs from both of his self-titled solo albums would ultimately only become hits after being performed live by Wings, first with this set’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” (originally from 1970’s McCartney) and then later with Coming Up (remade from 1980’s McCartney II). There’s a reason McCartney looks so present and in the moment throughout this concert. Wings, for all of their silly love songs, could be a damned good group.
With longer shots, fewer stage gimmicks (even the fireworks on “Live and Let Die” seem positively subdued), and an atmosphere of such musical generosity, it’s easier to overlook this tour’s — and this band’s — occasional missteps. For instance, the loping bass line on the aforementioned “Silly Love Songs” gives the song a new vibrancy, as do the sparky horns on “Listen What The Man Said.”
Instead of comparing their takes on Beatles classics like “Blackbird,” “Lady Madonna” and “The Long and Winding Road” (included in this expanded version of the film for the very first time) with the storied originals, we can more fully appreciate McCartney’s new confidence in returning to this older music, having built something he was just as proud of in the years that followed. Whereas Paul’s acoustic segment on the audio release of Wings Over America seems to skip along at a too-fast tempo, here it boasts a homey warmth. There are new insights to be found on their faces.
Meanwhile, McCulloch and drummer Joe English make their case as the greatest collaborators ever to work with the core trio of Laine and Paul and Linda McCartney over the course of tough, propulsive takes on “Time to Hide” (a powerful reminder of Laine’s R&B prowess) “Beware My Love” (framed by McCulloch’s scorching wah-wah), “Letting Go” (simmering, so darkly romantic) and a spirited run through “Band on the Run.”
It’s not all fun and games, at least not from the vantage point of 2013. McCulloch, the child prodigy, would never grow old — becoming the victim of drugs. Linda, a photographer who gamely allowed herself to be inserted into her husband’s new musical amalgam, passed more than 15 years ago after a bout with cancer. Even English has left behind rock music. Seeing them move around on stage again like this, in orbit so near a completely revitalized McCartney, only adds to the sense of fizzy excitement surrounding this long-waited film release.
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