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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Beatles: At The Hollywood Bowl


1) Twist And Shout; 2) She's A Woman; 3) Dizzy Miss Lizzie; 4) Ticket To Ride; 5) Can't Buy Me Love; 6) Things We Said Today; 7) Roll Over Beethoven; 8) Boys; 9) A Hard Day's Night; 10) Help!; 11) All My Loving; 12) She Loves You; 13) Long Tall Sally.

For some reason, this album still has not seen a properly authorized CD release; maybe they are just waiting to lay George Martin peacefully in his grave before that happens, considering how re­luctant he was to put it on the market back in 1977 — when the release was triggered by the concurrent propagation of the horrible Live At The Star-Club, Hamburg tapes from 1962. Be­cause there was no way Capitol could stop these recordings from going public, they quickly nee­ded their own reply, and ended up holding George at the allegorical gunpoint. Various factual sources will let you know how much of a challenge it was to handle and process the old tapes; the whole thing was anything but a love affair, and so, the only officially released Beatles' live album still remains sort of a bastard, despisable child.

Ironically, though, as the years go by, its importance increases, if only because there are so many young fans now who do not know the proper answer to the question: «So why exactly did they stop touring?» One good listen to Hollywood Bowl will provide that answer. Although the tracks are taken from two different periods, more or less equally divided between August 23, 1964, and August 29-30, 1965, little had changed in the interim: the banshee wailing flying over the amphi­theater never loses a single decibel of intensity. You, the listener of At The Hollywood Bowl in its LP form, have the magnificent benefit of actually hearing the band. The girls in the audience did not have that benefit — not that they had any need of it. And the band itself did have need of it, but couldn't have gotten it unless somebody built a soundproof glass wall around them. Like the blue bubble around Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in Yellow Submarine.

That said, the Beatles did play well under the circumstances. Occasional flubbed notes in Harri­son's solos or a few tripped beats here and there could happen at any Beatles show, screamfest or no screamfest, and John's major stage curse — that of constantly forgetting the lyrics and having to mumble, improvise, or fall back on older verses — was, I am fairly sure, aggravated by his nonchalant personality rather than teenage howling getting him off the right track. They were ne­ver «great» stage performers, but they did what they could do: rev up the energy level of their studio recordings and play them faster, crazier, more aggressively, the way any good rock show should assert its advantages over the «calculated perfection» of the studio.

The problem was not that they «couldn't play»; the problem was that they couldn't improve. In the studio, every new batch of recording sessions brought on new discoveries and challenges. Live, there was no way they could profit from these discoveries. It is quite telling that, although the per­formances from 1964 and 1965 are shuffled, there is hardly any way to distinguish earlier and later stuff — even if, in August 1965, less than two months separated the Beatles from the break­throughs of Rubber Soul. (Well, clearly, other than the numbers performed — in 1964, they couldn't have been singing ʽHelp!ʼ or ʽTicket To Rideʼ, but I'm not talking about that).

The oddest moments, I think, are the ones where either John or Paul strike up some clumsy, «hu­morous» stage banter — banter that, under normal circumstances, could either be ignored or pro­duce a laughing reaction, but under Beatlemania rule, triggered something much simpler: «A Beatle is talking — time to scream louder!» They genuinely seem lost on that sea, talking and joking to no one in particular, and playing well enough to not lose confidence in themselves, but who really cared? A few headshakes, a few falsetto whoo-whoos, and that's all they need to send the audience to heaven. Led Zeppelin sure hope they could get away that easily.

Today, there is no pressing need to hunt down Hollywood Bowl as long as you already have a general idea of what a Beatles live show used to be like — for which purposes, the Anthology CDs and videos would be perfectly sufficient. Maybe someday the tapes will get the benefit of proper remastering, and the setlists will be expanded to make this document more coherent and comprehensive (at the very least, there is something disrespectful about the almost random shuf­fling of the running order). But clearly, none of these performances will ever replace the studio originals in your heart — although I do admit that, Ringo yells his head off quite effectively on ʽBoysʼ, going at it far more ferociously than when locked in the comfort of Abbey Road Studios. On the other hand, the decision to strip ʽThings We Said Todayʼ of a part of its subtlety, and in­troduce the bridge with a rock'n'rollish "yeh!" on Paul's part, was a mistake. They should have rather included more Carl Perkins in the program.

