On Second Thought: Paul McCartney and Wings – Rockshow (1980; 2013 reissue)

The days of watching dark, grainy footage while listening to a muddy sound mix are finally over. At last, Paul McCartney and Wings’ seminal concert film Rockshow has been completely restored, and is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. Like the recent Wings Over America reissue, the film encapsulates a critical point in McCartney’s solo career — his official transition from ex-Beatle to bonafide rock star.

Filmed during the 1975-76 Wings Over America tour, the original, 1980 edition of Rockshow featured a heavily edited version of their performance at Seattle’s Kingdome. The 2013 release includes the entire show, restored from the 35mm master, and a 5.1 sound mix. The result simply blows away the previous murky prints on VHS tapes and the rare TV airings. McCartney and his bandmates — wife Linda, Denny Laine, the late Jimmy McCulloch, and Joe English — appear in full glorious color, the improved sound revealing previously hidden elements like McCartney’s bass playing on “Go Now.”

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The documentary bears some 1970s marks — some quick cuts that sync with a tune’s tempo as well as the fascination with laser shows are the biggest giveaways — but overall Rockshow has aged quite well. Comparing this performance with McCartney’s current tour, it’s remarkable how he still performs many of the same songs, and how he plays them with the same energy. However, here he performed only a handful of Beatles tracks in Rockshow, as he apparently tried not to rest on his laurels. Instead, he demonstrated his ability to handle rockers and ballads with ease, shifting from the subdued vocals of “My Love” to screaming on tracks like “Beware My Love.” While incredible to believe now, “Live and Let Die” was a relatively new single for McCartney then, and the accompanying pyrotechnics (not impressive by today’s standards) wowed a surprised crowd; of course, this is a required element of today’s McCartney shows.

Another McCartney staple remains the “unplugged” section, and Rockshow is no different. Sitting on stools with Linda, McCulloch, and Laine (English played percussion and sang in back), McCartney treated the audience to tight harmonies and pretty melodies on songs such as “Bluebird” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” His performance of “Blackbird” sounds almost identical to 2013 McCartney, although he was wise to pare down the arrangement of “Yesterday” for the stage. The Rockshow version was weighed down with heavy-handed horns that drowned out his vocals and overshadowed the song. For concert purposes, McCartney and a guitar are just fine.

Speaking of horns, Rockshow begs the question: Why did McCartney stop touring with horn sections? Led by Liverpool chum Howie Casey, the horn players contributed punch and a bit of soul to “Silly Love Songs,” “Let ‘Em In,” and “Lady Madonna.” The film also reminds viewers of McCulloch’s considerable guitar skills; here, he performed a signature solo on “My Love” and his own composition, the anti-drug anthem “Medicine Jar.” The latter song would prove prophetic, as he sadly passed away a few years later from a heroin overdose at age 26. McCartney showcased the musician frequently, as McCulloch’s tough but tasteful solos added crucial elements to Wings tracks.

Laine also took the spotlight on several tracks, an honor that McCartney does not grant his current bandmates. However, Laine served as a collaborator, not just a backing musician. Obviously, McCartney respected his talent, as he ceded the microphone to Laine for tracks like “Go Now” and “Richard Cory,” a Simon and Garfunkel cover. While he was a serious musician, Laine often clowned around during the show; he did a handstand near the keyboards, and donned a Revolutionary War-era hat and strapped on a drum for “Let ‘Em In.” Laine became an important member of the band with his multi-instrumental gifts and songwriting ability, and Rockshow reminds viewers of his underrated talents.

Most of all, Rockshow portrayed an ebullient McCartney, a man proud of his accomplishments and ability to move beyond the Beatles. As he does today, he winked, pointed, joked, and waved at the adoring fans. (Numerous shots focus on women with tear-streaked faces.) He designed one terrific “rockshow” and he knew it, and one can still sense the thunderous roars bouncing off the Kingdome’s walls.

The DVD is encased in a small hardcover book with new liner notes and vintage photos. Unfortunately the only bonus feature, “A Very Lovely Party,” feature all-too-brief glimpses into Wings’ offstage life at the time. Mostly silent home movies depict McCartney and company joking around backstage, entertaining visitors like Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson. No further information accompanies these brief scenes, such as where or when they were filmed. Audience interviews take up the majority of the bonus material, with numerous awe-struck fans repeating how much they loved the show. A few of these segments would have sufficed. Where are any new interviews with McCartney, Laine, or English? A director’s commentary would have also been interesting so viewers could learn more about the filming.

Despite these flaws, Rockshow remains a must-own for any McCartney or Beatles fan. At long last we can toss out those inferior copies and become immersed in a pristine copy. More importantly, it shows McCartney at the peak of Wings fame, playing a well-paced show that should be required viewing for today’s bands.

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Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.