Paul McCartney and Wings: Rockshow Blu-ray Review: Listen to What the Band Played

It is unfortunate Wings has always been overshadowed, and understandably so, by leader Paul McCartney’s previous musical group because they had a run in the ’70s most bands would envy. In the U.S., all 23 singles made the Top 40, six hitting #1, and their eight albums, seven studio and one live, all went top 10, with five in a row peaking at #1. With the recent Blu-ray release of the concert film Rockshow, Wings gets some overdue time back in the spotlight.

Complied from four different performances in New York, May 25 (four songs); Seattle, Washington, June 10 (five songs); and Los Angeles, California, June 22 (15 songs) and June 23 (six songs), Rockshow presents Paul McCartney and Wings’ entire setlist during the 1976 North American leg of their Wings Over the World tour. A visual companion to the 1976 live triple-LP Wings over America, although different performances were used, Rockshow premiered in 1980. An abridged version was released on Betamax, VHS, laserdisc, and CED, and a measly seven songs were included on the 2007 The McCartney Years DVD. The Blu-ray presents the complete concert for the first time on home video.

During this tour, Wings featured their Mark II line-up of Paul and Linda McCartney, drummer Joe English, and guitarists Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch, and tracks from Band on the Run and Venus and Mars dominate the setlist. Though many considered the other musicians to be McCartney’s back-up band, viewers get to see Laine and McCulloch taking the lead, not just on guitar, but vocals as well. The latter sings “Medicine Jar” and the former sings a few, including “Spirits of Ancient Egypt,” “Time to Hide,” and “Go Now,” a hit for him when he was a member of The Moody Blues. Brass and woodwind players Howie Casey, Tony Dorsey, Steve Howard, and Thaddeus Richard accompany Wings on some songs.

The concert opens with a medley, starting slowly with “Venus and Mars,” kicking into high gear with the appropriately titled “Rock Show,” and sustaining it with “Jet.” Paul moves from bass to piano for “Maybe I’m Amazed,” one of the few songs that was a bigger hit live than the studio track.

This tour was the first time Paul played the U.S. since the Beatles stopped touring in 1966, giving fans their first opportunity to hear them played live. Of the five Beatles selections, the first is an unexpected but appreciated choice, “Lady Madonna,” followed by “The Long and Winding Road.”

Linda introduces the James Bond theme “Live and Let Die,” which is accompanied by lasers and strobe lights punctuating the intensity. They then switch gears and sit down for an acoustic set with Paul, Laine, and McCulloch on guitar and Linda joining in on harmonies. Laine sings “Pablo’s Last Words” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Richard Cory.” On “Bluebird,” Casey on sax and a rhythm box, also known as a drum machine, augment the arrangement. Paul plays solo on “Blackbird” and “Yesterday;” the latter gets the biggest audience reaction up to that point and is the last Beatles song of the night.

The rest of the set finds deep tracks like the Marvel Comics-inspired “Magneto and Titanium Man” played alongside classic hits, such as “My Love.” “Band on the Run” closes out main set. They return for “Hi Hi Hi,” appear to leave, and then play “Soily.”

Originally shot on 35mm, the footage has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio: 1.85:1. Lit for the stage and not the film, the visuals are acceptable and expected for being shot in 1976. When brightly lit under white lights, colors appear in strong hues and sharp details can be seen, like the creases in Paul’s pants. Under colored lights, the picture clarity diminishes the darker the color, so things look worse under red than they do yellow. Blacks crush at times as seen when Paul’s piano and shirt disappear into the darkness before “Listen to What the Man Said.”

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is impressive and immersive. The track delivers a great dynamic range from quiet, tender ballads to loud, bombastic rockers that are reinforced by powerful bass support on the LFE channel. There is great clarity in the lead vocals and the instruments, the latter of which can be distinctly heard from another on the arrangements. The surround speakers are filled with music and a cheering audience.

The lone bonus feature is “A Very Lovely Party” (HD, 10 min). “You Gave Me The Answer” and “Letting Go” play on the audio as the band can be seen off and on stage. Quite a number of celebrities can be spotted: Ringo, Elton John, Cher, Chevy Chase. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi perform different bits and Chuck Norris puts on a demonstration. The feature concludes with interviews of attendees who very much enjoyed the show, including one gal who claims she came twice.

While I didn’t achieve the same level of pleasure, Rockshow offers plenty of music to enjoy. It makes for a great document of a memorable tour for both devoted and casual fans. The Blu-ray sounds great and offers a satisfying picture.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site.

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