Music Blu-ray Review: A MusiCares Tribute to Paul McCartney

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As a Paul McCartney fanatic, someone who has explored every nook and cranny of his immensely varied career, the only minor reservation I have about Shout! Factory’s new A MusiCares Tribute to Paul McCartney is that the focus is squarely on the Beatles years. Otherwise, McCartney fans shouldn’t think twice about adding this fun concert Blu-ray (also available on DVD; release date is March 24) to their collection. It’s always interesting to hear a variety of artists interpret McCartney’s work, but what clinches this release is that the man himself both opens and closes the show with a blast of energetic mini-sets.

The MusiCares Foundation paid tribute to their 2012 Person of the Year, Paul McCartney, with this all-star concert. Taped on February 10, 2012, the show technically opens with performers from the cast of Cirque du Soleil’s Love, running through a highly abbreviated version of their show. Backed by a medley of Beatles tunes, it sets the tone for a show that focuses more on McCartney the Beatle. With 45 years of solo releases to draw from, it never ceases to amaze that artists continue to pay tribute to him primarily by selecting material from his comparatively brief Beatles career.

McCartney and his touring band initially seem to endorse that approach by opening the concert with “Magical Mystery Tour.” Luckily he switches gears for a hard-driving version of the mid-‘70s hit “Junior’s Farm,” a tune McCartney has only recently re-embraced in concert during recent tours. Then it’s on to a lineup a great artists, most of whom chose to perform a Beatles song (with one terrific exception).

That exception is Alison Krauss & Union Station (featuring Jerry Douglas), who do a gorgeous countrified version of “No More Lonely Nights.” McCartney himself has sadly neglected to perform this ‘80s hit, but perhaps Krauss’ inspired interpretation might reignite his interest in it. It was a rather brave choice in a night dominated by Beatles songs, but the fact that she sings it so beautifully and the arrangement is so creative makes it a true highlight.

Other standout moments include Neil Young and Crazy Horse blasting their way through a raucous “I Saw Her Standing There.” Young playfully throws in the original “beauty queen” lyric in the opening couplet. The relatively sedate, black-tie affair crowd really springs to life during this hard-rocking jam. Alicia Keys delivers a cool piano-based version of “Blackbird.” James Taylor and Diana Krall team up for a pair of tunes. If Taylor’s take on “Yesterday” is a bit predictable, Krall’s reading of “For No One” is a more adventurous choice.

McCartney himself returns for the understated ballad “My Valentine,” from his then-new standards album Kisses on the Bottom (well, mostly standards, considering this was one of two new originals). As on the album version, he gets an assist from Krall on piano. Joe Walsh fills in on guitar (it was Eric Clapton on the album). McCartney shows his solo catalog a little more love with a rollicking “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” before closing it out with “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” as the grand finale. Walsh returns, joined by Dave Grohl, for the climactic guitar dual on “The End.”

From a visual standpoint, the Blu-ray offers exactly the kind of sharp image we’ve come to expect from modern concert presentations. The audio is offered as a choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 stereo. I was surprised to find that I prefer the LPCM track here. The DTS mix, while not unacceptable, is overly aggressive in terms of the LFE channel. I’m not sure what the idea was, but the booming bass dominates at the expense of clearly audible vocals. I went back and forth quite bit to be sure it wasn’t the way an individual performer was mixed. Overall I recommend the better-balanced sound delivered by the stereo mix.

Unfortunately there are no special features. It would’ve been to have some backstage or rehearsal footage, or even a featurette about the MusiCares Foundation. It would’ve helped compensate for the relatively brief running time of the concert itself (just shy of one hour). But again, given the presence of some strong performances (not the least of which being the ones by the honoree himself) A MusiCares Tribute to Paul McCartney is recommended.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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