Rockshow, the long-awaited concert film documenting Paul McCartney & Wings historic 1976 Wings Over America tour, is better than it really has any right to be. This isn’t so much because of the surprisingly high quality of the video and audio restoration (particularly considering its near forty year vintage), nor of the performance itself (which is excellent start to stop).
Rather, what makes Rockshow a particularly stunning achievement is when you take into account the venue where the bulk of this concert was actually recorded. Seattle’s enormous Kingdome was a gigantic, indoor structure made entirely of cement. A domed stadium built primarily for Seattle’s then NFL expansion team the Seahawks, the Kingdome was the sort of acoustical nightmare that was never meant to play host to rock shows, even of the stadium-sized variety.
Over time, the NFL eventually figured out the Kingdome wasn’t that great for football either, and in March 2000, it finally fell victim to the wrecking ball.
Even so – and despite the fact that loud amplified music really has nowhere else to go inside a gigantic cement cavern, but to bounce off the walls – many superstar rock acts braved the challenges of the venue, and made the attempt anyway.
My own Kingdome concert memories include being worried enough about the noisy din Led Zeppelin created there – and noticing a few cracks in the cement walls – to park myself near an exit ramp, just in case. Opening for Aerosmith at the Kingdome, Jeff Beck was so pissed off at the horrendous sound, at one point he even made a crack welcoming the crowd to “the Kingdome echo chamber.”
But in 1976, Paul McCartney & Wings were the first to break the Kingdome in for rock shows. Most of us old-school veterans of Seattle’s rock scene agree to this day, that from the Stones and the Eagles, to U2 and The Who, Macca still remains the only guy who was able to really pull it off. At the time, Wings Kingdome performance also set an indoor concert attendance record for North America – drawing in an astounding 67,000 fans.
I believe that record also still stands for Seattle shows, although Kenny Chesney’s annual country-fest at Century Link Field has probably long since eclipsed the gross profit margin record in the modern age of higher-priced tickets.
Interestingly, McCartney will be repeating history in just a few weeks in Seattle, when he becomes the first rock act to play the Mariners ballpark at Safeco Field.
One of the coolest pictures in the booklet that accompanies the Rockshow DVD, is of Paul and the rest of Wings leaning out over the outer-railing of the Kingdome’s 300 level, and waving to the thousands of fans gathered outside in the parking lot. As one of those fans who was actually there, I totally remember that.
Which is just one of the reasons why Rockshow represents such a perfectly executed snapshot of that historic show.
What makes it all the more amazing though, is the way this DVD not only overcomes the obvious limitations of its source, but also the video technology of its day, to quite remarkably freeze a moment in time. The show was pretty amazing to begin with, but this DVD creates a timewarp that comes as close to transporting you back to 1976 as it gets.
Paul McCartney still puts on great shows today, of course.
But unlike the way his current concerts take you on a nostalgic trip down memory lane, the 1976 Wings Over America tour was a period where McCartney was in the midst of a second artistic and commercial peak as a solo artist, and with his then still new band Wings. It was also Macca’s first major North American tour since the Beatles, and not surprisingly, a genuine media event.
I can still remember bumping into a young Geraldo Rivera at the Kingdome that night, covering the show for a piece on ABC’s 20/20. A handful of Beatles songs – including “Lady Madonna,” “The Long And Winding Road,” and of course, “Yesterday” – were still played.
But the post-Beatles material which made up the bulk of the setlist that night, was received every bit as enthusiastically by this crowd. From the opening medley of “Venus And Mars/Rock Show/Jet,” through the main set closer “Band On The Run,” the post-Beatles catalog McCartney was still building at the time, plays just as strongly on this DVD, as his more celebrated work with the former Fabs.
In fact, the stunning version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” from this show was so good, it was released as the lead-off single from the live Wings Over America album, and went on to become a Top Ten hit.
But the other thing which becomes apparent in revisiting this concert on DVD, is that at least in concert, Wings was very much a fully realized band, rather than merely Macca’s backup crew. As seen here, the band members switch off on instruments during a number of points as the songs dictate. But there are also a number of turns where the individual members are allowed their own moments in the spotlight to shine.
The late guitarist Jimmy McCulloch’s axe-work is stellar throughout, but is particularly impressive when he leads the rest of Wings early in the set through a raucous version of “Medicine Jar.” Denny Laine is equally great when he assumes his own lead duties during “Spirits Of Ancient Egypt,” “Time To Hide,” and his own former Moody Blues hit “Go Now.”
But more than that, Wings prove themselves more than up to the task of functioning as a quite formidable, muscular sounding rock band. On Rockshow, Wings rock much harder than McCartney’s reputation for “Silly Love Songs” might suggest. Truth be told, they even rock the crap out of that one.
Paul McCartney & Wings Rockshow has been released in bits and pieces over the years, beginning with limited theatrical, Betamax, and Laserdisc versions in the early eighties, and most recently in a shortened version on the 2007 DVD release The McCartney Years.
But this represents the first time that the complete concert – fully restored and remastered from the original 35mm film, and remixed in glorious 5.1 sound – has been made commercially available.
Talk about your days of future past! Taken alongside Macca’s current Out There tour, as well as the recently expanded Wings Over America box, we can’t think of a better re-entry portal through the rock and roll time tunnel.
Paul McCartney & Wings Rockshow arrives this Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray.