In tonight's delightfully intimate "Great
Performances" special on PBS, Paul McCartney holds a coffeehouse-style
concert in Abbey Road studios - where he recorded not only his latest
solo album, but his most famous recordings as one of the Beatles.
In one genial hour, he not only points out and confronts ghosts ("John
and George were over there"). He exorcises them.
"Paul McCartney: Chaos and Creation
at Abbey Road" (10 p.m., WNET/Ch. 13) is a play on McCartney's
recent, well received album, "Chaos
and Creation in the Backyard." There is, however, no chaos
on view in McCartney's performance, captured live last July before
a small group of invited friends and fans. It's like an episode of
"Unplugged," but loose enough to be called "Unvarnished."
With Nigel Godrich, producer of his latest album, offering assistance,
McCartney runs casually and charmingly through a set list that includes
four songs from the new CD, several reworked old favorites, and some
surprises - both very old and impressively new.
"Friends to Go," "How Kind of You," "English
Tea" and "Jenny Wren" are
the selections from "Backyard." In his introduction to "Jenny
Wren," McCartney makes a musical connection to "Blackbird,"
then plays it - along with the pre-Ringo Starr Beatles composition
"In Spite of All the Danger," and versions of two rethought
"Lady Madonna," with McCartney on piano, is reinvented in
a much slower tempo, the same way Eric Clapton transformed "Layla"
on "Unplugged." In the same way, "I've Got a Feeling,"
stripped of all instrumentation but one acoustic guitar (and stripped,
as well, of John Lennon's tight harmonies and shouting rejoinders)
becomes almost a new song.
The sense that this "Great
Performances" special truly is special kicks in after the
first two songs. McCartney, explaining his fondness for the quaint
four-track machines at Abbey Road, offers an on-site demonstration.
Like Mr. Wizard doing an experiment for eager students, McCartney
uses the tape deck's first track to record the sound as he wets the
rim of a partly filled crystal glass. Track two is another glass,
filled to a different pitch. On track three, McCartney squeezes a
lingering tone out of a Mellotron.
Each time a track is added, we hear the combined effect. And on track
four, to complete the experiment, he begins singing - and the wine-glass-and-harmonium
backing suddenly becomes the perfect accompaniment for "Band
on the Run," one of his hits with Wings.
McCartney closes the show with another experiment, this time using
a computer program and Godrich to record and loop a song made up on
the spot. McCartney starts with the barest of bones: him pounding
on drums, and an audience encouraged to clap in time (otherwise, they're
blessedly silent during the songs themselves, as much a throwback
to another time as the mellotron McCartney plays). Then comes bass,
piano, two guitar tracks - and then McCartney steps to the mike, to
make up lyrics on the spot.
They're not great lyrics ("That's all for now"), but it
is great fun. So is McCartney pulling out the upright bass played
by Bill Black, Elvis Presley's bass player, for a solo version of
"Heartbreak Hotel." The film "Let It Be" captured
McCartney and company at Abbey Road at their most fractious, but tonight's
special presents him, alone, blessedly at ease.
About the concert
Paul McCartney’s 20th studio album, Chaos and
Creation in the Backyard received four Grammy Award nominations
in 2006 and widespread praise from critics upon its release in 2005.
It’s been hailed as his best solo work to date; an album of
songs that critics have compared to many of the Beatles and Wings
classics that have made McCartney one of the greatest songwriters
of all time.
Now, Thirteen/WNET New York’s GREAT
PERFORMANCES is set to premiere a rare concert event; a listen
to some of the new songs, and some of the old, as McCartney returns
to his “creative backyard,” Abbey Road, with Paul
McCartney: Chaos and Creation at Abbey Road, an intimate, concert
Premiering Mon, Feb 27 at 10 p.m. (ET) on GREAT
PERFORMANCES, the intimate, one-hour special finds the legendary
singer-songwriter back at Abbey Road’s Studio 2, the cavernous
room where Chaos and many of the Beatles’ most famous records
were made. Performing solo before a small group of fans and friends,
McCartney offers songs and reminiscences about the Beatles’
years, selections from his recent 4 Grammy-nominated Album of the
Year, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard,
and a fascinating look at how various musical effects were achieved
in both the early Beatles albums and on Chaos.
Viewers are treated to a virtual one-man McCartney band, as he plays
right and left-handed guitars, drums, harmonium, bass, Mellotron,
and even wine goblets. Fans will particularly enjoy the stories and
the performances, which include McCartney’s rendition of one
of the first song’s ever recorded by the Beatles, “In
Spite of All the Danger,” as well as Beatles classics “Blackbird”
“Lady Madonna,” and “I’ve Got a Feeling,”
Wings’ “Band on the Run” and new songs from Chaos
And Creation In The Backyard, “Jenny
Wren,” “English Tea,” “How Kind Of You,”
and “Friends to Go.”
Other selections include Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight
Rock,” McCartney’s audition piece that “apparently
got me in the Beatles,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” featuring
Paul on bass and a special Jamming Track Finale, that somehow morphs
from “That’s All for Now,” a song made up on the
spot, into “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Recorded live, Abbey
Road Studios, London: July 28, 2005.
Premiered, UK on BBC2: Dec 17, 2005.
Premiered, USA on PBS:
Feb 27, 2006.