"Meat. It's what's not for dinner."
The "cute Beatle," now gray-haired and gaunt-visaged, headlines this concert video sponsored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), one of his and his late wife Linda's pet causes. (Sorry. That curve ball was just hanging over the plate.) Also on hand are New Wave relics the B-52's, ex-Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde, nouveau diva Sarah McLachlan, and some of the worst filler one of the world's most famous musicians could possibly have been saddled with.
Facts of the Case
Here's a recipe for crash-landing your rock concert video (budding Bill Grahams, please take note). First, open the program with a wretched take-off of those old "cocktail party" sketches from Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Quaint and mildly amusing in the '60s, lame and tired as all get-out today. Second, hire Bea Arthur as your off-camera concert announcer. Yeah buddy, when I think "rock and roll," Bea Arthur's is the first voice that comes into my head. Third, instead of getting right to the music, force your captive audience to sit through nine minutes of dishwater-dull stand-up comedy (and I use the word "comedy" accommodatively here) by two of the world's least humorous practitioners of that venerable art form, Ellen "I was Showtime's Funniest Person in America" Degeneres and Margaret "I was Rosie O'Donnell in a previous life" Cho. Anyone who's still awake when the singing starts will be so desperate for entertainment William Shatner could stroll out and croon "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and earn a standing ovation.
So that's exactly what the PETA folks do here (everything up to the Shatner appearance, that is). And just when Sarah McLachlan's heartfelt rendition of "Angel," sung as background behind a photo montage of Linda McCartney, has you thinking that an actual concert might be in the offing sometime before your grandchildren qualify for Medicare, you're gobsmacked with more claptrap: a ghastly clip in which comic Mo Gaffney and an anonymous geek in a giant carrot suit attempt to browbeat little kids into vegetarianism, and an endless series of celebrity walk-ons from PETA's humanitarian awards show. (Note to PETA executives: presenting your highest honor to audio-animatronic Barbie doll Pamela Anderson Lee is not the way to gain credibility for your organization, especially when she's going to spend the remainder of the show gyrating in go-go boots. You should demand your money back from the empty suit at your PR consulting firm who convinced you otherwise just so he could meet her.)
At long last we get some actual performance happening, and when we do it's actually pretty decent. The B-52's chirp and warble their way through an energetic three-song set as only they can. Chrissie Hynde clambers onto the shoulders of a beefy roadie and wades into the audience for a strong "I'll Stand By You," marred only by a prerecorded backing track (the live band on stage vainly attempts to fake along) and two too many cries of "This is for the animals!" And then, right about the time you begin to wonder if his introductory comments earlier were all you were going to see of Sir Paul, he steps to the fore with his bass guitar strapped on and gives it everything a 60-year-old icon can give through a creditable six-number performance. (In 1976, Jethro Tull recorded an album entitled "Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die." Mr. McCartney might want to dig that puppy up and give it a spin.)
Then all too quickly, it's back to celebs like Alicia Silverstone (nice career, Batgirl) and Kathy Najimy doing their self-congratulatory "aren't-I-wonderful-I-don't-eat-meat" apple-polishing as the credits roll.
Music, like comedy, is very much a subjective taste. Half the issue is whether you like what a particular performer does; the other half is whether you feel the way they did it on this particular occasion is a representative sample. Fortunately, I enjoy McCartney's music (for people my age, the breakup of the Beatles was "the day the music died"), and when he finally gets down to business here, he's in surprising form. Never an overwhelmingly charismatic live performer on his own—he needed Lennon for that—he's at least engaging and charming, even when he has to stop his backing band a few bars into Chuck Berry's "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" and restart them again. Same with the other artists: if you like Sarah McLachlan, Chrissie Hynde, and the B-52's, you'll appreciate them here. If not, that's what the remote is for.
McCartney's six numbers steer entirely clear of his Beatles/Wings oeuvre and resurrect his rock'n'roll roots. In addition to Berry, Sir Paul covers Big Joe Turner ("Honey Hush") and Ricky Nelson ("Lonesome Town," which if he's going to keep in the repertoire Macca would do well to rearrange in a different key), and moans his way through a reverb-drenched, Springsteenesque "No Other Baby," punctuated by sharp blues guitar riffs courtesy of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. His original song "Try Not to Cry," the weakest offering in the set, is the sort of repetitive tripe that had tongues wagging that John really had the bulk of the talent after all. But McCartney closes solidly with a rocking "Run Devil Run," the title cut from the first album he recorded following the death of his wife. (In fact, this track owes so much to Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" it probably had the original Brown-Eyed Handsome Man duckwalking his fingers through the Yellow Pages in search of a good copyright attorney.)
