Earlier this year, Paul McCartney satisfied a longtime ambition of recording an album of standards. Though other rockers have released American songbook collections, McCartney distinguished his album from other projects by selecting more obscure tunes. The resulting album, Kisses on the Bottom, allowed McCartney to pay tribute to lyricists such as Fats Waller, Frank Loesser, and Johnny Mercer who had influenced his own writing.
On February 9, 2012, McCartney and many of the Kisses on the Bottom musicians gathered to perform the tracks at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. With the assistance of top jazz artists such as Diana Krall and John Pizzarelli, McCartney treated the small audience to a selection of songs. Director Jonas Åukerland captured the concert in black and white, interspersing interviews with McCartney and other musicians to create the DVD Live Kisses. While too much praise is heaped upon the ex-Beatle at times, it still serves as a thoroughly enjoyable document of an artist’s labor of love.
Singing into the same microphone used by legends like Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, McCartney quietly croons such lovely songs as the melancholy “When Shadows Fall” and the lyrically playful “It’s Only A Paper Moon.” His slightly raspy voice adds weight to “Glory of Love,” his life experience lending new significance to lines such as “You've got to win a little, lose a little/ And always have the blues a little/ That's the story of, that's the glory of love.” A particularly touching moment occurs while singing “More I Cannot Wish You,” a song from the stage version of Guys and Dolls. Since it details a conversation between a father and child, McCartney appeared to personally relate to the lyrics, his voice cracking at the end.
Between each song, the film features interviews with McCartney, Krall, Pizzarelli, producer Tommy LiPuma, and Joe Walsh, among many others. Most spend an inordinate amount of time discussing how much they love and admire McCartney, and not enough on how they selected the track list, scored the songs, and worked with him on vocals. Additional guest musicians Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder also discuss their experience working on Kisses on the Bottom, but unfortunately do not appear in the concert portion.
Wisely, Åukerland maintains a restrained tone throughout the film, using close-ups and lingering over small details like the instruments or Krall’s hands caressing the keys. Occasionally, the director returns to the color format for the interviews and “behind the scenes” footage, but relies strictly on the black and white format for the performance segments. This technique lends the documentary a classic, timeless quality.
DVD extras repeat themes in the film, such as the interview with McCartney and LiPuma. They essentially repeat stories already told in the Live Kisses documentary. Six versions of the “My Valentine” video, along with a “making of” featurette, are also included. The McCartney-directed videos star Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman interpreting the song’s lyrics through sign language. While interesting, six versions may be too much for the casual fan. Finally, the DVD features two video montages of McCartney’s album cover shoot (photographed by daughter Mary McCartney). The atypically lavish packaging resembles a hardcover book, with a lengthy essay and interview by McCartney collaborator and Krall’s husband Elvis Costello. While these bonus features and book have their charms, the documentary is the main reason to purchase the package.
The most transcendent moment of Live Kisses occurs when McCartney sings “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.” As he sings, he frequently breaks into a smile as his eyes light up. The superb band swings behind him, and during the instrumental break he sits back as if basking in the wonderful music. Here the real McCartney shines through, the Liverpudlian who grew up listening to relatives sing these songs at family gatherings. As he sings and tells those stories, he pays tribute to the music that helped shape him as a songwriter. Listening to McCartney perform chestnuts such as “My Very Good Friend the Milkman” demonstrate how he absorbed past composers’ storytelling techniques to create his own modern-day classics.