The fire would crackle and the camp director would pull out his guitar and play. Three songs would ring out of the gulley or over the lake and drift through the air toward nearby Waterloo… the songs were always moving. He would start with Simon & Garfunkel’s “Punky’s Dilemma” switch into an original called “Heroes” and finish with the Beatles “Blackbird.” Those songs have lingered in my memory for 35 years, and I suppose they’ll be with me for the rest of my life – it was just that powerful.
It’s also telling that I have always identified with McCartney’s live version over the Beatles original because of the illusion of immediacy; the idea of an acoustic guitar being played directly to you rather than through a set of speakers. Of course the reality is somewhat different.
Wings Over America/Rockshow is a performance piece, the show that solidified the conceit that a concert needed more than musicians and instruments to create a great ‘show.’ The set list itself is meant to bring about different moods throughout the performance in what was a grand spectacle. The background showing huge pictures of super villains and large displays of… well anything that was needed. Even Wings themselves trading off vocals and playing the band camaraderie card comes off as forced when you watch Rockshow. In fact, individual songs are being spliced mid-performance to keep the illusion alive. Introductions taken from Seatle placed into a song played in L.A., horns from Seattle appearing in L.A. footage. Everyone appears as best friends. It doesn’t even matter if this was truth or not, as the illusion of Rockshow moves directly onto the recordings for Wings Over America which contain numerous studio overdubs. The entire package is rock ‘n’ roll in its greatest excess. It is selling the trappings of a spectacle as both a huge performance and an intimate live show. The thing is, does the reality change how you feel about listening/watching it go down?
For me at least, it doesn’t. My cassette copy of Wings Over America is worn from the amount I listened to it between the ages 13 & 20, and I continue to hear it with teenage ears and sensibilities. Rockshow is a document of a 70’s stadium concert at the height of their power. This is a time when bands toured to support record sales rather than the current model of album to get interest in seeing bands live. Yes it is spectacle, but so is much of modern entertainment.
The Wings Over America vinyl is three records of 180 gram bliss lovingly taken from the original sources. It sounds fantastic. The blu-ray of Rockshow also sounds fantastic, and does its best to restore the movie to top quality taken from the original 35mm film and turned into stereo 5.1 surround sound.
Sure I would love to be in front of a true artist delivering an intimate performance by campfire. Yeah, I’d love to invite McCartney over for dinner and see what he does with the guitars hanging on the wall. Hell, I’d love to have that old camp director over. Anyway, we all know that isn’t about to happen, so at least I can put some vinyl on and dream my way into the past.