Dir. by Paul McCartney - 1 hr. 42 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
This review is going to be very much a statement of when I'm writing this. Five years ago, or ten, things probably would have looked very different. But in 2013, Paul McCartney seems to be taking a well-earned victory lap. He's got a pretty darned good new album (titled "New"), the re-issue campaign of the Beatles catalog a few years back rekindled a lot of interest in that material. People are finally remembering that they liked Paul (and by that, I mean he's more visible than he's been in years, even if he's been consistently recording and touring for pretty much forever). His recent concert on Jimmy Fallon's show was a joyous romp through his history, and into the future. But a subtext to all of this is that he's doing amazing things and looking pretty spry, considering his age.
Now, the Beatles stopped touring before too long (and they were sometimes playing 15 minute concerts when they were still playing live), so there's not much extended footage of them from the sixties. If your curiosity has been piqued by Macca's recent resurgence, you might start to wonder what a show of his might have looked like when you didn't have to add a qualifier to your enjoyment of his performances. "Rockshow" is one such answer to that; it was recorded during Paul McCartney & Wings' tours during 1975 and 1976 (this film is a composite of four different concerts). This is a full-length show (just how full-length kind of depends on which version you're watching, I caught a TV airing of it that included commercials (that I fast-forwarded through), so I couldn't tell you exactly what the run time was), an arena show at that, not a gimmicky "intimate" performance. It includes songs from both the Beatles and Wings; and other than wanting more Beatles songs, there's probably not that many songs missing if one was to compile an ideal Macca setlist.
So, when you turn back the clock and watch "Rockshow," the thing that's probably most striking is how energetic and at-ease Paul seems playing his songs. The arrangements aren't strikingly different from what you already know, this is simply a document of a time and place. I've always preferred entire shows instead of compiling together a handful; the warts-and-all approach is more fascinating than cherry-picking performances for whatever is closest to the studio versions. There doesn't feel like there's any of that kind of shagginess allowed to show here; I don't know if that's simply due to the professionalism and polish of the performances, or if it's been left on the cutting room floor.
Then, you're left with a few things to judge this concert film by. First, it sounds pretty good. You're probably going to keep reaching for your remote to crank it up when one of your faves pops up; I sure did. Secondly, there's not a ton in the way of stage presentation, which is entirely appropriate for the era this was filmed in. When concertgoers bought a ticket, they were expecting to see a band that could play their instruments and their songs live, and play them well, and that what you get here. There's a brief laser thingy towards the end, but there are no dancers, or elaborate stage set-ups. "Rockshow" is, literally, a straight-forward concert film. Thirdly, the song selection is pretty good.
If you're expecting more than those three things, this might be depressingly straight-forward for you. "Rockshow" is good, but I can't imagine watching it more than once or twice. It's most interesting as a document of a particular point in the career of one of the finest composers of the 20th century, when he was at the peak of his powers and packing out football stadiums (part of this was filmed at the late, not-so-great Kingdome, a Tupperware bowl of a stadium that could hold upwards of sixty thousand people). I'm glad this document exists; it's useful to be able to go back and see what the real deal looked like, without having to peer through the haze of nostalgia and knighthoods.
3 / 5 - TV (HD)