Quality-wise, the concert footage looks pretty much like your average made-for-TV event. The camera work is reminiscent of the musical guest segments of Saturday Night Live, and both the video and audio are about what you'd expect if you'd taped this yourself off HBO. The presentation is nominally widescreen—the box cops to a 1.85:1 ratio, but I'm not 100 percent certain that's accurate—but is non-anamorphic. For whatever reason (read: dollars), the producers settled for a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack instead of something more robust. This is, after all, a concert—why bother to make the music sound good?
The dual-edged shame of this disc is (a) there's not enough McCartney on it, and (b) there is so flipping much of the PETA principle eating up megabytes. Nothing like having an agenda and whacking people over the head with it until they feel like baby harp seals themselves. The cover announces "Paul McCartney and Friends," but there's tons more "Friends" than anyone but the most rabid activist could tolerate. And if the main program isn't mawkish enough for you, then wait until you dive into the supplements.
There's a ludicrous video clip of some long-since-faded-into-oblivion garage band called Raw Youth entitled "Tame Yourself." Like the PETA concert, it's rife with cameos by semi-celebs sympathetic to the animal-rights bandwagon. Video may have killed the radio star, but refuse like this nearly killed MTV before they pitched the endless Falco replays in favor of Road Rules and The Real World.
Next, PETA offers up a series of "exposés" (don't sweat it, Mike Wallace—your job's secure) about various abuses of our four-footed friends. These all employ hideous, sensationalistic footage to make their point—again, the good people at PETA think "subtle" is that big white rocket thing that flies back and forth to the International Space Station. We are treated to, in stomach-churning detail, more than we ever wanted to experience of the East Indian leather trade, the mistreatment of circus and carnival beasts, and man's inhumanity to animal at fur farms and puppy mills. In the most mind-boggling clip, James Cromwell (the farmer in Babe) narrates as a crew of redneck lowlifes at a North Carolina pig ranch beat and sodomize swine with farm implements and skin a helpless sow alive. Fortunately, these shorts are preceded by a "Warning!" letting you know that this stuff is not intended for children or other "sensitive" types. (Anyone who's not "sensitive" to the material displayed here should likely be watched from a safe distance and kept away from the other boys and girls.)
Not to be outdone in grotesquerie by backwoods hillbillies, the enlightened intellectuals at PETA can't wait to share with you the spectacle of cat puppets engaged in frenzied mating (you only think I'm pulling your chain) in an ad promoting feline sterilization. This memory may well haunt me the rest of my days.
There's also an eight-minute compilation of PETA public service announcements from the past dozen years, assuming you haven't ripped this monument to horrific taste from your DVD player and hurled it like a shuriken at your neighbor's tabby by now.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'll admit my personal bias: I'm a carnivore. I love animals…any way you fix 'em. We also love animals—the non-consumable kind—at my house. We don't hunt, my wife doesn't wear mink, our dog is like a member of the family (I won't say which one), and my daughter spends hours glued to Animal Planet on cable. I'm all for people exercising their muscles for causes they believe in. And I know music has always been a vehicle for political speechifying, from the folkies of the '50s and '60s, through gospel and soul music's impact on the civil rights movement, to Bono and Bob Geldof and Midnight Oil. But PETA, in my humble opinion, drives the bridge too far. Eat all the edamame and wheatgrass you want, but keep your fingers out of my plate and let me enjoy a concert in relative peace. Please.
If Paul McCartney thought Wings' "Back to the Egg" LP was the lowest nadir to which his career could sink, he could never have envisioned the morass of pseudo-moralistic putrescence his fine music would be surrounded with on this DVD. Then again, his friends at PETA would have slapped him silly for using the word "egg" in an album title to begin with, since this is clearly an immoral use of an animal product.
Paul McCartney and his musical friends are acquitted on all charges, having contributed some entertaining performances and pleasant music to this disc. PETA and its celebrity entourage are sentenced to ten years hard labor at a North Carolina pig farm for conning Sir Paul into this gig. I'm sentencing myself to a steak and egg breakfast, to go. Court is adjourned.
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