Rockshow – The rehabilitation of Paul McCartney and Wings
This great concert film, and soon to be re-released triple album Wings over America, captures Paul McCartney and Wings in their 70s pomp. From the clowning Denny Laine, resplendent in his pink flamingo suit, to the rake thin Jimmy McCulloch and Linda’s blonde peacock hairdo, it’s pretty rare to see a band so happy and relaxed. Yes, there is some posturing, but mostly it’s brilliantly played, melodic rock and roll, all delivered with smiles and reassuring winks from Macca.
Paul is on blistering form and he knows it. He celebrates a breakneck version of Lady Madonna (with extra helpings of boogie woogie) with mock bows. His playing is fantastic throughout, hammering the piano like Rowlf from the Muppets, his mullet flying in all directions. His bass on Silly Love Songs is laugh-out-loud good, his fingers appearing to find a completely different song to the one he’s singing.
But it is his voice that constantly astonishes. In recent years it has lowered and weathered, crumpling in the upper range, but here it is a thing of raw power. From the rasping blasts through Jet and Rock Show, when he unleashes his full Long Tall Sally voice, there is complete control of pitch and power. On Maybe I’m Amazed he ascends to helium level heights with complete ease. What amazes more is that can return almost immediately to more tender fare such as Yesterday and Blackbird without a trace of the vocal lacerations that came before.
There’s a generosity shown by McCartney throughout that sometimes threatens to backfire. He allows other members of the band, especially Denny Laine, several spotlight moments. On the face of it, why would we want to hear Denny’s songs from mid seventies Wings albums when we could hear McCartney sing Paperback Writer or Sgt. Pepper? But that isn’t in the spirit of the exercise. Paul is making the point that they are a ‘real band‘, in the same way as the Beatles, where a certain level of democracy and taking turns to show off was the accepted order of the day. He’s also smart enough to know that this makes for a happier band, more motivated and their total commitment to him and the music is obvious.
Denny is sometimes maligned, but his virtuosity here is impressive, moving between his twin necked electric guitar (’Just like the one played by Jimmy Page’) to bass, to piano. His singing is terrific too on Go Now (almost an upstaging moment) and it’s clear how important his harmonies were to the Wings’ sound. It’s easy to think of McCartney recruiting him to be another Paul McCartney, but his personality and distinctive contributions are spot on. His driving, Romany-inspired acoustic guitar contribution to the sing along (the drinking songs’) down the front is one of the many highlights. Songs like Bluebird with its swathes of three part harmonies, woodwind interludes shows their musical sophistication. They are easily as adept at folk and jazz as flexing their rock muscle.
The sound is rich and deep without being over driven; all of McCartney songs are melodic, but they are beautifully arranged too. The four piece horn section (profusely thanked by McCartney at the end) give a fantastic extra dimension. Some tunes are lightweight – Hi Hi Hi and Soily, but are played with such gusto – powered by the unstoppable Wings, including the lovable, Bear-like drummer Joe English, that it’s beside the point.
Linda is an unflappable, droopy eyed presence behind the Moog. Now totally confident with her instrument she is both all American cheerleader and backing singing. Her vocals are genuinely fantastic. There is surprisingly little husband and wife interaction on stage, partly because Paul is focusing on the music and partly because he doesn’t want to upset his female fan base. But when Paul and Linda share a mike (George and Paul style) for the backing vocals on Go Now, it’s clear they are still smitten.
Posterity brings added poignancy to this dazzling show. Not only do we know that Jimmy McCulloch was to die just three years later of a heroin overdose, but that we would later lose Linda too. Although there were further successes, including the squillion selling Mull of Kintyre the following year, the line up never gelled in quite the same way and Wings never commanded this kind of respect again. But for a time, as someone said, ‘It was like The Beatles never happened.’