Paul McCartney’s “Tripping The Live Fantastic” Reviewed
The 1980s were the worst decade of my life, the culmination of a nosedive that began in 1973 and didn’t end till 1987 when I climbed out of the rubble to discover myself alone and broke but alive. By 1989 I was on my way back to the land of the living and the opportunity aroseo do something I couldn’t have imagined five years earlier: Seeing Paul McCartney live on stage, proof to myself that I wasn’t going to simply die. Nearly 30 years later, I am seeing Sir Paul at the same venue, Madison Square Garden, in September, yeah I am looking forward to it, but hardly thrilled. I’ve seen him many times in the ensuing years. But the 1989 was the first time I ever saw a Beatle on stage and I was thrilled in a way I can’t approach today. I went with my sister Marie and we had great seats (from the same advertising agency I work for today) and I bought a tee shirt (which I still own), and of course McCartney gave us our money’s worth.The most obvious reason for this being the first time I had seen Paul live was that it was his first US tour since 1976 and that was a Wings Tour, so this would make it his first solo tour EVER. The band was pretty ace as well:
Paul McCartney – lead vocals, guitars (acoustic, electric and bass), keyboards
Linda McCartney – backing vocals, keyboards, percussion
Hamish Stuart – backing vocals, guitars (acoustic, electric and bass)
Robbie McIntosh – backing vocals, electric guitar
Paul “Wix” Wickens – backing vocals, keyboards
Chris Whitten – drums, percussion
This isn’t the McCartney live band we have today. but both Robbie McIntosh (of The Pretenders) and Hamish Stuart (of Average White Band) were big time musicians, and they had an unenviable job: Paul was finally coming to terms with his Beatle history and performing a huge chunk of his Beatles songs in concert, they were being compared to the Beatles. The 1990 album # 20, Tripping the Live Fantastic, released eleven months after I saw McCartney at MSG, and his first live album since Wings Over America, is the musical souvenir of the tour, culled from gigs across the country and the world. I wish I had never heard it. It simply doesn’t stand up to my memory of the evening, I must have been dazzled by seeing one of my heroes live in performance and it affected my hearing.
Of all the times I’ve seen Macca, 2005’s show in support of one of his great albums, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, was the best, and the others, certainly the December 1989 show, wasn’t. Listening to it today, the sound is a touch weedy and the band a little diffident. The technology wasn’t where it is today, the sound needed filling out, instead even at its most rocking, it doesn’t rock hard enough. Wings in 1976 were a little better than McCartney in 1989. He would get better, he is better today. The best thing about the double is McCartney’s vocals which are on the money for 37 songs straight. While ever the consummate pro, Paul gives himself over to the job at hand but the professionalism thwarts the joy I saw at MSG, it doesn’t much translate on the recording. The Beatles tracks just don’t compare to the originals while mirroring them precisely, and the Wings songs are dated, the highlights are the newer stuff: “My Brave Face,” “Put It There,” especially “Figures Of Eight” which kills. Also, the rock and roll tracks are better than the Back In The USSR versions, the “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Ain’t That A Shame” and “20 Flight Rock” is the album highlight the way it certainly wasn’t at MSG. Those and the goofing around “If I Were Not Upon The Stage,” a terrific “Sally,” and an equal “Crackin’ Up” are well worth your time. Otherwise, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.