A Wings concert review from Oct 1976.
So why am I sitting here making excuses for Paul McCartney -- here in this cavernous stadium in West London which should never have been used for rock gigs in the first place?
For instance, I just scribbled down something about song-orientated rock'n'roll (and I use the term in the broadest sense) having a harder time transferring to the stage than playing orientated rock'n'roll, a not altogether watertight argument --even though, say, a group like the Eagles may be a great recording band but are not exactly wonderful on stage.
And then there's the point about Paul always being the one out of the Truly Fab Four who was most into entertainment per se, therefore his great love (and often brilliant elevation) of the English Music Hall without which there would have been no "Sgt. Pepper", Rock's Greatest Album. And tonight Wings are surely doing their crassest best to be entertaining.
Or maybe it's this bloody awful place with its hard, cramped seating which still has some of the house-lighting on.
Why am I making these excuses?
'Cause I used to dig McCartney one awful lot. And apart from that time a couple of years ago when he got up and sang a few lines with the Faces at Lewisham Odeon, I've never seen him play before. So I've agreed with the vast majority of the criticism leveled at his post-Beatle product, but in amongst the lambs and nursery rhymes there's been not a small amount of classic stuff -- and "Venus and Mars", the last-but one Wings album, wasn't half as bad as one of the folk sitting not too far from this typewriter made out.
You've got to live in hope, right? Tuesday night's gig had been praised up to the hilt, the Grauniad writer saying it's the best rock show he's ever seen. Well, if last night's show was anything like tonight's, and that's the best rock show he's ever seen, his collective sense can't have travelled far.
Essentially the entertainment Paul McCartney and Wings provided at Wembley on Wednesday was middle-of-the-road family-type thingy. If it hadn't been for the volume I'm sure many of our parents would have had a jolly good time there.
Of course, there were exceptions when Macca and the boys rocked hard and solid, but anything to do with the spirit (and not the sound) or rock'n'roll was entirely missing, and for the majority of Wings' two hour plus set there wasn't even a hint of excitement in that damn hall.
This was evident in the fact that the audience en masse didn't get up off their collective butts until the set's excellent closer "Band On The Run". Until then, those small audience pockets who did demonstrate their appreciation by standing up and waving their Wings scarves or whatever, were mainly the youngest element of the audience, kids too young to remember the Beatles --bona fide Wings fans, in other words, who love McCartney because of "Band On The Run" onwards.
"Silly Love Songs", for instance, received more greetings applause than any of the five Beatle songs performed. True, "Yesterday" copped a standing ovation, but that, like the other Beatle tunes (incidentally the same ones McCartney has been touting around the concert halls for well over a year now) was treated in an off-hand, throw away manner.
"I've Just Seen A Face", that magnificently crisp song from "Help", was treated as a hoe-down by McCartney and audience alike. A hoedown! I ask you! And the poignant, beautiful "Blackbird" was devalued when chummy old Paul invited the audience to contribute a few bird noises to the song. Bird noises? Whatever next?
McCartney's stage manner is very matey. Strangely enough he isn't loaded with charisma even though, when singing into the mike, playing his left-hand Rickenbecker, his gait is identical to when he performed with You Know Who --a bit like a doe-eyed puppy poised to the nuzzle up affectionately to his master. At least Wings aren't about to incite their audience to madness and mayhem, even if they are saying zilch.
And my god, he's worn well, looking not a day over 25-- even if he doesn't give off so much a youthful vibe as one of the consummate professional entertainer doing just that: entertaining and nothing more.
Wings are solidly professional, a colourful little band. McCulloch played excellent --albeit annonymous -- slick blues-rock leads throughout. In terms of melodic invention, the finest solo he played all night was in "Maybe I'm Amazed", easily the concert's finest moment. But that solo is of McCartney's brilliant conception, and perfectly counters the song's own tough melodic intent. Taken a shade slower than the excellent recorded version, McCartney's voice was ragged, something no one can blame him for.
After all, the Wembley stint was the culmination of a long, long world tour.
In fact the set got off to a good, if not exceptional, start. "Venus and Mars" was first up, Macca's Missus playing the song's fine melody on mini-moog. All right, the lyrics are silly, but the actual melody is tender McCartney at his second-best, which is better than most. That segued into "Jet", the four piece brass section playing the riff.
Drummer Joe English played with outstanding skill during the opening numbers, seeming to possess a good four hands and knowing what to play and where. Subsequently his playing went down the proverbial drain. In a too fast "Lady Madonna" (why not "She's A Woman" or "I'm Down" instead for a Beatles rocker?) English's playing was hardly sympathetic, even if it was in time. It's a shame the same can't be said of his playing in that appallingly twee song from "Venus and Mars", "Listen To What The Man Said", which wasn't in time.
Technically the only other weak spots were Linda's vocals (surprise, surprise). Actually she now seems highly adept at handling the back up vocals, which sounded great but when she starts to sing a half duet with her hubby it's another thing, as on "Bluebird". More lessons are required.
Still, Linda isn't as irritating a figure as she apparently once was. Certainly the parts she has to play on keyboards don't require the services of a Dave Brubeck, but her appearance isn't resented by the audience anymore. They even gave her a cheer (at Macca's instigation) when he introduced her to inform the audience that Wings were going to play "Live and Let Die".
"Live and Let Die" is an absurd song, if ever I heard one, with its completely out of context staccato sequence during which the audience were treated to a display of flawlessly executed cheap theatrics --strobes, dry ice, explosions, the works. Still, it's entertainment.
Apart from "Maybe I'm Amazed", other highlights included the Jimmy McCulloch sung "Medicine Jar", one of the finer moments of "Venus and Mars". He sings it well with just the right nonchalant arrogance --perfectly suited to this fine little melodic rocker. In a similar vein, "Letting Go", that tough rocker, was good too--as was "Magneto and Titanium Man" (daft title, but one that doubtless appears to the weeny-boppers_ which featured authoritative electric piano from the man.
Denny Laine's "Go Now" was leaden and his version of Simon and Garfunkel's "Richard Cory", a song of industrial repression, was taken far too light-heartedly.
McCartney now seems to have completed the tragic metamorphosis from genius progressive rocker to Morentertainer ---the Cliff Richard of the dope smoking world, as a colleague put it. Next stop, the Palladium?