When I reviewed The McCartney Years I said that it partially explained why Rockshow hasn’t been released on DVD until now and suggested that it might be because it doesn’t really stand up to modern concert films.
I. Was. Wrong.
I realise now that the main reason that the tidbits of Rockshow included on The McCartney Years were unsatisfying is because they were taken out of the context of the whole film.
It’s not that Rockshow is without its flaws. Indeed, it’s defined by them. The camera angles are either off to the side, looking down from a distance or pointing right up the band’s noses. These angles are sometimes blocked by mic stands, miss bits and are frequently out of focus.
In other words, it’s just like being there.
In the newly recorded introduction to the film, Paul claims that Wings started from nothing. This is true, if by “nothing,” you mean having only one ex-Beatle and an ex-Moody Blue. Still, something that defined Wings was a habit of dropping themselves into a situation without a plan - from an ad-hoc tour of any uni bar that would have them, to deciding to record Band on the Run in a half-built studio in Nigeria (what could possibly go wrong?) - and muddling through thanks to a combination of enthusiasm, showmanship and a musical talent that people would kill just to have just one tenth of. Rockshow is really no different. It was filmed over several nights at the end of the 1976 Wings Over America tour with seemingly no provision made for the filming or for continuity. At one point, Denny Laine manages to turn a black Precision Bass into a Blonde Telecaster bass, and Jimmy McCulloch changes it back a few songs later. There are a couple of other points where Jimmy’s fingers are clearly playing different licks to the ones being heard.
What is really interesting about the set list is that although they were promoting the Wings at the Speed of Sound album at the time, it’s the previous album, Venus and Mars that is drawn on the most heavily. It actually came as a surprise to me when they played Band on the Run near the end of the set because I really hadn’t missed it. Naturally, the few Beatles songs that are dropped into the set draw huge cheers but the show is by no means built around them. Wings had no need to lean on the Beatles connection at this point, but Macca has always been a crowd-pleaser and knew that people would want at least a couple of Beatles numbers. Also, there’s a real, live, 4-piece horn section. Remember how good that sounded, Paul?
The new 5.1 mix is restrained, with the surround channels being used only for audience noise. I usually consider this a pretty lazy use of a surround mix but in this case, along with the photography, it complements the simulation of the concert experience. The rest of the mix is a traditional rock and roll arrangement with guitars left and right, as it should be.
Of course, there’s plenty of 70s dagginess included as well. Mullets abound and Paul looks for all the world like he is wearing pyjama pants. Despite its flaws – indeed, probably because of them – Rockshow really is the perfect record of Wings at the height of their powers in what was a pretty high-tech show in its day.
Highlight: The segue of Rockshow to Jet. We all know it’s coming now, but it still sounds great.
Feature: * * * * ½