DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main

Mark Haefeli
Paul McCartney
Writing Credits:

Not Rated.

Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby Stereo

Runtime: 121 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 11/26/2002

• Bonus Songs
• Soundchecks
• Behind the Scenes
• Secret Website

CD album

Search Products:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Paul McCartney Back in the U.S. (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 24, 2003)

In 2002, I did something that seemed extremely unlikely only a few years prior: I attended a Paul McCartney concert. (Actually, I attended 11 of them, but that’s a different subject.) Prior to 2002, McCartney last toured in 1993, but it wasn’t the time since that trek that made another outing seem improbable. The 1998 death of Paul’s beloved wife Linda seemed to extinguish any possibilities of additional McCartney tours. Until 2002, Paul never hit the road as a solo act without Linda onstage as well. The possibility that he’d go on the road without her appeared slim, and I believe Paul even publicly announced his retirement from live performances sometime around 1998 or 1999.

Things changed. I don’t doubt Paul’s sincerity when he made that declaration, but it’s funny how a new romance will open up one’s attitudes. Paul found love again a few years ago, and indeed remarried in June 2002. Unlike Linda, his wife Heather doesn’t play in the band, but I imagine that her presence rejuvenated McCartney and prompted his return to arenas.

Whether due to the affection of a woman decades younger or not, the 2002 tour showed Paul in a more positive light than we’d seen him in years. I saw McCartney three times in 1990 but missed his 1993 show; due to poor ticket sales, he cancelled that trek’s third leg, which meant he didn’t make it to my home turf of Washington DC. Nonetheless, I got the album and video from 1993 as well as similar product from 1989-90, so I know Paul’s material from those eras well.

As a kid, I absolutely adored the Wings Over America album and Rockshow video, both of which documented Paul’s 1976 US tour. These remain peak live McCartney. He sounded great, and though Wings never possessed great technical chops, they coalesced well.

The 1989-90 and 1993 Paul showed that he’d lost a lot over the years. His vocals came across as thin and reedy as he strained to hit various notes. While technically very competent, his bands seemed dull and lacked much personality.

Amazingly, 2002 found McCartney back on top. First of all, his voice seemed much stronger than it had in years. I saw 10 concerts during the first leg, and Paul did lose some range as they progressed. (He regained this during the break; I took in one of the early second leg shows and thought he sounded spectacular.)

Even at his worst in the spring, however, Paul’s voice still came across as vastly superior to its 1989-90 or 1993 incarnations. In case I suffered from faulty memories, I listened to the live recordings from those tours while in the midst of my 10 first leg concerts. I remembered correctly, and it became tremendously evident just how much better he sounded in 2002.

It helped that Paul’s 2002 band showed a lot more energy than did his earlier counterparts. The same crew with whom he recorded 2001’s Driving Rain, this group included Rusty Anderson on lead guitar, Brian Ray on rhythm guitar and bass as needed, Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums, and Paul “Wix” Wickens on keyboards. Only Wix played with Paul prior to the Driving Rain era, as he was along for the ride on the 1989-90 and 1993 tours.

No one mistook Paul’s band for a bunch of fireballs – or Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, thankfully – but they imbued the shows with an energy absent since the Wings days. Frankly, I think they could have come across as livelier still, but I’ll take what I can get after the somnambulant 1989-1993 musicians. Abe really brought the most spark to the group, as his forceful pounding offered a show unto itself; often my attention would drift from the front stage to watch Abe beat those skins into submission.

Technically McCartney’s road work in 2002 should be considered two tours, not just one. He initially went out in the spring on what he called the “Driving USA” tour. That experience went so well that after a summer break, he returned to America in the fall for the “Back in the US” tour. Despite one might expect from the title, the video program found on this DVD comes from the spring “Driving USA” leg.

