Friday, December 19, 2008

Beatles 20: The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl

It had been common knowledge for years that the boys’ concerts at the Hollywood Bowl were professionally recorded, yet had sat in the can due to the equivalent sound levels of Beatle vocals (when the mikes worked), instruments and several thousand fans. By 1977, great strides had been made in sound separation, so George Martin sat down with tapes from one 1964 show and two 1965 shows, and managed to combine them into a fairly cohesive unit just over half an hour. Although the result of the combination was something of a compromise, thanks of the quality of the recording compared to audience tapes of other shows, The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl has endured as a definitive document of a time long past.
Of course, there were plenty of other live performances captured for posterity, at the very least visually. The 1965 Shea Stadium concert and a few 1966 Tokyo concerts were expertly filmed and broadcast, and most of their final show from Candlestick Park in 1966 has been circulating for years. But for reasons known only to Apple, none of these have been cleared for official release, either on audio or video. (There is another entity of live recordings that have managed to sneak into the racks of legitimate record dealers. The 1962 Hamburg tapes began their interminable saturation around the same time as the Hollywood Bowl set. The first release on the Lingasong label usually gets mentioned in the official discographies; the music itself is nothing special, while it has its moments, again, as a historical artifact.)
It took nearly four full decades for the Hollywood Bowl album to be re-released, and then as a tie-in with a major motion picture helmed by Opie Cunningham. Decent-sounding bootlegs had demonstrated the occasional sloppy performance, repetition and equipment malfunction throughout each of the performances, though only the most naïve of Beatlemaniacs would expect Apple to issue a complete show from either year, at any price. Instead, the 1977 album was reissued in its original hodgepodge sequence, remixed from better quality tapes to bring out more of the music, with four extra songs tacked on at the end (one of which had already appeared on a CD single in the Anthology era). Even the original cover, with its understated charm, was changed to hype the movie.
Nitpicking aside, the music is great, right from the abbreviated blast through “Twist And Shout”. Six of the songs are covers, songs they’d been playing for years. We can already hear waning enthusiasm on the parts of John and George, but their attitude didn’t dilute their strumming capabilities. George’s 12-string Rickenbacker dominates the 1964 tracks, and boy, does it shimmer. John always seemed to screw up the lyrics to “Help!”, but listen to Paul’s bass while he’s singing “All My Loving”, and marvel at the power of “Things We Said Today”. To this day we don’t know why, of all the songs they could’ve chosen, “Baby’s In Black” was a staple of their set, but there it is and there the new album ends—much too quickly, just like their concerts.

The Beatles The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl (1977)—
2016 Live At The Hollywood Bowl: same as 1977, plus 4 extra tracks

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