Saturday, September 10, 2016

"Just let me hear some of that rock and Bowl music..."

"The next song we're gonna sing is an oldie, some of you older people might remember - it's from last year, and it's called She Loves You..."

If John Lennon's tongue was not necessarily always embedded in his cheek then his speaking-voice could invariably give the impression it was at least jabbing towards that general direction.

His She Loves You intro, approaching the end of the melded set making up The Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl - newly-reinvigorated at Abbey Road and given a first CD/digital release - is not quite up there with that "and the rest of you, if you'd just rattle your jewellery" crack at the Palladium.

In fact, it may be that to hear more of his habitually sarky drawl in this is to underestimate even the most cynical Beatle's authentic wonder: look at just how much had been done in those few months between '63 Beatlemania erupting and '64 Beatlemania not so much consolidating as surging even further.

Few can have imagined packing, let alone actually go on to cram, just so many careers into mere years as the Fab Four had already done and would continue. Count 'em: singles, albums, films, gig-a-day tours, TV and radio factory lines, and the little matter of prolifically, inventively not-so-simply songwriting throughout.

This "new" album might well prompt mere shrugs from many outside that (hefty enough) Beatle-obsessive demographic.

And yet after the Anthology bootleg rounds-ups of the Nineties, the sweeping Mono and Stereo remasters of the past decade along with the mixed pleasures of Let It Be Naked, Love and Yellow Submarine Songtrack, the too-much-unloved live album sneaked out in 1977 now gets its belated turn.

The lately-late Sir George Martin was defensively apologetic about its sonic integrity even writing his sleevenotes in 1977, conscious of the constant audience screams as he warned buyers: "It may be a poor substitute for the reality of those times, but it is now all there is."

Ah, but was it? His son Giles - fresh from such new generation-enthusing stuff as Love and Beatles: Rock Band - has been hard at work with Abbey Road engineers, using new tech to separate out frequencies so even a snare and a scream can be taken apart before being put back better together.

And, well, the new LP does pack a punch. The Beatles - the four musicians the world was turning out to see, scream at and, third on the list, maybe even hear - do put up a fairer fight against the white din all-surrounding.

As a single-focus Beatles fan of the late-Eighties, collecting what new cassettes he could depending on what pocket money had been scrimped and saved, any album was not only "new" one but an instantly beloved incessant listen.

Complaints there clearly were about the unsatisfactory sound quality of the shriekish Bowl performances just never registered here - perhaps because a simultaneous purchase was that fellow/arch rival 1977-release, the 1962 Star Club recordings which are thrilling but for how muffled they are. (And the Bowl tape would always be preferred by parents when given access to the car player, in preference to the Hamburg tape for its sound quality but also perhaps the earlier gig's misprounced intro to a song they called Shimmy Shimmy, listed on the inlay card as Shimmy Shake and actually called I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate, or released as Shimmy Like Kate by the Olympics...)

Yet now, after G. Martin Jnr and his allies have put the Bowl tapes through even more painstaking processes albeit with far more developed technology than his dad could dream of, this album arrives sounding cleaner and clearer, while still raw enough.

Yes, the first thing to be heard are those screams, as if deliberately choreographed by enemies intent on sabotaging the show. But somehow the instruments emerge triumphant: Ringo's swinging more than thudding offbeat, like a rigorous military parade opting not to march but hop instead. Paul's pulsating, loping bass lines. George indulging himself in skittish while precise enough countrified riffing. John crunching down on his Rickenbacker, hoarsely yet authoritatively hollering down his main mic.

Suddenly, it's a much fairer fight, at least. Why, there are even appreciable subtleties to be enjoyed in that ever-present fans' backdrop - the production team have somehow managed to find swells in audience enthusiasm. The atmosphere audibly lifts even higher when the band let loose into a more relaxed or effervescent burst: say, the major-key change in Things We Said Today's middle-eight or an instrumental breakdown in Roll Over Beethoven or Paul giving the crowd who they really want on vocals by declaring: "Gonna sing a song called Boys - RINGO...!"

For all that their madly fractious '66 tours would force them to call off future touring, claiming they were deteriorating as live - not studio - musicians by being unable to hear themselves play in such circumstances, the '64 and '65 performances captured here demonstrate their value both as true professionals and authentic rockers.

The half-hour stints on-stage - for all the frenzy around them - might seem run-of-the-mill to the band who grew up and into The Beatles with gruelling nine-hour shifts every day and night in the most challenging venues Hamburg's Reeperbahn could hurl their way.

Their natural synchronicity comes across throughout, whether on a mildly-restrained opener Twist And Shout or a Dizzy Miss Lizzy that actually ups the fervour from the studio original, this time George's sinuous riff sounding less tinny, more shimmery.

She's A Woman bumps funkily along, drums and bass to the fore, as does a Can't Buy Me Love closer to one of its bluesier bootleg takes. The backing vocals on Help! sound less like jumpy yelps and more plangent chorales from deep within a maelstrom. And you can even just about catch a celebratory patter of a drumfill from usually-unshowy Ringo just after some of them finish.

