Paul McCartney stands as arguably the world’s most famous animal rights activist, so who better to headline an effort to increase awareness? I guess that was the thinking behind the folks who organized The PETA Concert for Party Animals. Others played at the September 18, 1999 bash held on the Paramount lot in California, but Paul was clearly the star of the show, where he acted both as host and headliner.
However, the title of this DVD credits “Paul McCartney and Friends”, and the latter fill much of its running time. Actually, we hear very little music during the first 25 minutes of the show. After an exceedingly lame “Salute to Laugh-In” - during which “celebrities” like Martin Mull and Elvira toss out weak gags in the style of that show - we launch into the formal program. Bea Arthur acts as an off-screen emcee at times. Man, you just haven’t lived until you’ve heard her tell us that we’re about to “rock out”!
After that, we go to Macca, who launches the evening and introduces a comedy routine by Ellen Degeneres. She goes for a vague animal bent in her act here, and it seems typical of her material; neither funny nor painful, it passes by quickly.
Not so the disastrous performance by Margaret Cho that comes next. It appears that her first bits are edited; if that means those parts are worse than what we hear, I’m honestly scared. In the parts we get, she begins with a lame rant about designer Karl Lagerfeld and goes into her status as a “fag hag” before she briefly discusses dogs. Man, when this kind of crowd barely laughs, that’s a bad sign, and this is a bad routine.
Improbably, things improve dramatically with the next performer. Sarah McLachlan offers a solo rendition of “Angel” at the piano. McCartney introduces her with some personal comments about what the song means to him, and McLachlan’s performance is accompanied by images of the late Linda McCartney. I generally can’t stand McLachlan, though I did like her tune in Toy Story 2. She also does a nice job with “Angel” here, as it adds poignancy and depth to this otherwise fairly fluffy evening.
After a cutesy segment in which Mo Gaffney goes to a grocery store with Chris P. Carrot - some dillhole in a carrot suit - to sway patrons from meat, we get the “highlights” of the PETA Humanitarians Awards. Once that brief segment ends, we finally get to the substantial musical portion of the night. Things open with three songs from the B-52’s. They play hits “Love Shack”, “Roam”, and “Rock Lobster”. McLachlan and Chrissie Hynde guest as background singers during “Roam”. I’ve never really understood the appeal of the B-52’s; I think Fred Schneider goes out of his way to be an annoying vocalist, and the others aren’t much better. Still, the tunes can be catchy, and these tracks go down about as well as possible.
Next Hynde does a version of “I’ll Stand By You” from the 1994 Pretenders album Last of the Independents. It’s not one of the band’s better songs, but she does adapt it to make sense during this evening as she dedicates it to the animals. Oddly, though Hynde sings live, the backing is taped. Hynde performs in front of the same band who played with the B-52’s, so I have no idea why they just pretended to accompany her. It’s actually somewhat amusing, as you can see the drummer miss some taped cues.
Thus end the warm-up acts as we move on to the main event. McCartney plays with the same band who backed him for 1999’s Run Devil Run album as well as a handful of gigs such as the one documented on Paul McCartney: Live at the Cavern Club. They run through a smattering of tunes from that record. They start with “Honey Hush” and progress through “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”, “No Other Baby”, “Try Not to Cry”, “Lonesome Town” and “Run Devil Run”.
Overall, this is a nice little performance. Run clearly injected new life into Paul after the depression he felt when Linda died in 1998, and his renditions of these songs shows that. Actually, he kicks nice life into some old chestnuts, and they returned the favor for him. Macca offers a loose and lively tear through some good tracks.
McCartney’s segment seems even fresher due to a mistake that pops up at the launch of “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”. The band doesn’t synch well at its start, and Macca makes them do it again. This fits the fresh and casual tone of the performance and is fun to see.
I’m somewhat surprised that moment wasn’t edited out the program, for apparently PETA drops a number of small bits from the evening. According to some reports I’ve read, the B-52’s played a few additional songs that aren’t here, and I also get the impression that Cho’s act was cut. I’ll not complain about either of those omissions, but it looks like a lot of others happened as well. Some awkward fades occur, and the show seems a bit choppy at times.
Unfortunately, one of the evening’s more emotional moments hit the cutting room floor. Apparently McLachlan’s rendition of “Angel” brought McCartney to tears and he struggled to get through a post-song speech. Since McCartney usually maintains a rather glib and superficial public demeanor, it would have been nice to see him open up to a degree.
Overall, The PETA Concert for Party Animals is a decent program, though it’s a weird one. Clearly the folks at PETA hope that the roster of musicians will lead their fans to get the DVD and then the organization will be able to sway them to their cause with the animal rights material the disc offers. That’s a fine idea, but I can’t see this package appealing strongly to many people.
McCartney die-hards will likely want to own the disc, though frankly, the Cavern package renders his portions redundant. That set provides all of the same songs but with superior quality, as you’ll soon learn. Of course, it includes many additional Macca tracks and dispenses with the propagandizing.
Overall, The PETA Concert for Party Animals is a decent little package of live performances, but it’s not anything terribly special. The non-musical elements are a weak combination of proselytizing for animal rights and poor comedy, but the various songs come across fairly well. Even artists I don’t care for represent themselves nicely. I like parts of PETA but think the whole is less than terrific.