Of course, the only official live Beatles album (bar The BBC Sessions, which isn't really «pro­perly» live before a real audience) cannot and will not get a thumbs down. What might get a thumbs down is the band's uncompromising decision to quit touring, once and for all. Had they endured just one more year (and even then, when you look at their touring schedule for 1966, you will see that they already spent an absolute minimum of time on the road many months prior to abandoning the practice altogether), the screaming would have died down on its own, and then, finally... remember that the best touring years for the Stones and the Who, two of the Beatles' finest competitors, only began around 1968-69; before that, live bootlegs and scraps of official recordings show that they had relatively limited advantages over the Beatles on the stage. But, as they tell us, history knows no ifs, so let us just bear with the fact that Paul Is Dead, after all.


  1. Yes, this is useful primarily as a historical document of the insanity surrounding Beatles live performances, not as a musical experience. One of the historical handicaps the Beatles faced was the fact that amplification just wasn't that great when they still playing live. That technology had improved a lot by the late 60s, but not in time for them.

    Having seen a couple of recent McCartney shows, it's clear that he LOVES playing Beatles songs that the band never performed live and getting the audience response to them. But he and Ringo were always fondest of live performance, so I guess it's no surprise that they're both still carrying on.

  2. "a general idea of what a Beatles live show used to be like"
    Some footage on YouTube will do. And imo on stage The Rolling Stones were better, even if I am much less impressed by their songs in general:

    Was on Surinamese TV a few weeks ago.
    Here is The Who in 1964:

    Also superior. And they would improve (check 1966). But the best liveband in that year possibly were The Animals:

    I am pretty sure a few mothers kept a better eye on their sons afterwards. Also check Boom Boom from April 1965.

    But I finish with some Dutch-Indian pride. This footage from 1960 is simply awesome:

    Ahead of their time.
    The Beatles were just a bunch of nice, good boys. With a lot of musical genius.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. What you said is totally unfairly untrue!

      It's really amazing how good The Beatles sounded live with such limited primitive crappy sound systems of the time,but they were so great that they would have even sounded good playing out of of cave!

      There is an online interview with Roger Daltry,Roger's Journey With The Who in The Sun and he was asked if The Who had screaming girls at a certain point,and he said after Can't Explain they did. He said it was the screaming teenage era and every band had them on their way up. He said it was fun at first but the trouble for a performer when you are that young and inexperienced is that you start to judge your performances on the amount they scream,he said it's nonsense which is why Lennon gave up. He also said that The Who's manager turned their image overnight from scruffy rockers to Mods.

      When The Beatles played live in 1963,64,65 & 66 they only had 100 watt amplifiers,no feedback monitors so they couldn't hear themselves sing and play,plus the screaming crowds and that's why they gave up touring.

      George Harrison says in The Beatles Anthology video series,that for their August 1965 Shea Stadium concerts, special 100 watt amplifiers were made and that they went up from only 30 watts before. Given how limited and primitive the sound systems were then,it's amazing they sounded as good as they did live.But they were so great that they would have even sounded good playing out of a cave.But it was impossible for *anyone* to sound great on those kind of limited,primitive sound systems of the time.

      Former Kiss guitarist Bob Kulick who produced the heavy metal album Butchering The Beatles, said he saw The Beatles in concert in 1966 and he said he could hear parts of Baby's In Black & Paperback Writer and they sounded amazing.

      A guy Steve from Canada said on Artist Facts,that he saw The Beatles live in 1966 and The Stones in 1996(and the sound systems by then were a zillion times better!) and he said don't get me wrong,The Stones were great but they were no match for The Beatles and he called The Beatles The Greatest Band Of All Time.

