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Music DVD Review: Paul McCartney – The Space Within Us

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The Space Within Us is Paul McCartney's third concert film in four years. Being a lifelong Beatles fan, I eagerly snatched up the first of these offerings, 2002's Back In The U.S., and enjoyed a spectacular musical trip down memory lane. How great it was to watch McCartney and his hot, young backing band sail through an incredible set of Beatles, Wings, and solo material during his heralded 2002 world tour. Ah, but then came the problems.

The Space Within Us finds McCartney again teamed up with producer/director Mark Haefeli, who also filmed his Back In The U.S. and In Red Square concert films. It would have been so damn easy for each of these films to get a ten star rating from me – just put a few cameras in front of the stage, film McCartney and his band in action, and wrap it all around a decent audio mix. But this is far from what we get. All three of these DVDs suffer from an overly self-aggrandizing approach that favors excessive audience shots of teary-eyed, adoring fans, and plenty of celebrities comparing McCartney to Beethoven and Jesus, over just showing the damn concert. Enough already!

Yes, McCartney is a modern day musical genius, and he has been a musical hero of mine for as far back as I can remember, but I don't need to see six different interview segments with Bill Clinton – for Christ's sake! – espousing Paul's greatness to get the point across. Where Back In The U.S. was simply annoying, but more forgivable due to the incredible nostalgia it produced, The Space Within Us is a much worse offender, because we have seen this all before. Is it too much to ask for the director to film Paul and the band performing more than the audience fawning? McCartney performed brilliantly at the Concert For George, and he and Haefeli should sit down together and watch that excellent DVD to see how it is done. It includes two versions — Theatrical Version, and Complete Concert. What a novel idea!

McCartney is in his mid-sixties now, and heading into his sixth decade as a musician, but he is still at the top of his game. Fueled by the release of his most critically acclaimed album in decades, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, and the great high he must get from performing some of his old Beatles classics for the first time in decades, a Paul McCartney concert can still be a very magical experience. This DVD certainly shows some of that magic, but until McCartney stops favoring these bloated documentary-style "concert films" over the straightforward, live concert experience that his fans have been pleading for, then he will never get much more than a lukewarm response out of me.

The Space Within Us is a documentary of Paul McCartney's 2005 US tour in support of his Grammy-nominated Chaos and Creation in the Backyard album. The DVD title is a reference to McCartney's live broadcast to the International Space Station during his Anaheim, California show, in which he woke up the astronauts with a performance of "English Tea". Bandmates Rusty Anderson (guitar), Brian Ray (guitar/bass), Abe Laboriel Jr. (drums), and Paul “Wix” Wickens (keyboards) have all been with McCartney since at least 2000, and they perform this music marvelously, but almost too respectfully at times. Many of the early classics sound exactly like the studio versions, and I would have enjoyed hearing a little more improvisation and heaviness added to the mix – kind of like when the Kinks played "Lola".

I found the setlist for The Space Within Us much less satisfying than either the Back In The U.S. or In Red Square DVDs. Much of this is because many of the best songs from the tour, such as "Back In The USSR", "Blackbird", "The Long And Winding Road", "Hey Jude", "Sgt. Pepper’s (Reprise)", "The End", "Jet", "Band on the Run", and "Live and Let Die" were not included on the DVD. Even more unforgiving, "Hey Jude" was edited down to a brief snippet, and "Let It Be" was completely talked over. The new Chaos and Creation in the Backyard album takes up a small portion of the set with four songs — "Fine Line", "English Tea", "Follow Me", and "Jenny Wren" — but I would have picked some different ones to complement "Fine Line", such as the darker "Riding To Vanity Fair", or the rollicking "Promise to You Girl".

It was great to hear some of the more inconspicuous Beatles' songs that Paul dusted off for this tour, such as "Till There Was You", which takes you all the way back to 1963's With The Beatles, "I'll Get You", from The Beatles' Second Album, "I'll Follow The Sun", from Beatles For Sale, "I Will", from The White Album, and "I've Got a Feeling", from Let It Be. "Fixing a Hole" gets a cool solo-piano makeover here, and "Too Many People" was introduced with "This is one for the Wings fans", even though it is from McCartney's second solo album Ram. This masterwork was officially credited as a collaboration with his wife, Linda, but it was certainly not a Wings album.

