Paul McCartney Live Albums: Which is Best?

Paul McCartney was slow to embrace touring after leaving the Beatles. His first venture of performances with his new band Wings, was a hastily devised group of shows in the U.K. His next effort was what became known as Wings Over America, a better planned and promoted concert tour in 1976.

Below is a list of McCartney/Wings live albums. Missing are several special releases that were not widely commercially available. I’m commenting only on the albums below.

Wings Over America (1976) – One of the top musical events of 1976, McCartney’s first tour of America, and it was a massive success. A 3-record set (vinyl), McCartney played his hits from the first half of the decade, along with a few Beatle hits, songs that had never been performed live.

The highlight was an acoustic set, which came off well, considering clean sound for large venues was not always wonderful back then. “Picasso’s Last Words”/Richard Corey”/“Bluebird”/“I’ve Just Seen a Face”/“Blackbird”/“Yesterday” is a great acoustic set.

A live recording of “Maybe I’m Amazed” was released as a charting single. It is uncommon for a live version to be better than a studio track, although Peter Frampton comes to mind.

I saw this tour, so it has a special fondness for me. I also enjoy the film (Rockshow) from the tour that came out a few years later.

Tripping the Live Fantastic
(1990) Thirty-seven songs spread over 2-CDs, from all phases of his career, including a larger selection of Beatle songs. A few covers were included as well as a healthy selection from Flowers in the Dirt.

McCartney released a single CD version of “highlights.” Several singles were released that included songs not on the 2-CD set. These included the Lennon penned songs “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Help” and “Give Peace a Chance.”

McCartney does something very cool, he plays the last three songs from the side 2 suite from Abbey Road: “Golden Slumbers”/“Carry That Weight”/“The End.” At a concert years later, he was still closing his concerts with this medley, it is breathtaking.

This album is close behind Wings Over America as my favorite McCartney live recording. I like all of the Beatles songs, especially those identified as Lennon songs. By this time, McCartney fully embraced his Beatle past, he was no longer competing with it, he accepted it as a part of his legacy. McCartney began a habit of releasing some of his soundcheck recordings on this album and Paul is Live.

Interesting footnote, a video of the concert was directed by Richard Lester (Help!, A Hard Day’s Night, The Three Musketeers). The film was called: Get Back.

Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) (1991) – Taped from an intimate MTV concert, McCartney eschewed many of his hits for lesser known songs and a few rock covers. It’s okay, but I never play it.

Paul is Live (1993) – Released just a couple of years after an expansive live set, this single disc concert was met with yawns. This tour was in support of Off the Ground and featured a few songs from the album, plus changed out a few Beatles numbers. The cover art is McCartney with his sheepdog on the Abbey Road crosswalk. Paul is Live draws upon the Paul is dead rumors of the late 1960s era.

This recording is just okay. I have rarely played it.

Back in the U.S. (2002) – A 2-disc set in support of his underwhelming album, Driving Rain. The set includes several songs from Driving Rain, including “Freedom.” A few Beatle hits with Wings and solo hits, along with the film theme “Vanilla Sky.”

Starting with this tour, McCartney began featuring “Something” as his tribute to the late George Harrison. McCartney also played his “Here Today” as part of a tribute to John Lennon.

Back in the World (2003) – Nearly the same song lineup as Back in the U.S., this set was released outside of the U.S.

Good Evening New York City (2009) – Highlights from a three-night series of concerts for the inauguration of Citi Field — the replacement for the now-defunct Shea Stadium, where the Beatles played a show in 1965.

A 2-disc set that pulls mostly from his usual concert set list. New songs from Memory Almost Full are highlighted. Another highlight is “A Day in the Life” which segues into “Give Peace a Chance”, a salute to John Lennon. “Helter Skelter” makes an appearance along with “Day Tripper”, the first time I’ve noticed these songs on a live album.

McCartney ends the album with the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Reprise”, which segues into “The End” from Abbey Road.” Very cool.

Amoeba Gig (2019) – A 2007, in-store musical performance, not released until 2019. The 2007 concert was part of the live tour for Memory Almost Full, so naturally there are a few tracks from that album. That aside, this is a pretty good set. I didn’t think I’d like this album, but I do, especially the four songs from Let It Be. He reaches all the way back for “I’ll Follow the Sun”, “Matchbox” and “I Saw Her Standing There.”

This is a very intimate recording, McCartney sounds in good voice and the musicianship solid. His solo performance of “Here Today” is full of emotion, his voice cracking with recognition of his late bandmate. I would place this recording in third place.


3 thoughts on “Paul McCartney Live Albums: Which is Best?

  1. While I think I’ve listened to all of these live albums, I’m most familiar with “Wing Over America,” which I got on vinyl in the early ’80s, as well as “Tripping the Live Fantastic” and “Paul Is Live”, which I own on CD. “Wings Over America” definitely is my favorite. The live version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” on there is far better than the original studio recording. I also like it when Paul goes acoustic.

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      1. It must have been great to see one of the actual shows from that tour.

        My first McCartney concert I saw was in Dortmund, Germany in October 1989, in the wake of the “Flowers in the Dirt” album.

        Obviously, Wings were history by then, but Paul had a great backing band. Plus, Linda was still part of it.

        Apparently, there were many Beatles fans in the audience, who probably had seen The Beatles. Tears started rolling when Paul played “Let It Be” – definitely one of my best concerts!

        I’m pretty sure it was this gig: https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/paul-mccartney/1989/westfalenhalle-1-dortmund-germany-bddb966.html

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