There are surely many events and peoples that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, if you were to ask certain members of the Russian population – the popular music critics, young music listeners and even President Vladimir Putin
himself, rock n’ roll, namely The Beatles
are credited with starting the thaw that eventually ended the Cold War.
It seems that no country was exempt from the Beatlemania of the 1960s including the Soviet Republics locked tightly behind the iron curtain. It was no surprise then that there was a frenzy settling over the streets of Moscow as Sir Paul McCartney geared up to play his first concert in Russia and not just at some dusty music hall either – smack dab in the middle of Red Square.
As the sun set, McCartney and his crackerjack backing band took the stage and played what must have been an incredible concert for those who were there to witness it. Unfortunately, the DVD that was supposed to bring the magic home to the rest of us fails miserably at catching the energy and magic that exists at a Paul McCartney concert.
You certainly can’t fault the players or their set list. All the hits were there ranging from such Beatles classics as “Yesterday” and “We Can Work It Out” to Wings hits “Band on The Run” and “Maybe I’m Amazed”. The few moments of live performance we do get of a song here and there are pure gold, but all too soon we cut away from the concert. Cut away from the concert? Wait a minute, isn’t the title of this DVD Paul McCartney in Red Square?
Nevertheless, cut away we do in favor of pseudo documentary pieces detailing the influence of McCartney and his Beatles band mates on 1960s Russian youth accompanied by travelogue like pieces of his time in today’s Russia. Some of the pieces are effective in putting the Soviet lock down on popular culture into perspective.
The Beatles music, while not officially banned in some hallowed law book, was definitely not sanctioned in anyway. The albums were not available in stores so those who wanted to risk their jobs, educations or possibly even their own personal freedom (what little there was) for a listen of “Love Me Do” were forced to purchase the albums on the black market. The dedication of Russian fans was obviously no less than the adoration of screaming girls world wide as Soviets plunked down close to a month’s wages for the copies of band’s albums smuggled in from Europe.
One of the most touching moments was of a middle-aged man holding up a small newspaper photo of The Beatles. It was all they had he explained and they weren’t even sure who was Lennon and who was McCartney. Another Beatles fan shows off what had been the first official pressing of McCartney music. Unfortunately, this mish mash of an album could not include the song “Band on the Run” because, as the man explained, the mentions of a jail and a band running around was not good for the Soviet People.
Then, there are the moments that could reside very happily on McCartney’s video or DVD shelf along side his other home movies. There’s Paul and wife Heather Mills McCartney bicycling around Red Square, only to be stopped by the cycling police. It seems riding in circles in the Square is not permitted – even for a Beatle. Paul and Heather meet and greet Russian President Vladimir Putin, who admits to being a fan of McCartney’s rock n’ roll in his younger days. Interesting?
Yes, but far from earth-shattering, which is how the moment is treated. McCartney actually does seem genuinely sad though when Putin can’t guarantee that he’ll be able to make the concert. Putin does manage to put in an appearance mid-way through much to the delight of Sir Paul, who even goes so far as to give the former head of the South Asia Department of the KGB a shout-out. Putin almost cracks a smile.
While some of these moments will be of varying interest to viewers, they most definitely belong in the special features section of the DVD. There are hardcore Beatles fanatics who will never be able to get enough of Paul McCartney and they deserve to have their bicycling and head of state greeting moments nicely categorized and easily accessible. However, by looking at the packaging of this DVD which advertises that it “features live performances of more than 30 songs” most will be disappointed.
The purpose for buying a concert film is to see the concert as it unfolded, not a choice moment from the “Hey Jude” sing along or a verse of another famous song here or there. Any momentum or opportunity to really feel and capture the power of the music and what it means to the Russian people is lost due to the constant cutting away to documentary moments.
Special features include a bonus concert Paul McCartney: Live In St. Petersburg. Here, we finally get uninterrupted concert footage, but it’s an abbreviated set. It’s worth clicking on though for the live performance of “Penny Lane”. McCartney and his band make sure this one still sparkles and shines just like it did back in 1967.
It’s obvious from the ecstatic grinning faces of the multi-generational crowd gathered in Red Square that Paul McCartney didn’t disappoint. The concert was obviously a momentous occasion as demonstrated by audience members who waved signs that read “I’ve waited 30 years for this!” to the “cute” Beatle himself, who expressed nothing but honest and humble appreciation for the out-pouring of love and affection.
Choosing not to truly capture a moment like this can only be the work of some fool on a hill or in an office who has never witnessed a live show. Hopefully, some day the unedited concert footage will be released. I’m sure they could work it out.