As a documentary, The Space Within Us certainly has its good points. The behind the scenes stuff brilliantly captures a very down to earth McCartney interacting with his band, crew, and fans in a manner that was refreshing for such a huge star. Experiencing all of the inner workings of such a major world tour as McCartney's was also quite fascinating to watch. Haefeli does do a marvelous job filming and editing all of this material and presents it all with a very nice flow; it was only when he combines the documentary footage with the concert performances that the flow comes to a grinding halt.

One of the best pieces of historical footage used in the documentary was of an old news clip featuring the former police chief of Minneapolis, which looks to be circa-1965, where he talks about the complaints he received concerning Paul McCartney having underaged girls in his room. I quote one of this wise man's comments concerning the future of the Beatles: "They are a typical traveling troupe, much like a traveling circus – here today, gone tomorrow." Think he's eaten those words yet?

The production quality of this DVD, in terms of audio and video quality, was stellar. The audio is presented in both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround as well as DD 2.0 stereo. Both surround mixes provided a crisp and clear sound, with good instrument separation, and excellent use of the surround speakers to present a natural live concert atmosphere. The show was filmed using Hi-Def digital cameras and the widescreen video presentation looks nearly flawless. As I've already complained about, the camera cuts were extremely haphazard, and focused way too much on the audience during the live performances.

The DVD included a generous amount of bonus material, highlighted by some sound check performances of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On", "Friends to Go", and "How Kind of You". Also included were some extensive interviews with McCartney, the band, and the US tour crew, as well as two featurettes titled "US Tour Pre-Show Film", and "On the Road with US".

As much as I have griped about the editing style and content of this film, there is still plenty to enjoy about this DVD. It is a Paul McCartney tour after all. If you don't mind being bombarded with about 50 different audience shots before the first song is even over, then you will probably enjoy this film even more than I did. Definitely check it out – just beware.

Set List
01. Magical Mystery Tour
02. Flaming Pie
03. Let Me Roll It
04. Drive My Car
05. Till There Was You
06. I'll Get You
07. Eleanor Rigby
08. Maybe I'm Amazed
09. Got to Get You Into My Life
10. Fine Line
11. I Will
12. I'll Follow The Sun
13. Good Day Sunshine
14. For No One
15. Hey Jude
16. Fixing a Hole
17. Penny Lane
18. Too Many People
19. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window
20. Let It Be
21. English Tea
22. I've Got a Feeling
23. Follow Me
24. Jenny Wren
25. Helter Skelter
26. Yesterday
27. Get Back
28. Please Please Me

Performance 7/10
Production 8/10

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About Paul Roy

  • Michael

    great review. i must agree with most everything here. mccartney is far more interesting without all the butt kissing from the fans.

    i must comment on one thing: when the police cheif of minnesota is commenting on the beatles being like a circus troupe, here today – gone tomorrow, i’m pretty sure he was only talking about the fact that the beatles tour was very much hit and run. they would be in one city for a night, cause chaos and commotion, and then gone the next day. it must have been hectic trying to control a city when the beatles hit town. i don’t think the police chief meant the beatles would be famous today and forgotten tomorrow.

  • I have to say as a life long fan who was lucky enough to see the show four times this tour and one of them being from the front row…the DVD did NO justice to the real life experience. If you have ever been to a Paul McCartney show then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Paul is all about his fans and always has been. He can make you feel like you’re the only fan in the arena. Just you and Paul…just you and a Beatle. Now if you are simply seeing the show for the first time from this DVD…..
    I like how in watching this DVD you can almost get a feeling of being there from the limo entrance to the sound check to sitting in your seat waiting for the man himself to appear right in front of you. While their is no feeling like actually being there yourself, it’s nice to be able to see some of the backstage happenings. I can do without a lot of the audience clips and would prefer he add in a song or two that was cut…but seeing that I am one of the fans that was blessed in having my face on the DVD I can’t complain too much. I would have liked to see a few things different. Such as, not cutting out the tribute to Lennon during Let It Be and the lighting of the candle…instead we get to hear interviews during an emotional moment in the concert. Also I understand why he put in the backstage clips from the Grammy’s since he was nominated for Chaos and Creation…but that had nothing to do with the tour. Same thing with the clip from the Ellen show…he was on there promoting High in the Clouds! I would have much rather gotten to hear The End and Blackbird and called it a day!
    Very good review overall.

  • mona lee

    Great review! Macca Rules!