      The Beatles started out playing  8 hours a night in the sleazy strip clubs of Hamburg Germany,taking speed pills to stay awake,wearing tight black leather jackets and pants,smoking and cursing on stage,and had sex with so many young women groupies including the strippers in those clubs,they were successful there. They also played successfully live in The Cavern Club for several years in the early 1960's.

      John and George especially hated Beatle Mania,and George says in The Anthology series, that it took a toll on their nervous systems, they had no life either trapped in hotel rooms most of the time. They wanted to be popular and successful as every band does, but they didn't want or ask for the hysteria. John says in his 1975 Tomorrow Show interview that the screaming wasn't doing the music any good,and that things would break down and nobody would know.

      The Beatles sound great on their live roof top January 1969 concert in The Let It Be Film, and the sound systems had improved by then,(although still very limited compared to today's) and there were no more screaming crowds.

      And there is this very good article by Collin Fleming from The Atlantic, 50 Years Later:The Greatest Beatles Performance Of All Time


    3. And there used to be the full video of The Beatles February 1964 Washington Colosseum and there were over 1,000 likes and many people were saying what Frank and Jack say to this now only audio version of this concert,( many people on youtube are saying why are many of The Beatles videos gone off of youtube now and some are saying it's because of UMG_MK and I don't know what this is.) that it's amazing that with such crappy sound systems of those days and no feedback monitors so they couldn't even hear themselves singing and playing and many said they still sound so good and great and some say this Washington concert proves what a great live band they were and before they got so tired of all of the Beatlemania garbage they had to put up with all of the screaming drowning out their great music.

  3. There IS a track on this album I like more than the studio version, and it's "Dizzy Miss Lizzy". The studio version had John playing a boogie figure and George playing the stinging riff throughout. Here, they arrange it a bit to allow John to sing with more abandon: in the instrumental parts they do it like in the studio but in the verses John plays punkish chords while George takes the boogie part and embellishes it with "Oh pretty woman" / "Lucille" inspired phrases. Less monotonous, more energic - what's not to like?

  4. Beatles on Ye Olde Roofe-Toppe at Apple in January 1969 is pretty much all the live Beatles ye neede. The screamers aren't there, and the mix is good. True, they aren't singing ye classic hits of yore, but it's the best approximation of what the boys would have sounded like, had they actually gotten back on the road in their later years.

  5. I have a bootleg CD of the 1965 Atlanta Stadium concert, and it doesn't sound very different from the 1965 tracks on the Hollywood Bowl album.

    I don't think it's appropriate to compare The Who live in 1964-1965 with The Beatles live. At that time, The Who were playing the equivalent of The Cavern Club while The Beatles were playing stadia.

    Live performances were a crapshoot in the mid-60s. If you want to hear or see a horrific live set, I encourage you to go to YouTube and take a look at The Kinks' 1965 NME Awards performance. Dave Davies' amplifier is inaudible, Ray Davies' is way too loud, and Pete Quaife's vocal is much louder than Ray's on the PA system.

    1. The TV-shows in the USA done by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were not stadia, but had small audiences.

      "rev up the energy level of their studio recordings"
      In this respect The Who, The Rolling Stones and especially The Animals did much better than The Beatles.
      And The Kinks indeed.
      Crapshoot sound quality or not.

  6. I meant their February 1964 Washington concert.

  7. The rather low-key CD release of this album has cleaned it up as well as its going to be and shows the Beatles for what they were in their early days: an incredible rock and roll band.

    Take into account the poor sound system mentioned by Randie, combined with the screaming, and be stunned that the band rarely, if ever, sings off key or flubs. Combined with the band's obvious energy and enthusiasm, and the CD is as close as we'll ever get to real PRIME LIVE BEATLES.

  8. "this album still has not seen a properly authorized CD release; maybe they are just waiting to lay George Martin peacefully in his grave before that happens" - And this is EXACTLY what happened.