For all intents and purposes, the two segments really presented the same show, but a few small differences occurred. The staging remained identical, and the concert even featured the same lame avant-garde circus act to open the show. (A few shots of these performers appear on the DVD, but thankfully, we only see a little of their work.) Paul did alter the setlist slightly, however. For the fall segment, he dropped “Mother Nature’s Son”, “Vanilla Sky” and “C Moon” and replaced them with “She’s Leaving Home”, “Let ‘Em In”, and “Michelle”.

During each leg, McCartney’s setlist almost never varied. I heard that Toronto got “Mull of Kintyre” in the spring, while Houston received “Midnight Special” in the fall. However, Paul kept things the same the vast majority of the time.

While that fact made my 11 shows more tedious than I’d have liked, I can’t criticize the basic program. Paul packed a whopping 37 songs into each set. Heavy in Beatles material, 22 of the numbers found in the show came from his days with the Fabs. (That number includes Paul’s cover of George Harrison’s “Something”.) Four originally appeared on Driving Rain, plus “Vanilla Sky” from the same era. In addition, eight showed up during Paul’s Seventies solo work. That left a mere two tunes – “Coming Up” and “Here Today” – to account for all of McCartney’s material done in the Eighties and Nineties.

The almost total absence of work from a full two decades remains a disappointment. Paul put out some good material during that time, and it’d be nice to hear tracks from Press to Play and Flaming Pie live. However, with such a rich back catalog, Paul can never please all of the people. I think he should try something more daring if he hits the road again – which I believe he will – but taken on its own merits, the 2002 setlist offered a lot of excellent material.

I won’t attempt to discuss all 37 tracks, but I will chart my own personal cheers and jeers. (I’ll also hope that TV Guide doesn’t sue me for use of that phrase.) Really, the only major complaint I had about the tour resulted from the general lack of ambition in the setlist. It didn’t include any songs that I genuinely disliked, though Driving Rain’s “Freedom” remains pretty weak.

Mostly, whatever disenchantment I felt came from the overexposure of various tunes, but that affects virtually everyone I see. I love “Born to Run” and “Jumping Jack Flash”, but when I attend shows by Springsteen and the Stones, I’d kill to not hear those numbers for the eleventy-seventh time. I’ve not gone to nearly as many McCartney concerts as I have for that pair, but I could still live without numbers like “Eleanor Rigby”, “Hey Jude”, “I Saw Her Standing There” or a number of others that got repeated airings during Paul’s earlier tours. Given the infrequency of his performances, it’d be nice to see him branch out more heavily.

That didn’t mean that Back in the US failed to include any never-before-played material, though. In addition to the four Driving tracks and “Vanilla Sky”, Paul trotted out a mix of tunes that he’d not done on any prior tours. This included “Hello Goodbye”, “Getting Better”, “Mother Nature’s Son”, “You Never Give Me Your Money” and “Here Today”. Of course, “Something” fell into that category as well, but it provided an unusual exception, since it served as Paul’s tribute to George. In addition, we found a few songs that showed up infrequently in the past or hadn’t been played in some years. That list featured tracks like “Maybe I’m Amazed”, “C Moon” and “Blackbird”.

Otherwise all the tracks received regular airings during either the 1989-90 or 1993 tours, and some of them popped up during both treks. In this category we find numbers such as “Hey Jude”, “Yesterday”, “Let It Be”, “Band on the Run”, “Live and Let Die” and a bunch of others. Apparently Paul feels audiences would riot if he didn’t do these songs, but I think he overestimates the negative impact their omission would cause.

Not that I dislike those tracks. “Yesterday” always appears in a nicely simple presentation and maintains some impact. The 2002 version of “Let It Be” seems crisp and lively, and “Band on the Run” brings the band back to life after a long “unplugged” segment. It launches the concert’s third act, and that portion of the concert always worked best for me. I liked the prior parts, but once we kicked into “Run” and then “Back in the USSR”, the show took on greater life.

