Paul McCartney & Wings: Rockshow (1979)

When people get to talking about the greatest rock concert films ever made, inevitably Stop Making Sense gets the expected lip service, along with The Last Waltz, Rust Never Sleeps, and sometimes even Rattle and Hum or Sign O' the Times.

BOR-ing. These choices are fine films, sure, but perhaps "greatest" in this argument simply signifies "most enjoyable regardless of your interest in the band performing." The truth, though, is that enjoyment of concert films depends entirely on your interest in the band performing. Hence, all of my "greatest rock concert films ever made" are infinitely more marginal in the grand scheme of things – The Cure In Orange, Steve Nicks Live at Red Rocks, and above all, Rockshow.

These are probably all considered fan-only affairs to a one, if they're considered "films" at all – who cares; I love them. They document shining moments of my true deep-heart favorites. Rockshow is one that I can watch over and over, much more than most movies I'd consider "great" in an objective sense. It documents Paul McCartney and Wings at their pinnacle – the 1976 U.S. tour, which was also, incidentally, Paul's first tour here since he left that other band … what were they called again, The Bottles? I'll have to look it up.

Admittedly, not many folks will be inspired to watch an entire Wings concert from 1976 at this moment in time. The footage presented in Wingspan, or perhaps even just the poster art, will satisfy the basic curiosity for most.

Too bad. This is the only McCartney film I can watch without grimacing … in fact, Rockshow still has the power to turn me into a wide-eyed 10-year-old who thinks Uncle Paul can do no wrong.

He can, of course. Watch any of his 30,000 live DVDs from the past decade or so and you'll see a whole lot of increasingly embarrassing rockin' along with perhaps the hammiest hamminess currently at play in our world.

Which makes Rockshow such a fantastic thing to return to, time and again. This is Paul with his pseudo-democratic band, sharing their silly love songs with much joy. The direction captures the moment thrillingtonly – the buoyant confidence, the sense of fun, the unpretentiousness of a great band and their unabashed awareness of their greatness.

It's a far cry from latter-day Paul, who knows he was great and seems obsessed with making sure it was true. In Rockshow, he just is great, and simply seems to enjoy giving the people what they want. The setlist mixes Wings hits ("Jet," "Live and Let Die," "Listen to What the Man Said") with well-chosen Beatles tunes ("I've Just Seen a Face" is tops) and several song-gems you'd never see him play today ("You Gave Me the Answer," "Spirits of Ancient Egypt," "Medicine Jar," "Magneto and Titanium Man," "Letting Go").

Denny Laine, surprisingly, comes off as a vital member of the band, and it's good to remember that, since he tends to get written off as a fortunate coattail-rider with more luck than talent … his reprise of the old Moody Blues tune "Go Now" is a standout, and "Time to Hide" (which, although I've heard it many times, I still never remember) is a nice slice of mid-70s smoke-a-spliff arena rock.

The coolest element, perhaps, is a short segment wherein the band sits down and plays acoustically – it is quite literally the birth of the "Unplugged" style, a good 15 years before that occurred to anyone. And most inspiring is seeing Paul & Co. come out for an encore and launch into "Hi Hi Hi" instead of "Hey Jude."

It's renewing for me to occasionally come back to Rockshow for proof of what Paul McCartney was at the height of his passion. Probably would be for Paul, too, but he seems to be too busy issuing daily press releases to return to his really cool shit.

Review by Thomas Long-and-Strong