As a possibly irrelevant aside, I have to note this fact: Paul McCartney’s daughters are babes! Though I’ve been a Macca fan for years, I was never aware how hot they are. Mary interviewed Paul for the recent Wingspan program, whereas Stella appeared here in the crowd and as an honoree. I’d seen Stella in the past since she’s a successful fashion designer in her own right, but I don’t recall thinking she looked that great. I was wrong! I know Mary’s married, but I think Stella’s still on the market. If so, I now have my new dream girl. Beautiful and Paul McCartney’s daughter? Wow!
Paul McCartney and Friends: The PETA Concert for Party Animals appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. That last fact is very odd. Most 1.85:1 pictures are now anamorphically enhanced, and since the program in question is more than two years old, they certainly had enough time to create the appropriate master. Nonetheless, non-anamorphic it is, but the image seems reasonably positive despite that negative.
Actually, the early parts of the program looked a bit rough at times. During McCartney’s host sections and the “comedic” performances of Degeneres and Cho, the material from the stage seemed somewhat flat and drab, while shots of the crowd came across as fairly bright and vivid. Isn’t it supposed to be the reverse? Whatever the case, this situation became rectified by the time the musical performances started. These looked quite good as a whole. Sharpness appeared crisp and detailed, and very few soft spots occurred once the bands played; some wide shots came across as slightly fuzzy, but these weren’t a major concern. I saw a few examples of jagged edges and moiré effects, however, and a little edge enhancement popped up as well. No source flaws came from the videotaped material.
As with the rest of the picture, colors looked erratic but they cleaned up by the last half of the show. The hues seemed somewhat flat and drab during the early stage appearances, but throughout the musical bits, they appeared nicely bright and vivid. On those occasions, I saw no problems related to noise or bleeding, and the colors were clear and vibrant. Black levels tended to look a little murky, but shadow detail seemed clean and accurate. Overall, The PETA Concert For Party Animals was something of a mixed bag, but it generally offered a satisfying visual experience, and it looked good when it most counted.
Somewhat more disappointing was the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of PETA. For one, I thought it would offer a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix at the least, and DTS 5.1 wouldn’t have been a stretch. After all, McCartney’s Cavern release provided both of those options, and the recent Go-go’s Live In Central Park DVD did the same. Unfortunately, PETA warranted nothing more than Dolby Surround, and the results were fairly lackluster.
The soundfield varied depending on the portion of the show. As with the picture, the non-musical bits offered the weakest elements. During those scenes, the audio seemed largely centered. Crowd noise spread mildly to the sides, but otherwise this remained essentially a monaural piece on those occasions. Quality seemed fine, as the dialogue was clear and intelligible.
During the musical portions, the soundfield expanded, but even those were somewhat erratic. Despite the modest nature of McLachlan’s voice and piano performance, the music nicely filled the forward spectrum. The piano expanded well to the sides, and the song came across with fine warmth and clarity.
The material from the B-52’s and Hynde was less vivid, however. The music remained fairly crisp and bright but they seemed to lack much bass. The stereo imaging was also somewhat weak, as the track appeared a little too centered. The soundstage came across as a bit vague and ill defined; instruments weren’t placed very specifically. The impression remained acceptable but lackluster.
The delineation remained the same for McCartney’s songs. On the positive side, bass response improved and the tunes seemed pretty deep and rich. However, highs came across with less clarity, and I even heard some crackling from a guitar during “No Other Baby”. Rear channel usage seemed minimal for all parts of the presentation. The surrounds offered vague ambience and some crowd noise but nothing else. Ultimately, the audio was acceptably distinct for the most part, but this was still a pretty drab presentation in this day and age.
The PETA Concert For Party Animals packs a few supplements. Although I pride myself on the fact that I watch all of the extras on the DVDs I review, PETA will have to be an exception to that rule. It includes six Exposés that cover issues like puppy mills and fur farming. Frankly, I know that this will only upset me to see, so I’m going to skip it. Anything that warrants a cover label about “scenes of graphic animal cruelty” is on my “must skip” list, but I need to mention that the segments exist.
In addition, we find an ad for “Fixcats.com” that may offer the first shots of simulated cat-humping ever shown on TV. There’s also a compilation of PETA public service announcements from over the years. Starting with an ancient clip from Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Betty White of The Golden Girls, we progress through the Eighties with folks like k.d. lang and River Phoenix before we get to the Nineties and people such as Alicia Silverstone and Joaquin Phoenix. All the snippets are linked together for this seven-minute and 50-second piece that highlights a variety of animal rights issues.
Lastly we discover a music video for a tune called “Tame Yourself”. Performed by some group called Raw Youth - who were obscure even in 1991 when this was created - the video also features cameos by folks like Jane Wiedlin, k.d. lang, and the B-52’s. The clip’s silly and the song is so trite and cliché that it almost sounds like something PETA opponents would create to mock the organization.
While I think The PETA Concert For Party Animals is a reasonably entertaining program, it’s not one I’ll want to check out with much frequency. Its main appeals comes based on the presence of Paul McCartney, but since all of his songs appear on the much more satisfying Live At the Cavern Club, this set seems superfluous. Of course, it includes work from others, but I don’t know how much of a draw they’ll be. The DVD provides decent but lackluster and outdated picture and sound plus a smattering of minor propagandistic extras. In the end, PETA will appeal mainly to die-hard McCartney fans.