I didn’t think the concert ever suffered from any substantial weaknesses. No, I didn’t like “Freedom”, but the other new songs worked acceptably well; they certainly didn’t light the audience on fire, but they didn’t fall flat either. Though I love the song, I don’t like the 2002 version of “I Saw Her Sounding There”; the addition of Wix’s keyboards gives it an oddly rinky-dink sound. My least favorite part of the show usually occurred during the long “unplugged” piece. It seemed fun to see Paul play solo, but he did so many songs in that format that it grew somewhat tedious. That made the impact that much greater when the full band went electric again with “Run”, and Paul should have cut the unplugged segment short by a few songs.

Still, McCartney’s 2002 shows seemed generally satisfying. As I previously noted, my biggest complaint revolved around the lack of change to the setlist, and the sameness connected to other elements of the presentation. Paul told virtually identical stories every night, and he even used the same between songs interjections such as “(Insert town name), we have come to rock you!” Paul did slightly vary the stories over time, so I noticed some differences, but they largely remained the same. While I don’t like canned stage patter, I still won’t complain too much, since only a few audience members realized that Paul’s chat stayed so similar every night.

All of the comments above reflect my thoughts about the concerts I witnessed in person. Anyone who expects to find a good representation of the show on the Back in the US will feel sorely disappointed, however. Instead, it provides a chopped up package that doesn’t offer a snapshot of the real thing.

Where do I begin with my complaints? For one, the DVD doesn’t even remotely attempt to portray the concert in a logical manner. The show’s first three songs appear in the appropriate order, but after that, it skips way ahead to “Live and Let Die” and then jumps from tune to tune with no rhyme or reason. Why not present the tracks in the manner that appeared during the original concert? I have no idea.

Not that the DVD would have worked well anyway, as the program splices in scads of extraneous material. Rather than simply present the concert, the filmmakers decided to stick in gobs of other elements. We see some interesting tidbits such as information about the pyrotechnics, and I also like the soundcheck material. We hear McCartney perform numbers like “Matchbox”, for which Paul plays an excellent little solo, and we also get some fun impromptu tracks like one apparently called “Laptops, Pagers and Mobile Phones”. Paul seems fascinated with all the technology he witnesses among audience members; during concerts, he occasionally commented on the modern phenomenon in which fans will pop out phones and hold them up so the people on the other end hear the songs. Some of these interstitial moments work quite well.

However, many of these components offer little more than puffy filler. We see nonsense like Paul’s special visit to the zoo, where he got to interact with some apes. We also watch many shots of spastic fans who declare their everlasting love for Paul.

You’d think that after 40 years of superstardom, McCartney would feel pretty content with his place in history, but apparently he still needs lots of ego gratification. To state that US includes a lot of shots that feature adoring fans would be an understatement. Not only do we encounter gushing obsessives during the interstitials, but also they show up ridiculously frequently throughout the concert itself. Far too often, the action cuts from the stage and displays images of the audience. This varies from shots of celebrities like Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas and Jack Nicholson to glimpses of “ordinary” fans.

Don’t expect a representative sample, however, as the concert really feels like a walk down mammary lane. We encounter scads of shots of big-chested babes, which doesn’t correspond to the reality of the average McCartney concert. Based on my experiences, Paul attracts more of a frumpy haus frau crowd; sure, the occasional hottie shows up, but based on this DVD, you’d think a McCartney show equates to a visit to the Playboy Mansion.

While I enjoy the sight of sexy women, these cuts become increasingly distracting and annoying. It feels as those the filmmakers don’t trust that the onstage action will entertain us, so they try to make the piece more frantic and “spice it up” with all these looks at other elements. It doesn’t work. Instead, the program simply comes across as hyperactive and disjointed, and it never remotely conveys the impression of a live performance.

In addition to all these flaws, US actually abbreviates quite a few songs. I noticed edits to “Coming Up”, “Your Loving Flame”, “My Love”, “Freedom” and “Hey Jude”. The program interrupts many of the other songs with extraneous audio as well. We hear shrieking during “All My Loving” and “Lady Madonna” among others. All of this seems unnecessary and annoying.

