Last Friday, the Clark Art Institute played a special screening of the concert film, Rockshow, starring the ’70s rock band Wings. The show opened with a prerecorded interview of former Beatles and Wings band member Paul McCartney. In the interview, Paul McCartney stated, “in ’76, we were finally in America; it was all coming good.” The band, which had just finished a performance in Hamburg, had not yet become popular. As Paul McCartney explained, the band never lost hope in part because of the dedication of his wife Linda McCartney. Wings had played a few scattered venues, but Paul McCartney’s “big confidence boost” finally arrived when people starting singing along at their shows. Their real breaking point came at the 1976 Kingdome show in Seattle, Wash., the centerpiece of the “Wings Over America” tour. Rockshow chronicles this iconic show.
The film opens as a large darkness covers an audience of many thousands. A soft guitar and flute intro begins, as Paul McCartney echoes the thoughts of the audience: “Waiting for the Show to Begin.” Suddenly, a rocking guitar rift erupted into the familiar groove of “Rock Show.” Red light floods the stage as an army of hands rises up in a waving salute to the kings of rock on stage. Paul McCartney sings and plays back up guitar. Drummer Denny Seiwell bounces with boundless energy as he slams the drums. Former Moody Blues legend Denny Laine plays backing guitar. Linda McCartney plays some simple keyboard parts with unique sound effects. Scottish musician Jimmy McCullough made his American claim to fame as lead guitarist. The mood is exciting, full of anticipation of the show to come.
The mood quickly switches to a more plodding, smooth and harmonic vibe with “Let Me Roll It” and “Spirits of Ancient Egypt,” then back up to empo with “Medicine Jar.” Then comes a beautiful shot of Paul McCartney and the piano silhouetted against the wall playing “Maybe I’m Amazed,” capturing the iconic image of Wings caught in the minds of every audience member, both at the concert and at the Clark.
The audience seemed to especially love The Beatles’ tunes peppered throughout. To “The Long and Winding Road,” a lady in front, shoes off, closes her eyes and swings her head back and forth in attempt to silently match the emotion overwhelming Paul McCartney on stage. When “Blackbird” started up, every woman on whom the camera focused fell dead silent, captured in complete and utter awe.
Undeniably the favorite was Paul McCartney. Always full of energy, he switched tirelessly back and forth between electric guitar, acoustic guitar and piano, and several times shook vigorously when banging out the final chord or holding his guitar high in the air, yelling, “yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh!” His quips before songs brought forth a few hearty chuckles from both the live audience and the audience at the Clark.
The show brought together an eclectic set of musicians. The trombone, saxophone and trumpet backings and solos were most creative and impressive for the songs off the band’s latest LP At the Speed of Sound. On one song, a moody, smooth trombone would gently accent a melody, and on another, a triumphant trumpet would pierce the nighttime air.
The LP songs even brought Laine’s wackier side out. On the songs where he did not sing, he just slouched back, smiled and played backing guitar. But when “Let ’Em In” started, he stood erect, and armed with a pirate hat and a drummer boy’s snare, and started playing an 1800s-style militaristic marching beat. He intermittently conducted the four-man horn and wind section with the sweeping, grand motions of a master maestro.
Quite emotionless throughout the show was Linda McCartney. Occasionally, her backing vocals perfectly complemented Paul McCartney’s, but more often, she was either inaudible or off-key. Her keyboard parts were elementary, only saved by the unique sound effect presets. Moreover, she lacked the energy of Paul McCartney, and her half-smile, unhinged jaw and elegant clothing and hairdo together gave her a subtle air of regal condescension. Still, she was an inspiration for many of Paul McCartney’s love songs and her presence offered an element of authenticity to the grand performance.
On many of the faster songs, McCullough’s rocking bluesy guitar stole the show. He played fully, expressively and melodically, always with a cool smile on his face. Never did he fall prey to the cheap trick of playing the same notes very fast over and over again. He was constantly varying his rhythms, fret positions and chord qualities.
The program concluded with two encores, each adorned with plenty of loud, long, ending notes and Paul McCartney yelling, “yeh yeh yeh!” into the microphone. The show ended as it began: with the entire band bathed in red light and Paul McCartney as alive with energy as ever.
This presentation at the Clark was more than a film screening, it was an opportunity to relive one of the most important concerts of the 20th century.