The between-songs patter may be basic - Paul's "we'd like to do a song" format was pastiched accurately by Eric Idle and Neil Innes as the Rutles, although John's ponderous dismantling of distinctions between albums, LPs, long-players suggest an impatience with critics.

Actually, even Paul's polite camaraderie with the crowd threatens to tip into impatience when - after asking whether the fans have enjoyed the show - he responds to the tumult taking its time dying down not with one of his immodest modern "As if you'd say no!" comebacks but instead: "Good! Great. Love-ly..."

That cues up the firecracker closer Long Tall Sally, before an "encore" of four extra tracks not found on the original release.

Of these, that typically sour Lennon "love"song You Can't Do That really picks up the pace, accelerating its mesmeric loop of a riff. America's favourite I Want To Hold Your Hand would have uproariously raised the roof had the Hollywood Bowl only, well, had one. And George predictably adds even more than usual country-lick-picking kick to his unlikely turn as a braggart on Carl Perkins' Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby.

The only disappointment, perhaps of the entire album, is that it now ends with a track The Beatles would somehow insist upon in setlists over three years but comes across here as even more of a drag than on record: a tired take on nursery-rhyme-esque shuffle Baby's In Black.

Far better would be to end, as did the 1977 LP, on that Long Tall Sally screamer - the Hollywood Bowl version coming near to one even better, to these ears anyway: that is, the Star Club closer.

Yet cleaning up that recording for something meeting official digital release muster must, alas, feel like a labour of love even (Beatle) money can't buy...

PS. I love...
Well, ain't got nothing but love for Eight Days A Week, having just seen Ron Howard's love-letter to The Beatles's live life: that amazing, fearsome maelstrom - especially between 1963 and 1966, anyway - captured in such a way as to feel throughout just so head-shakingly, spine-tinglingly joyous.
Perhaps it hurtles a little too glancingly past Hamburg. Wishes expressed above about somehow enhancing those Star Club tapes might require Ron to make some kind of prequel, setting Giles and studio allies to work. But once Beatlemania begins to swarm the whole wide world, here on (the big) screen, then wonders never cease while tears may even begin wrinkling.
Perhaps it might feel a little too tricksy, the way some early showings have been retrospectively colourised - live shows, as well as that banterous first JFK press conference - and the same could go for transposing "new" Hollywood Bowl live versions on top of existing footage, even eg. an Ed Sullivan TV performance. Ah, but it does all look and sound so good. Then again, so does an authentic take on I Saw Her Standing There, in Washington DC, made all the more endearing by Ringo and top roadie Mal Evans struggling to pick up and shift around the revolving drum-set before they can all even get going...
All told: enlightening footage, madcap hotel rooms (including a toy keyboard suddenly anticipating Strawberry Fields a few years earlier), blistering performances, gauchely ardent fans (one charmingly requests Paul McCartney be informed that Adrienne of wherever loves him with all her heart, before rivals pile in to acclaim Ringo's "sexy nose" and George's "sexy eyelashes, sexy eyelashes"), and even the most straitlaced-sounding announcers turning all Bill Murray The K-esque ("Here they are, with their hairdos. One waves his hand - wiggles a finger, wiggles a finger...")
Not to forget that band-of-Beatle-brothers wit, whether sardonic - and sometimes tongue-biting - Lennon, or dry George, or winking Ringo, or a Paul whose over-acting in the films and thumbs-alofting in latter days does disservice to his subtle archness in those heady days. (Cinema audience here laughed at his eyebrow-raising/-raised reply when asked, amid the "bigger-than-Jesus" unholy hoopla, for a pre-'66-tour forecast: "Oh, it'll be ... fine."
(Sharp cut to...)
All this, and much much more. In hurtling speed, Ron Howard apparently inspired by the effervescent example of the late Richard Lester, A Hard Day's Night and Help! director who appears among the talking-heads - alongside the likes of 1966 author Jon Savage, late-lamented Beatle-pal, roadie and Apple genius Neil Aspinall, and Beatle gig-goers Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver (appearing for but a few moments but enough to show her looking unerringly similar in a screaming '64 crowd).
The cinema setting helps not only amplify but exemplify the sound: not only of the live shows, but bristlingly beautifully along the studio tracks played - especially from Revolver and onwards - right up to the Apple rooftop. Whether it's She Loves You or Girl or The Word or Tomorrow Never Knows or A Day In The Life, sounds so familiar can still find new power to confiscate the breath.
Even more of a bonus, in picturehouses: an extra 30 minutes at the end, an impeccably-restored version of The Beatles' first 1965 show at the Shea Stadium, the shots from above illustrating a scale popular music had never even conceived of before - and the sweaty, exhilarated, exhilarating close-up shots commemorating and celebrating something  even the band themselves could never know again. (All together now, all together now: "How can you laugh when you know I'm WAAH!")
1963 live life shows The Beatles taken aback and delighting in it all. 1964, taken aback and enjoying it all. 1965, taken aback but going with it all. 1966, taken aback but getting a bit sick of it all.
1967 and onwards, beforehand, and always: just being the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny.
"Keep that one. Mark it: fab."

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