Musically, the concert works reasonably well. It becomes difficult to focus on the songs due to all the external distractions, but the performances come across as generally fine. Oddly, the filmmakers occasionally select some fairly weak vocals from McCartney. Both “Band on the Run” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” sound surprisingly rough, even though I know from personal experience that Paul did much better elsewhere on the tour. Surely they could have found footage from stronger performances.

But that would make sense, and little about Back in the US seems logical or competent. Objectively, US may not be the worst concert program I’ve seen, but it still comes as a massive disappointment. The filmmakers botched the job in many ways and made this a generally unsatisfying and program that poorly reproduces a concert tour that worked well in person.

The DVD Grades: Picture C- / Audio B (DTS), B- (Dolby Digital) / Bonus C+

Back In the US appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Like some other fullscreen concert presentations, US occasionally looked solid, but much of the time it offered a moderately messy experience.

Sharpness varied. Close-ups generally appeared reasonably crisp and detailed, but when the camera went farther back, the accuracy seemed much less consistent. Medium and wider shots came across as fairly soft, and they demonstrated moderately jaggie qualities as well. Some shimmering occurred in those sequences, but I noticed no signs of edge enhancement. The image often displayed a moderately gauzy and rough appearance. As for source flaws, the material seemed clean and accurate. I discerned no issues of that sort or any digital artifacts.

As with most concert programs, the palette of US focused on stage lighting; McCartney and the other performers dressed in clothes with basic hues for the most part. The colors came across as fairly thick and murky for the most part, though they occasionally demonstrated decent resolution. Black levels were fairly deep and solid, and shadow detail looked acceptably clear without excessive opacity. Ultimately, Back In the US presented a generally watchable but still disappointingly flat and muddy visual experience.

While the audio of Back in the US improved on the visuals, it still fell short of expectations. The DVD of Back In the US offered both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Though both showed a lot of similar characteristics, the DTS mix provided the stronger rendition. I’ll cover it first and then relate the differences I discerned between the two.

As we find with most concert videos, the audio generally remained oriented toward the forward channels. In the front, stereo imaging seemed fairly positive. Oddly, the center channel provided little useful material. On close examination, it became obvious that only some dull general audio emanated from that channel. McCartney’s vocals came from the sides, and they usually seemed reasonably well oriented in the center, but the lack of center usage made the placement of the singing less specific than I’d expect.

In regard to the other performers, instrumentation and backup singing seemed appropriately placed across the board. Surround usage mostly concentrated on crowd noise, which even demonstrated some split-speaker material; for example, a shout prior to “Blackbird” distinctly came from the right rear. Nonetheless, the audio remained heavily focused on the front, which seemed appropriate.

For the most part, audio quality appeared fine, though some inconsistencies occurred. Despite the absence of distinct center channel usage, vocals generally sounded warm and natural, and I noticed no edginess or other concerns in that regard. Instruments mostly came across as distinct and accurate, and the track generally displayed good dynamic range and fidelity. Bass seemed fairly tight and deep and accentuated the songs well. I noticed a little distortion during “Maybe I’m Amazed”, but most of the material remained clean. The track mixed the crowd too high for my liking, but for the most part, it represented the music fairly well.

So how did the DTS version outperform the Dolby Digital one? As usual, the DTS track seemed a little warmer and more natural. It also displayed stronger spatial definition and orientation, as the music and other elements blended together a bit more strongly. The Dolby mix didn’t suffer badly in comparison with the DTS one, but the latter remained the stronger option.

Unfortunately, the audio area suffered from more signs of this DVD’s sloppiness. At one point during the concert, the program slightly paused and the DTS track suddenly switched to Dolby Surround 2.0. I thought this occurred due to the layer change, but since I also saw a pause between “My Love” and “Maybe I’m Amazed”, the prior break appeared to just be some sort of weird glitch. I think the second half of the program appeared on a second title, which caused the program to reset. I’d send you to a specific chapter, but US provides no chapter or even time listings! It just shows “Play” on my machine’s display during the whole piece. Weak!

