Filmed in 1976 during the epic Wings Over America tour and released theatrically in 1980, Rockshow has finally been remastered restored to its full length. This has been a long time coming for Paul McCartney fans who consider this to be the finest example of his showmanship. Aside from a few select songs that were included on The McCartney Years DVD in 2007, the June 11 Blu-ray and DVD release marks the film’s digital debut.
For anyone unfamiliar with McCartney’s live shows prior to the last 24 years or so, Rockshow will likely be surprising. Beginning with his 1989-90 world tour, seeing McCartney perform has involved a heavy dose of Beatles nostalgia. His set lists are peppered with his most enduring ‘70s hits, mostly ignoring the ‘80s all together, and usually include a few tunes from his most recent album at any given time. Rockshow presents a 129-minute concert that falls back on his Beatles catalog for only five of the 30 songs.
The ’76 Wings tour was McCartney’s first in the U.S. since his final go around with The Beatles a decade before. The first half of the ‘70s saw McCartney building a body of solo material that included so many hits he didn’t even include them all. Duplicating the line-up of hit singles and album tracks found on the recently reissued Wings Over America live album, Rockshow finds McCartney with arguably the strongest incarnation of Wings very much in the moment. The pacing only falters once, very early on, when lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and utility man Denny Laine take back-to-back turns fronting the band.
Speaking of which, there are exactly as many non-McCartney sung tunes as there are Beatles numbers. McCartney was hell-bent on presenting Wings as a “real band” as opposed to merely his backing group. Luckily he didn’t overdo it, as he did with the then-contemporary album At the Speed of Sound (11 songs, five sung by other group members). Laine acquits himself quite nicely on his numbers, delivering a fun blast from the past of his own with his Moody Blues hit “Go Now.”
Drummer Joe English powers through the rockers like a madman. Young McCulloch (who would be dead at 26 only three years later) looks a little bored on the poppier numbers, but contributes some stinging leads on the more rough and tumble stuff. As for McCartney’s late wife Linda, she provides unobtrusive support with simple keyboard parts and distinctive backing harmonies. Her presence wasn’t deserving of all the vitriol hurled her way (then or now). Who but McCartney has ever displayed such stylistic variety in one show? From the soulful R&B of “Call Me Back Again” to the Marvel Comics tribute “Magneto and Titanium Man,” he’s all over the map and loving every second of it. I’m not sure there’s ever been a performer capable of putting a swinging piano pop piece like “You Gave Me the Answer” (dedicated here to Fred Astaire, no less) in the same show as the ferocious set-closing screamer “Soily.”
Was it worth the wait for this high definition presentation? Absolutely, but mostly for the audio. The 1080p transfer (framed at 1.78:1) offers what appears to be the best Eagle Rock could do with highly inconsistent cinematography. This just goes with the territory. These days we’re used to rock-solid high definition visuals with modern concert films. This version of Rockshow, restored to its complete length for the first time (even the theatrical version was shorter), has some problematic stretches. But overall I didn’t find any of the grainier, washed-out footage to be too distracting. Tight shots look reasonably sharp and detailed throughout.
The muscular DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix makes up for any visual shortcomings. The bottom end has real power, with McCartney’s bass and English’s drums leaping forth with real kick. The lead vocals are consistently crisp (though very occasionally displaying a touch of extremely mild, overdriven edginess). Backing vocals seem to be de-emphasized for the most part. Reportedly, elements of the soundtrack were re-recorded in the studio. Presumably the fidelity of the soundboard recordings wasn’t up to snuff for theatrical release (not to mention less-than-tight harmonies, also fixed for the live album). Hard to say exactly what is live and what is Memorex, but the point is with all the post-production efforts that went into this soundtrack it ought to sound great—and it does. LPCM 2.0 stereo is the other included option.
As for special features, there’s only one ten-minute featurette, “A Very Lovely Party.” It’s a montage of behind-the-scenes home movie moments and some post-concert reaction from enthusiastic audience members. The real extra is getting the full concert restored for the first time (Paul Gambaccini’s new liner notes detail exactly which tunes are included for the first time). Fans of Paul McCartney the Beatle may be less interested in Rockshow. But fans of McCartney’s ‘70s pop and rock output will be absolutely thrilled with this release.