Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 17, 2006)
As I mentioned when I review 2002’s Back in the US, I’m a virtually life-long Paul McCartney fan, and I saw the ex-Beatle 11 times on his 2002 US tour. That was a bit much, to be honest. I’m happy to take in multiple concerts for acts I love – going to 15 or more shows on a single tour isn’t a big deal to me – but Paul’s act got a little tedious with all that repetition. Though it was a good concert, the lack of variation in the setlist and other stiff elements meant it wasn’t terribly satisfying when viewed that many times.
This meant I “took it easy” for Macca’s 2005 US tour and only went to six shows. That sounds like a lot to most people, but since it was barely half the number I saw in 2002, it acted as a major decrease for me.
And probably a good one, since I came away from the 2005 “US” tour wanting more. (Note that’s meant to be pronounced as “us”, not “US” as in “USA” – it’s a pun!) I’m sure part of the reason I was so happy with the “US” tour stemmed from my reduced number of viewings, but it also had a lot to do with the quality of the shows. While the 2002 concerts were very good, they didn’t quite click at times. Paul’s band was the best he’d had in years, but they seemed a little too respectful, for lack of a better word. Three of the musicians had never played with Paul in prior years, and I kind of got the feeling they were still just a little in awe of him.
By 2005, though, Macca and this band - 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 – had tons of stage experience under their collective belt. In addition to the 2002 US shows, they toured Europe in 2003 and 2004. By their return to American shores, they were a well-tuned concert machine, and that showed onstage. The performances boasted a spark not seen in 2002 and became much more energized and vivid for me.
This meant I ended up with a shocking conclusion: the “US” tour was the best one I saw in 2005. I loved the show and regret only going six times. Given that McCartney had tons of 2005 competition, it’s amazing his tour wound up as my pick for the best. 2005 was a busy year on the road, as I also saw personal faves U2, the Stones, and Bruce Springsteen. In most years, Macca would end up a poor fourth in that crowd, but the terrific “US” show came out first for me.
As usual, the setlist remained essentially static from night to night. At least McCartney opened things up more than usual, though, as “US” included more semi-obscurities than expected. Space presents 26 of the concert’s usual 36 tracks. From Paul’s then-new album Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, we got “Fine Line”, “Jenny Wren”, “English Tea” and “Follow Me”; that accounts for all of the Chaos tunes played on the 2005 tour.
Heading into Paul’s solo days, we get 1970s’s “Maybe I’m Amazed”, 1971’s “Too Many People”, 1973’s “Let Me Roll It”, and 1997’s “Flaming Pie”. Tons of Beatle tracks appear. All the way back from 1963, we find “Till There Was You”, “I’ll Get You”, and “Please Please Me”. 1964 presents “I’ll Follow the Sun”, while 1965 gives us “Yesterday”. From 1966 we hear “Good Day Sunshine”, “For No One”, “Drive My Car”, “Eleanor Rigby” and “Got to Get Your Into My Life”; note that this means we hear all of Paul’s tunes from Revolver. 1967 gets represented by “Penny Lane”, “Fixing a Hole”, and “Magical Mystery Tour”. 1968 provides “I Will” and “Helter Skelter” from the White Album, and 1969’s “Get Back” and “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” also appear. Finally, 1970 finished the Beatle years with “I’ve Got a Feeling”.
What songs does Space drop from the live show? It loses the following Beatle tracks: “Back in the USSR”, “Blackbird”, “The Long and Winding Road”, “Hey Jude”, “In Spite of All the Danger”, “Sgt. Pepper’s (Reprise)”, and “The End”. (Note that a brief snippet from the end of “Hey Jude” appears, but that’s it, and “Let It Be” appears in a partial form as a backdrop for comments about Paul’s music.) As for missing solo work, the show omits “Jet”, “Band on the Run”, and “Live and Let Die”.
If you look at virtually every McCartney tour DVD, you’ll encounter the same MO. Whether Get Back or Paul is Live or Back in the US or In Red Square or Space Within US, each one treats the live footage the same way. Not content to simply show us the action on stage, we get incessant shots of audience members. I’ve griped about this in every other McCartney review, and it continues to annoy me.
