Between Paul McCartney’s Out There tour and the reissues of Wings Over America and Rockshow, it seems the former Beatle is once again here, there and everywhere.
Out There is doing brisk business and garnering fantastic reviews from critics and fans. McCartney has avoided the ticket sales problems his contemporaries, the Rolling Stones, have experienced and has shaken up the setlist — adding "Eight Days A Week," "Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite" and other deep cuts — so that even fans who have seen him multiple times in recent years have come away in awe of his talent.
There are also two excellent reissues from McCartney’s '70s solo canon.
Wings Over America is near and dear to most first- and second-generation Beatles fans’ hearts, and rightly so. It’s chock full of energy, great performances and McCartney mostly ignoring his Beatles legacy in favor of a setlist focusing on his then-recent output. The newly remastered version — part of McCartney’s ongoing Archive series — sounds great and includes enough goodies in all of its many configurations to satisfy even the most diehard fans.
The 2-CD Standard Edition and 3-LP vinyl version (which also includes a digital download) are straight remasters of the original 1976 release. As with previous Archive releases, the team at Abbey Road has tweaked the EQ just enough to clean up the original mix, bringing out the highs and warming and widening the lows, without veering too far from the sound of the original recordings as we have come to know and love them.
The Special Edition, most readily available at Best Buy, adds a third CD of eight songs from Wings’ show at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. Though the Cow Palace tracks seem cleaned up to some degree, they’re closer to the bootlegs (Wings Over America II or Searching For Us Everywhere, for instance) that collectors have come to treasure over the years and that show Wings in spectacular form.
Coming from the original multitrack masters, however, means these tracks sound fantastic. The performances are lively and the sound is punchy. McCartney and crew simply seem to be having a great time. At about $15, the Special Edition of Wings Over America is, by far, the best deal of the bunch.
Finally comes the amazing Wings Over America Deluxe Edition. It includes the two discs that comprise the remastered album, the disc with eight songs from the Cow Palace and a spectacularly clean DVD version of the 1979 Wings Over The World documentary. The set is contained within a beautiful numbered, hardbound slipcase containing a 112-page book written by David Fricke, featuring new interviews and extensive tour photography, a stunning 60-page journal of Linda McCartney’s photos chronicling the bands life on the road, a 136-page replica tour book, itineraries, a tour program, memorabilia like replica tickets and backstage passes, song lyrics and three 8-by-10 photographic prints. The set also includes an 80-page book of drawings by the artist Humphrey Ocean and a 24bit, 96kHz high-resolution audio download of all 36 songs included on the remastered album and bonus audio disc.
The package is stunning. It seems with each release, McCartney’s team gets better and better at these deluxe versions. If the Band On The Run box set in the Archive Collection series seemed great in its time (only three years ago!), then this set will blow you away. Taking its cue from the recent Ram reissue, which included an extensive assortment of ephemera, the Deluxe Edition of Wings Over America is a tour de force in packaging.
Whichever version of Wings Over America you choose, though, there’s no doubting that this is an essential part of any McCartney fans’ collection. And considering that this may have been McCartney’s solo peak — and is certainly his peak with Wings — and that he rarely if ever plays most of the songs included, this is an album you will have fun discovering (or rediscovering) and will listen to often for years to come.
The restored version of McCartney’s concert film Rockshow, on the other hand, was always a bit of an oddity in his canon. It hit screens a very long four years after the Wings Over America tour and album that it documents, long after the Wings’ commercial peak (and not long before its implosion), more than a year after the Wings Over the World companion documentary aired on television and at almost the precise moment John Lennon left us and Beatledom changed forever.
It’s also rarely been seen in its entirety. The theatrical version ran 125 minutes, but subsequent home video versions (not counting fan-compiled bootleg versions) carved 23 minutes off that running time. Finally, after years of clamoring by the faithful, McCartney is releasing Rockshow on DVD and Blu-ray this month after a brief theatrical run in May.
The restored version is a treat. Setting aside that the sound has been overdubbed to near-perfection and that 1976 was not fashion’s finest moment (Oh, that satin outfit and mullet!), it’s obvious Wings were a great live band on the Wings Over America tour and that they put on a helluva fun show.
What’s more, McCartney is out on a limb for much of the concert, playing only a handful of Beatles numbers, instead relying on material that was mostly just a few years old and hardly any of which was — at least at that point — considered hits. “Venus and Mars”/”Rock Show," “Let Me Roll It” and “Hi Hi Hi” may be beloved in McCartney’s catalog now, but they weren’t so well known in 1976. “Call Me Back Again," “Beware My Love” and “Magneto and Titanium Man” were oddities even then. And “Soily” — which closed the set each night — was (and still is, as far as a studio version goes) unreleased.
Rockshow is, at its best, a document of McCartney taking chances and succeeding on a grand scale, a unique and special document of perhaps McCartney’s finest solo commercial moment. This new home video version is a must have for any serious fan and should be top of the list for anyone who’s a fan of McCartney’s 1970s music with Wings.
Finally, McCartney’s former Wings bandmate Laurence Juber is also active as ever. Juber recently released Catch LJ Live!, a concert CD/DVD combo. Filmed in HD and mixed in 5.1, it captured a fantastic solo show in Los Angeles by the two-time Grammy-winning virtuoso.
Juber’s latest studio album, Under an Indigo Sky, is a jazz/blues-tinged solo project that was initially launched as a limited-edition audiophile vinyl LP but is now available in CD and digital formats.
“Digital technology is incredibly convenient, but it filters out some of the mojo,” Juber told me. “Vinyl is the immersive listening experience I grew up with.” To maintain the retro vibe, the album was mixed to analog tape by ace engineer Al Schmitt at Hollywood’s Capitol Studios.
Gear-wise, Juber has been recording and touring with a super-limited edition version of his signature Martin guitar with koa back and sides. “I’ve worked with Martin to incorporate vintage concepts into a modern performance guitar and this is the latest evolution. It’s really too cool to be taking on the road, but it sounds so good that I couldn’t resist.”
I’ve known Juber for about five years and have worked with him in the studio where I got to play the mahogany version of his signature Martin and recently performed with him in New York City, where I got to see the koa model up close. They are stunning guitars, with warm, even and super-clear notes across the spectrum and superb tone. The koa model may just be one of the finest guitars I’ve ever heard in person.
Juber performed last week at New York City’s new Cutting Room and brought the house down with fingerstyle versions of Wings and Beatles classics as well as “The Pink Panther Theme” and the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
"It was a blast to play the new Cutting Room,” Juber said. “It's definitely a step above the old venue and a great addition to the Manhattan rooms, like Iridium, that are suitable for acoustic guitar shows.” Juber also reunited with former Wings bandmate Steve Holley when he joined my band, Birds of Paradox, later in the evening for the close of our set.
“It was great to strap on a Les Paul, sit-in with Jeff Slate's Birds of Paradox and rock out with my old band mate from Wings, Steve Holley," Juber said of the evening’s closing jam of Wings classics.
Juber also is working on a large format book, Guitar With Wings, which showcases previously unpublished pictures taken during his time playing lead guitar with McCartney and follows his career as a concert performer, studio musician and composer.
Jeff Slate is a NYC-based solo singer-songwriter and music journalist. He founded and fronted the band the Badge for 15 years beginning in 1997 and has worked with Pete Townshend, Earl Slick, Carlos Alomar, Steve Holley, Laurence Juber and countless others. He has interviewed and written about everyone from the Beatles and Kiss to Monty Python and rock musicals on Broadway. He is an avid collector of rock and roll books and bootlegs and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Dylan and the Beatles. For more information, visit jeffslate.net.