Paul McCartney has gotten a lot of mileage out of his one-off performance at Capitol Studios. The February 9, 2012 concert was originally streamed live for free on iTunes, a promotional event for McCartney’s album of Great American Songbook standards, Kisses on the Bottom. In March, the performance was released as a download-only live album called iTunes Live from Capitol Studios. It was next aired as part of the PBS series, Great Performances. Now, Live Kisses is available as a DVD release from Eagle Rock Entertainment.
For McCartney fans, this is a fantastic release. Having watched the live iTunes webcast, I must admit to some skepticism about how well it would translate to a standalone release. The black-and-white presentation was simple yet elegant, with McCartney backed by an ace jazz combo and 20-piece orchestra let by Marcy Vaj. Repeating her role on Kisses on the Bottom was pianist Diana Krall. Joe Walsh filled in for Eric Clapton as featured guitarist on a pair of songs, “Get Yourself Another Fool” and McCartney’s own “My Valentine.” The most interesting aspect of the performance is how genuinely out of his element McCartney seems. This isn’t quite the confident stadium performer we’re so accustomed to seeing. It adds a layer of occasional awkwardness, especially easy to spot by anyone with a good working familiarity with this style of music. The webcast didn’t come off as his finest hour in front of an audience.
For the DVD, the baker’s dozen tunes have been augmented by interviews with McCartney, Krall, Walsh, Clapton, and other participants from the album and concert. We get a little insight into why McCartney chose these songs. Hearing from the musicians who worked on the project allows us to better understand the approach McCartney took with material, obviously an artistic stretch for him. These aren’t the same old Beatles stories fans have heard again and again. If anyone doubts that McCartney is still seeking out new challenges in the autumn of his career, Live Kisses should put them to rest. With past rock concert video releases (Back in the U.S. and The Space Within US being the primary culprits), documentary and interview footage has been extremely obtrusive. Here it creates a really intimate environment and enriches the individual song performances.
The best thing about Live Kisses is that the rough edges have not been filed off. When McCartney’s voice hits a rough patch here or there (he’s plagued by mild hoarseness during a couple numbers), we hear it in the final mix. These vocal tracks could’ve easily been rerecorded (as McCartney has done in the past with some “live” performances—not judging, just pointing out a fact), but as far as I can tell these are the same as what went out live back in February. I was concerned that McCartney’s botched whistled intro to “My Very Good Friend the Milkman” would be edited out. Both of his false starts are included, a very candid highlight of the 75-minute presentation. During a few of the tunes, McCartney seems overly tentative with his delivery, teetering at the edge of losing his timing. He was brave to tackle these songs. Rather than becoming an embarrassment at any point, his cautious approach is ultimately quite endearing.
The DVD contains a satisfying collection of bonus material. A 15-minute interview with McCartney and Kisses on the Bottom producer Tommy LiPuma expands on what we hear during the main program. There are no less than six cuts of the “My Valentine” video, though they’re all relatively similar. The video was directed by McCartney himself and stars Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp. The “making of “ segment is priceless, with lots of footage of McCartney interacting with the two stars (separately, as Portman and Depp do not appear together). He’s even briefly shown jamming with Depp, who learned Clapton’s guitar solo note-for-note in order to realistically “perform” it in the video.
Another great surprise is the hardcover book that serves as the DVD case and includes a lengthy interview conducted by Diana Krall’s husband (and former McCartney songwriting collaborator), Elvis Costello. The only thing I don’t like, quite frankly, is the cardboard sleeve that the DVD fits into. I can’t stand any type of packaging that puts wear and tear on the disc itself. As nice a touch as the hardcover book is, I would’ve gladly traded it for a booklet inside a standard case. That nitpick aside, Live Kisses (also available on Blu-ray) is a stellar McCartney video release.