Why can’t we just see the concert as performed? An occasional glimpse of the crowd is fine, but we spend almost as much time with them as we do with the musicians. This is way over the top and creates a real distraction. I never feel like I’m at the concert, as the presence of all the crowd shots just reinforces that I’m watching the event on TV.
Even more irritating, there’s no musical flow to the piece. After virtually every song, we take a break to see elements outside of the concert hall. Some of these are moderately interesting – such as views of what the tour crew does – but the vast majority just exist to reinforce the Greatness That Is Paul.
To that end, we get many comments from fans and celebrities. Remarks emerge from President Bill Clinton, filmmaker Cameron Crowe, musicians Eddie Vedder, Herbie Hancock, Jay-Z, Tony Bennett,and Paul Stanley, producer Phil Ramone, actors Chris Tucker and Alec Baldwin, writer Bob Spitz, Cal State – Fullerton Professor Dennis Anderson, Bill Clinton, pyrotechnicians Mick and Michael McGuire, Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs, security personnel Michael Sherod, guitar technician Sid Pryce, production coordinator Diane Eichorst, Toronto Sun columnist John Derringer, NASA mission specialist Andy Thomas, Cal State – Northridge music therapist Ronald M. Borczon, DePaul University’s Professor Cathy Ann Elias, stage manager Scott Chase, Capcom coordinator Terry Virts, NASA public affairs officers Rob Navias and Nicole Cloutier, and fans Deborah Zuhr, the Pieschel family and the Decker family.
With all those different opinions, you might expect to hear something interesting. Unfortunately, they rarely tell us anything that stretches much beyond “Paul is great”. We hear all sorts of reflections on McCartney’s legend and all the amazing things he’s done over the years.
I bet that if you were to show these parts of Space to a member of an alien civilization, they’d think McCartney was some form of god. That’s how far the interview subjects go – they almost make him sound like a super-human figure with miraculous powers. I half expected someone to claim that he made the blind see and the lame walk. Where’s the footage of Paul strutting on the water?
Dear God, let it stop! I dearly love McCartney’s music, but I don’t need to hear this on a constant basis. Paul, let the music do the talking – we don’t require incessant discussion your talent.
At least Space tones down the editing of the concert footage. Some of its predecessors tended to cut the action at an absurdly hyperactive rate, but that’s not much of an issue here. Though the show doesn’t proceed at a leisurely rate, it offers the material at a reasonably appropriate rate.
In the “pleasant surprise” category, I’m happy that we get to see footage of Paul’s notorious second show accident. During the concert, a piano rises from a hole in the middle of the stage. At the Tampa performance, Paul forgot about this and tumbled into the gap. He used this as fodder for humor the rest of the tour, so it’s fun to see the actual fall here.
I also like the version of “I’ll Follow the Sun” found here. During the tour, Paul always employed multiple false endings to the tune. I think he never did fewer than three, and may have gone up to six at times; I recall that at the Omaha show, he did that many after a fan’s signs egged him on for more. The Space rendition gives us five endings and communicates the fun aspect of these fake-outs.
Although I’d dearly love a straightforward video that offers an entire McCartney concert, I won’t complain too much about the omissions here since Space makes sure we mostly lose tunes that already appeared on Back in the US. This means we get almost all the material that was new since then – only the puzzling omission of “In Spite of All the Danger” prevents a clean sweep - and the DVD doesn’t edit or abbreviate any of these. Back in the US occasionally cut tunes or marred them with speech or other interruptions. The only songs affected here are those that previously showed up on Back like “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude”. Fans of those numbers will be disappointed by their incompleteness on Space, but at least they can be found elsewhere.
As a concert document, The Space Within US works a little better than its predecessors, but that’s faint praise. The DVD suffers from the same lack of focus on the concert stage. It offers a lot of good music, but the disjointed presentation that emphasizes The Glorification of Macca gets old quickly. This is a real hit or miss product.