Next week marks the first release on DVD and Blu-ray of Rockshow , the two-hour plus 35mm concert documention of Paul McCartney and Wings’ 1976 American tour.
It’s a corker.
The “Wings Over America” tour (or “Wing Over The World” if you saw them elsewhere) was the largest tour that McCartney had mounted to that point (there were two small scale UK college tours in 1972) and based on the evidence of Rockshow (filmed in front of 67,000 fans at the gigantic Kingdome in Seattle and at smaller shows at The Forum in Los Angeles and New York’s Madison Square Garden), it must’ve been the very, very best time to have seen him perform other than during his Beatles days. (In any case, it was the first time North American fans had a chance to see McCartney perform since the final Beatles show at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in 1966.)
The set list is a motherfucker (song for song, the same as on the Wings Over America album) incorporating Macca’s very best solo material (“Band on the Run,” “Live and Let Die,” “Venus and Mars/Rockshow,” “Jet,” a magnificent “Bluebird”), five well-chosen Beatles numbers (“Blackbird,” “Lady Madonna,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Yesterday” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face”) along with an excellent cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Richard Cory.” (I kept waiting for Denny to sing “Wish that I could be… John Denver” but that never occurs in this version, sadly.)
The incarnation of Wings seen and heard in Rockshow are Paul and Linda McCartney, drummer Joe English, and guitarists Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch. Brass and woodwind players Howie Casey, Steve Howard, Thaddeus Richard and Tony Dorsey were also along for the tour and again, other than the Fab Four, this was the very best band McCartney ever worked with. Rockshow captures him at a time when he was on a creative, personal and commercial peak and he’s obviously having a grand fucking time, grinning from ear to ear. (Not to damn the great man with faint praise, but this WAS his post-Beatles career peak. The indifferent London Town came next and it was all quickly downhill from there…)
If you owned the triple LP Wings Over America set, you probably recall its distinctively murky, hissy sound quality. Here, the restored audio has been expertly realized and the super-clean 5.1 HD DTS surround mix can rattle the walls (I’ve been playing it a lot these past few days, I sure hope my neighbors like Paul McCartney!)
The camera work in Rockshow is solid enough (no allowances were made for the movie crew, so it’s often shot from the side or through mic-stands)) and since this was pre-MTV, the editing isn’t hyper-kinetic and you actually have a chance to see the musicians playing their instruments for at least several seconds at a time. Picture quality is kinda “eh” for 35mm on Blu-Ray (to my eye it appears to be 16mm blown up to 35mm and it’s more than a little grainy in the darker parts). Frankly, although I’d put this on and play it all the way through, it’s not like I’m ever going to sit there and watch it all anyway. Like most people, I just dip in and out of concert DVDs, so the picture quality (which isn’t bad, mind you, not in the least, it’s just not great either) doesn’t really bother me. It’s all about the audio quality in my book, and this sucker is the tits in the high fidelity department (I would never listen to Wings Over America again owning this one)
Occasionally there are continuity problems, as the group wasn’t all wearing the same clothes for each concert that was filmed, and at one point Denny Laine’s bass magically changes from a black Precision Bass into a blonde Telecaster. Something else that I found slightly amusing was during “Magneto and Titanium Man” when a huge Jack Kirby-drawn mural drops (after a little coaxing) then sits there, unmoving for the length of the song. Today that would be an animated 3-D CGI HD video spectacular, but I suppose that stadium rock was still in its infancy then. Another smile comes during “Live and Let Die” where it looks like the smoke bombs and pyrotechnics weren’t all that much fun for the band to experience from the stage.
For its minor faults, Rockshow is a delight, even the cutaways to the young audience members are charming. In his liner notes, BBC radio’s Paul Gambaccini describes them as “not baby boomers overcome by emotion as they recall the music of their childhood, these are young people hearing the music when it was still fresh”:
“When the camera focuses on individual faces during “Blackbird,” we see persons who are alive in the moment, completely engaged by the experience. They do not realize that, in 2013, they will be tearful with joy to have such beautiful memories.”
But don’t think this can only be enjoyed as a nostalgia trip, it rocks like a motherfucker.
Frankly, I get sent a lot of DVDs, but after I watch something once, I usually just toss it, give it to a friend or trade it in. Most DVDs are disposable to me, but I’m keeping this one. Rockshow is actually worth buying and making a part of your collection. Had a free review copy not arrived in the post last week, I’d have bought my own copy anyway. I’d rate Rockshow five stars out of five. If it sounds like something you think you might like, you probably will like it. A lot.
Rockshow came out on Betamax and laserdisc in the early 1980s, but it has not been available (legally) for over 30 years. EagleRock’s DVD and Blu-ray release makes the full concert available for the very first time ever. The excerpt below, from The McCartney Years DVD should whet your appetite for the full thing.