Thursday, November 19, 2009
PAUL MCCARTNEY LIVE ALBUMS IN REVIEW, 1990 - present
This week, Paul McCartney released 'Good Evening, New York City', a 2 CD/1 DVD live package from his concerts at Citi Field in New York this past July. It interested me that in his 40 year solo career, he had one live album in the first 20 years, and this is his fourth live album in the latter 20. For the purpose of this review, I'm only including albums made from his live tours, as opposed to one-off projects like MTV's "Unplugged", the 'Live in Red Square' DVD or last year's Grammy-nominated 'Amoeba's Secret' EP.
Since the 1989-90 world tour, McCartney has made a habit of releasing a document of his tours, either via album or video or both. 'Tripping the Live Fantastic', the 3-LP or 2-CD set, was a big deal in 1990. McCartney hadn't released any live album since 'Wings Over America' in 1976, and while that live album consciously avoided Beatles material, by this time McCartney was comfortable with performing material from his entire career. In fact, the set list would set the tone for his future tours, with the song choices going heavier on the Beatle material than the solo work. 'Tripping' is about 60/40, with the solo material comprised generously of songs from his latest album, 'Flowers in the Dirt', which was seen as a comeback from his mid-'80s nadir, 'Press to Play' and the flop film 'Give My Regards to Broad Street'. The tour band included Hamish Stuart (guitar/bass), Robbie McIntosh (lead guitar), Wix Wickens (keyboards), Chris Whitten (drums) and Linda McCartney (keyboards). There was also a concert film, 'Get Back', the last film directed by Richard Lester of A Hard Day's Night.
Paul is Live was released just three years later after Paul went back on the road in a couple of years to support his album, 'Off the Ground'. The band lineup was the same, except for Blair Cunningham replacing Whitten on drums. The Beatles/solo ratio is about even, with half the solo selection from the new record. It works as a great companion to 'Tripping', as there is only one repeat songs - "Live and Let Die", a McCartney concert staple that has appeared on every live album he's done. The 'Paul is Live' cover itself is a cheeky doctored duplicate of the Beatles' 'Abbey Road' cover that fueled the "Paul is dead" rumors of the 60s/70s.
Back in the U.S.: Live 2002 finds Paul on his first major tour following the death of his wife Linda. He's assembled a new band of Rusty Anderson (guitar), Brian Ray (guitar) and Abe Laboriel, Jr. (drums). Wickens was back with his keyboard wizardry, replicating and standing in for the multitude of backing instruments for which the Beatles became known. The Beatles vs. solo ratio reverts to 60/40, with only three songs from his latest album, 'Driving Rain', presented together in a lump near the top of the show.
There was no album for his '05 'US' tour, played with the same band lineup, but there was a DVD release - The Space Within US. 2/3 of the show was different from 'Back in the U.S.', including four songs from his latest album, 'Chaos & Creation in the Backyard'.
Good Evening New York City. So, is this new collection different enough? I think so. While half the tracks match its '02 predecessor, the balance is an interesting mix of tracks worth the price of admission. For those who need to hear the concert staples, there's "Band on the Run", "Hey Jude", "Let It Be", etc. For those tired of the staples, there's a lot to like, including "Mrs. Vandebilt" (an album cut from 'Band on the Run'), two songs from 1997's 'Flaming Pie', and Beatle masterpiece "A Day in the Life". As a nod to the present, there are two strong songs apiece from his recent albums 'Memory Almost Full' and 'Electric Arguments'. The lesser known material makes up the bulk of disc one, while disc two is all Beatles, save for "Live and Let Die", which has made it onto every live disc yet.
I think I'm in the minority, but personally I'd like to see more of the solo stuff. His prolific output from 1976-96 is only represented by one song. Some of his major hits haven't been touched on any of the above albums - "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey", "With a Little Luck" and "Goodnight Tonight" to name a few. Maybe we'll hear them on future tours and future live albums. He's only 67, after all.