This month marks the reissue and release of Paul McCartney’s seminal 1976 triple live album, Wings Over America. Those of us who know that album also remember that there was a movie made of the tour, called Rockshow. To drum excitement for the June 10 re-release of said movie, select theaters nationwide did a screening, for one night only last week. I saw Rockshow in the theaters when it came out, I’ve loved Wings Over America since my sister bought the record back in the ’70s, I’ve seen Paul seven or eight times since 1990, and I’m just an unabashed Beatles and Wings dork so of course I fought horrible traffic and even more horrible pedestrians to catch the showing in San Francisco.
The show opens with “Venus and Mars/Rockshow,” which is what Paul opened with on his last trip through town. I’ve always thought that this was a genius opener. Rather than come crashing in with some big, loud rocker, this one starts softly, with its anticipatory tale of waiting for a show to begin. It builds the excitement brilliantly to the point where the band crashes in all it’s A blues/E chromatic scale glory.
Some initial thoughts: Paul’s Rickenbacker 4001 with flatwounds is one of the greatest bass tones ever. His playing is effortlessly groovy, even as he’s singing his awesome melodies. Denny Laine is a freaking great singer, his Ibanez doubleneck is totally cool, and who knew he plays with a thumbpick? The late Jimmy McCulloch doesn’t look a little bit like Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, he looks exactly like Tim Lincecum, if Timmy rocked a red SG and smoked a little more weed.
McCulloch and Laine are playing through Fender Bandmasters into Marshall cabs and Dual Showman stacks. Laine’s tone are a little more subdued, with McCulloch favoring a brighter, more overdriven sound. McCulloch takes all the solos, and his breaks in “My Love” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” are particularly cool, especially given the fact that he was only 23 or something at the time. Nice gig, Jimmy. Don’t screw it up. Oh, wait…
They play a lot of hits during the rock show and they kill them all. “Jet,” “Listen to What the Man Said,” Let ‘Em In,” “Live and Let Die,” and “Silly Love Songs” all sound great. Some lesser-known album cuts get a nice airing, like “Call Me Back Again,” “Medicine Jar” (sung apparently without irony by McCulloch), “Magneto and Titanium Man,” and one of the true unheralded gems of the Wings catalog, “You Gave Me the Answer,” which is as Beatle-y as anything Paul did post Fab Four. On “You Gave Me the Answer,” as with all the piano tunes, either McCulloch or Laine play bass. They both do a fine job of playing Paul’s great bass lines. What’s hilarious, though, is that three separate concerts were filmed, and although all the players were smart enough to wear the same clothes each night, Laine and McCulloch didn’t always play the same bass. In several tunes they’ll start off playing a black P-Bass, and then in the first chorus they might be on a brown Telecaster Bass or a sunburst Jazz Bass, only to somehow switch back to the Precision by the end of the tune.
A big difference from current McCartney shows is that Paul doesn’t play any guitar here, aside from the acoustic set. He also doesn’t lean nearly as heavily on Beatles material, although he does do crowd-pleasing versions of “Lady Madonna,” The Long and Winding Road,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” Blackbird,” and “Yesterday,” the last three coming in the acoustic set.
It’s a powerful set that is structured very well, all the way up to the 28th tune, the epic “Band on the Run.” They nail it and, although it was a fairly new song at the time, it proves itself to already be a classic and a tune that has no trouble sitting side by side with Paul’s best work with the Beatles. So why the hell don’t they end with that great tune rather than follow it up with “High, High, High”—which is an okay song but is certainly not up to the task of following “Band on the Run”? But they’re not done. As a final encore they do “Soily.” That is not a typo. Again, it’s not that it’s bad—they all rock it pretty good—but it’s a definite letdown compared to how they might have arranged the setlist.
“Soily” can’t soil what is otherwise a great concert, though. Paul is at the top of his game, playing and singing beautifully. The band is great, with an awesome horn section and a killer drummer. And for all the abuse Linda has taken for her musicianship over the years, she does fine for the most part and her presence in the band really just proves A) how much Paul loved her and B) how Paul could do whatever the hell he wanted, and he did. All in all a great show by a great band and well worth a look.