Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 3, 2004)
Of Paul McCartney’s three road trips since 1989, his 1993 “New World Tour” may go down as the most surprising. Actually, I didn’t expect his 2002 trek simply because I felt he’d never tour again after the demise of his long-time wife Linda in 1998. In addition, given the fact he’d not been on the road in nine years meant that his 1989-90 outing was somewhat unexpected.
That’s what made the 1993 tour the least likely. Like I said, Paul took nine years between his aborted 1980 road trip and the 1989 excursion, and he also went nine years between “New World” and 2002’s performances. However, only three years elapsed between the end of the 1989-90 shows and “New World”. Given his track record, it remains shocking that he went out again so quickly.
Thus ends the surprises related to that tour, the one depicted on this DVD called Paul Is Live: In Concert On the New World Tour. This 21-song package includes numbers from various stages of McCartney’s career. His then-current Off the Ground album produces five songs: “Looking for Changes”, “Hope of Deliverance”, “C’mon People”, “Peace in the Neighborhood”, and “Biker Like an Icon”. Otherwise, only two tunes from Paul’s solo years appear. We get “Let Me Roll It” from 1974’s Band on the Run as well as “Live and Let Die” from the 1973 Bond flick.
After that we head back to Paul’s Beatle years for most of the remaining tunes. In a nice touch, most of these don’t overlap with numbers he did in 1989-90, a tour documented in the film Get Back. Only four songs appear on both discs: “Live and Let Die”, “Hey Jude”, “Let it Be” and “Yesterday”.
Otherwise, Paul hadn’t played the Beatle tunes found on Live in years. “Lady Madonna” showed up in Seventies tours, and others would get further airing in 2002. Through 1993, though, Paul hadn’t performed any of the remaining numbers since his touring days with the Beatles, and some had never received live airings. The list includes “Drive My Car”, “All My Loving”, “We Can Work It Out”, “Michelle”, “Here, There and Everywhere”, “Magical Mystery Tour”, “Paperback Writer” and “Penny Lane”. Finally, Paul pulled out a pair of covers via “Kansas City” and “Good Rockin’ Tonight”.
I originally picked up a copy of Live back in 1994, I think, when I could find it only as an expensive import laserdisc from Japan. I immediately regretted this decision, as the program depicted the concert in a poor fashion. In fact, I don’t think I ever watched the LD again.
Would I be more forgiving almost a decade later as I watched this DVD? A little, but Live remains something of a mess. That stems from the many poor choices made in regard to the program’s visuals. For some reason, McCartney refuses to let anyone release a sensibly depicted concert program. Actually, 1980’s Rockshow was clear and concise, but the three tour-related concert flicks since then - Get Back, Paul Is Live and Back in the US - have all offered nearly unwatchable experiences.
In some weird ways, Live is the best of the bunch visually. It lacks the frequent cuts from the stage found in both Get Back and US, though it also occasionally departs for extraneous material. For example, “Drive My Car” displays of autos, while “Looking for Changes” showed parts of a Dylan-inspired music video. As with all McCartney products, we find many shots of adoring fans, though these don’t equal the nauseating levels seen in US.
Otherwise, Live actually sticks with the action on stage, which is a plus. The negative comes from the manner in which the program shows these moments. Not concert to shoot them consistently a) in focus and b) in color without c) massive intentional defects, Live renders much of the show in black and white. That’d be silly but fine if only those shots weren’t so damned fuzzy and soft. They also display many artificial defects. The black and white bits get intentional aging, so they show hairs, marks, tears, and other problems.
Even the color segments don’t get off without problems. They use an oddly jerky appearance that makes it look like frames are missing. This makes the end product seem weird looking and artificially artsy for no apparent reason.
The director also indulges in way too muck quick cutting. Those tendencies are the least problematic of the bunch, but the show nonetheless jumps around too much. Essentially the entire concert is presented as if it were one long music video. That form of visuals can get old in a few minutes, so it wears one down for an entire concert.
This all seems too bad, as the music itself is pretty good. The biggest problem with the 1993 tour also related to the 1989-90 one: Paul’s voice. He displayed a noticeable lack of range much of the time, and that badly harms some songs. “Drive My Car” seems especially restricted, as he can’t quite pull off the higher notes.
Paul’s band seems competent but without much spark. That’s one reason the 2002 tour was better than these earlier outings; his partners actually showed some life. The Live players enjoy good skills but just don’t pull off the music with much passion. They’re like a very talented cover band much of the time, as they don’t infuse the material with great life.
Despite that, the material still sounds pretty good. Unfortunately, the visuals don’t match the music, and that makes it a chore to watch Paul Is Live. Maybe someday we’ll get a good DVD of a McCartney concert, but Live isn’t it.