Music Review: The Beatles - Live at the Hollywood Bowl

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One of the last remaining officially-released pieces of Beatles history has finally arrived in the digital era. In 1977 The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, a 13-song composite of an August 1964 concert and an August 1965 concert, peaked at number two on Billboard and was eventually certified platinum. Producer George Martin performed a minor miracle by delivering something listenable out of the audience scream-drenched recordings. For nearly 40 years the original vinyl has been the only legal way to hear these historic performances. Now, as a tie-in with director Ron Howard's Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years documentary, Capitol has finally issued the album on CD (there's also a vinyl edition of the reissue).

First off, a gripe. Wouldn't it have been nice if Giles Martin (son of George, enlisted to clean up and remix the aging masters) had been allowed to prepare the entire August 23, 1964 and August 30, 1965 concerts for inclusion on this release? After all, these recordings are primarily of historical interest and none even approach equaling (let alone supplanting) the studio originals. At the very least we do get four tunes previously not included on the '77 version: "You Can't Do That" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand" from '64, "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby" and "Baby's In Black" from '65. This extends the disc's running time by about ten minutes (from the original's 33 minutes to 43 minutes).

The album, then and now, is best approached as a supplement to the studio albums of the era. It provides some context, allowing us to hear exactly why the Beatles had difficulty getting their music across in a concert setting. In fact, the Live at the BBC (1994) and On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2 (2013) remain the best official means to listen to The Beatles live. The thing about those BBC performances is that, for the most part, they were not recorded with live audiences. As good as many of the individual tracks are, they generally don't crackle with the energy and enthusiasm as live concert material.

We get that—and then some—with Live at the Hollywood Bowl. The audience noise levels are so high and so relentless, it sounds like the band is constantly fighting just to be heard. Even with their gamest efforts, it was probably a losing battle (though the audience clearly responds on cue during the stage banter and also reacts to guitar solos with even louder screams, suggesting the reports that no one could hear anything aren't literally true). The Beatles weren't in the practice or re-arranging their material for live performance, so there are no revelations. There's a harder-rocking treatment of "Things We Said Today." That and the opening "Twist and Shout" (shortened from the album version by about a minute) are the biggest deviations from the more familiar takes.

It probably goes without saying that Live at the Hollywood Bowl should definitely not be anyone's first Beatles album. But for anyone looking for a glimpse at what attending a show at the height of Beatlemania was like, this reissue is a must for all fans' collections.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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