The Beatles: Live and Sounding Great


Staff Writer

“Live At The Hollywood Bowl,” The Beatles latest posthumous release, is a recording of The Fab Four live in concert, before their retirement from touring and well before ostentatious titles like “the greatest rock band of all time” placed their music on a lofty pedestal. The Beatles that filled the Hollywood Bowl for two concerts in 1964 and 1965 weren’t artistic titans with an influence stretching the length of a football field. They were basically The Jonas Brothers. They filled stadiums with hordes of screaming girls, dressed in sharp matching suits on television and sang cute songs about holding hands. They weren’t counterculture icons or sonic revolutionaries. They were a boy band.

Make no mistake: they were still The Beatles. If they were a boy band, they were the greatest boy band of all time. These performances are a tribute to how musically gifted and irresistibly charming these guys were. In 1964, no one had ever performed rock n’ roll for a stadium-sized crowd. The technology had yet to catch up. Not only were The Beatles singing and playing their instruments, they were doing it while essentially deaf: the screams of the crowd frequently drowned out the band’s rudimentary amplification, sonically isolating each of them onstage. The fact that the band stays in time and harmony is astounding.

The excessive crowd noise was one of the reasons these recordings are only now being formally released. Although an album called “The Beatles at The Hollywood Bowl” was released in 1977 on vinyl, the production suffered because the screams of the fans blocked out much of the subtleties of the performances. The result was a bootleg-quality album that sounded like something my iPhone could record, making it unfit for CD or digital release for decades.

Thanks are due to Giles Martin (son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin) for “Live At The Hollywood Bowl’s” punchier, cleaner production. It feels more like a proper live recording: the instruments share the stage equally, the vocals are richer and more expressive and the cheers from the crowd are controlled, swelling only between numbers. Songs like “Ticket To Ride” benefit immensely from the touch-up, the subtleties of the music ringing true, from McCartney’s heartbroken yelps to Ringo’s staccato drum beats.

The album really isn’t a concert proper (it’s a compilation of the best cuts from the two shows), so it allows the listener to jump around, listening to the tracks in any order. Some stand out more than others: softer songs like “Things We Said Today” let some of the wind out of the sails, but the band always manages to right the ship, launching into energetic covers of early rock hits to build things back up. Harrison’s searing version of “Roll Over Beethoven” can slap you awake.

Now that the music comes through clearer, you can appreciate the crowd’s insane reactions a little more. They lose their minds during songs from the band’s films, particularly “Hard Day’s Night.” They really like Ringo, and the screams during “Boys,” where he sings lead, are especially intense. You can hear the scars developing on these girls’ vocal chords.

For me, the standout track was “Help!”– the title track from the band’s second film. It marks such a strong shift in the band’s focus, the lyrics not describing the romantic travails of a lovesick teenager, but the dark clouds swirling above a band, realizing that they wanted something more than manic fans and number one records. It’s a catchy song, but John Lennon’s powerful voice conveys such paralyzing fear, agonizing despair: “Won’t you pleeeeease, please, help me, HELP ME-eeeeeee-oooooooh.” Lennon chuckles while singing the refrain, possibly struck by the irony of so many people cheering for a song about his own personal pain.

“Live At the Hollywood Bowl” isn’t a perfect record (some of the songs come off more as teenybop jingles than rock classics…looking at you “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”), but I’m glad it exists. It’s more than a live album: it’s a historic artifact chronicling the first act of The Beatles. The greatest rock band of all time.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars




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