While I liked the fact that Back in the US included closed-captioning, the DVD didn’t execute those elements very well. Consistently throughout the show, the text lagged badly behind the action. At times, the lines wouldn’t appear until a good five seconds after someone uttered them, which must seem awfully distracting during the songs.

In regard to supplements, Back in the US packs a few. One slightly cool touch comes during the various menu screens. McCartney offers a short vocal introduction to the disc itself, and when you select a different menu, he states the title. This doesn’t add much to the presentation, but it’s kind of fun to find the performer himself involved in the production.

The extras start with a set of bonus songs. We find “Driving Rain”, “Every Night” and “You Never Give Me Your Money/Carry That Weight”. All the numbers appear in their entirety, and if the rest of the concert followed their framework, it would have worked much better. The tracks focused on the stage and presented the performances in a simple but effective manner.

More music appears in the sound check section. This includes three tracks: “Bring It to Jerome”, “Midnight Special”, and “San Francisco Bay”. The three numbers offer some fun material and offer a nice bonus. As a footnote, “Special” was rehearsed prior to the Dallas show, which makes it seem odd Paul didn’t play it there; the song mentions the town, so it would have been appropriate.

Behind the Scenes splits into five areas: “Backstage/All Access Pass”, “On the Road with Paul”, “Pre-show”, “Meet the Band”, and “Macca-Mania”. The first one takes us around the backstage area, and we hear from VIP ticket coordinator Shelley Lazar, pyrotechnician Bob Hood, dressing rooms ambience Beth Springer, assistant tour manager Phil Kazamias, wardrobe Phyllis Toney, and McCartney. We learn some good information about the nuts and bolts of the production and also see cool tidbits such as an impromptu duet between Paul and Emmylou Harris on “Here, There and Everywhere”. We also see the band do an acoustic “Loving Flame” in an arena shower stall.

“Road” mostly shows trucks on the road plus some narration from Paul. We also hear his greetings to the cities he visited on the first leg. In “Pre-show”, Paul briefly explains the lame performance that precedes the concert; otherwise we just some images from that piece. “Meet” gives us a puffy introduction to the musicians; each speaks and tells us how great everything is. Finally, “Macca-Mania” offers glimpses of a mix of obsessed and annoying fans. Though the different “Behind the Scenes” featurettes vary in quality, they still give us a mix of interesting topics.

DVD-ROM users can find more material on the “secret website”. There you’ll discover three of the four first leg songs that don’t appear on the DVD: “Mother Nature’s Son”, “Lonely Road” and “C Moon”. This leaves “Vanilla Sky” as the only tune that doesn’t show up anywhere.

We also get two additional soundcheck songs as well as music videos for “Lonely Road (Director’s Cut)”, “Loving Flame”, and “Driving Rain (Remix)” plus a few other bits like still photos and a backstage montage. Most intriguingly, a special concert shows up on the site. Actually a collection of soundcheck songs, this piece lasts about half an hour, and it includes some great material. From rocking versions of “Honey Hush” and “Honey Don’t” to a nice rendition of Flaming Pie’s “Calico Skies”, the “special concert” provides a fine experience. Unfortunately, it’s supposed to remain online for a limited time, which seems like an obnoxious decision. Why not leave up this excellent feature permanently?

Given the shoddy nature of Back in the US, this choice doesn’t surprise me. A consistently flawed and annoying presentation, the program suffers from a surfeit of flaws that makes it a weak representation of McCartney’s 2002 concert. The DVD presents somewhat problematic picture quality with good but unexceptional audio and a modest but decent roster of supplements. While I remain a big fan of McCartney’s work and liked his 2002 concerts, the DVD version of Back in the US poorly represents the performances. Fans should skip this crummy DVD and pick up the compact disc release instead; it presents the entire concert in the appropriate order, which makes it a much more appealing package.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6666 Stars Number of Votes: 33
2 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.