Thursday, September 1, 2016

Review: 'The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl'

With The Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night are effervescent, explosive albums, but neither quite translates the mania part of Beatlemania accurately. That was defined by hordes of screaming girls and boys stampeding toward the four lads intent on grabbing a hunk of hair or a pound of flesh as a souvenir of the obsession that defined their youthful years. The album that best captures that aspect of Beatles history is The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. Released in 1977 amid EMI’s first wave of Beatles repackages and vault sweepings that included Rock ‘n’ Roll Music and Love Songs, Hollywood Bowl was the first official Beatles live album. When asked to assemble the set, George Martin had misgivings about the quality of the recordings, the most obvious issue being the constant blanket of white noise from the crowd that covers every track. Of course, this is what makes Hollywood Bowl such an authentic document of cuckoo Beatlemania.

In the days before it matured with late-sixties items like Jefferson Airplane’s Bless Its Pointed Little Head and The Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya Yas Out, Rock & Roll concert recording tended to emphasize pandemonium over stagecraft. Drums bashed in a primitive attempt to maintain the tempo without proper monitors. Singers shouted the words to give the shrieking throngs a general idea of what song was being played. Bass and/or guitar vanished in the din. Teenagers lost their minds. This was the sound of The Kinks’ Live at Kelvin Hall and the Stones’ Got Live If You Want It. It was not entirely musical, but it was completely exciting.

Hollywood Bowl actually sounds clearer than either of those sets. The screaming is constant, yet instruments don’t really get lost in the mix and The Beatles’ singing is admirably polished, their harmonies sounding as effortless on stage as they did in the studio. At least that’s the case with Giles Martin and James Clarke’s new remix and four-bonus-track expansion of The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl released as a tie-in with Ron Howard’s upcoming documentary about The Beatles’ stage performance years (a fact blared without tact on the albums unimaginative new cover). The instruments are better defined than ever and less overwhelmed by the crowd noise. Completely scrubbing that noise from the record would violate its purpose, and the shrieks remain very present throughout so you can still crank it up in your living room and shriek along like you did 51 years ago without feeling like too much of a doofus. 
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