When it first surfaced in 1977, “The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl” served as the only officially released live document of the Fab Four in concert. Even then, over a decade after the iconic band had ended its tenure as a live act, what we were presented with was a portrait of pop magic in a fish bowl — a glimpse of artistic greatness at a creative crossroads engulfed in a sea of hysteria. The performances were fascinating, but the flood of screams, like the whir of sonic locust, was unrelenting. It was akin to watching live theater while sitting next to an ignited jet engine.
The release this week of Ron Howard’s documentary dealing with the Beatles’ touring years, “Eight Days a Week,” has triggered a re-release of “The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl.” (The movie opens this weekend at the Kentucky Theatre and premieres Saturday on Hulu.) It is now dubbed simply “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” and comes with new cover art, four bonus tracks and an obvious promotional tie-in to the movie.
George Martin’s original production work for the 1977 release stands, from a purely technical standpoint, as one of his most unheralded triumphs. It managed to offer glimpses of the Beatles’ abundant affinity for early American rock and R&B as well as the band’s rapidly blooming gifts as original song stylists under the layers upon layers of audience screams. The fact the initial three-track tapes were of questionable quality to begin with made the resulting clarity even more remarkable.
Giles Martin took over productions duties from his late father for “Live at Hollywood Bowl” and heightens to an often astonishing degree the dynamics and clarity of the performances initially given at the famed California venue during the summers of 1964 and 1965. The original hits are played with to-the-letter exactness in spots, allowing the efficient despondency of “Ticket to Ride,” the electric vitality of “She’s a Woman” and the pure pop innocence of “Can’t Buy Me Love” to jubilantly shine.
The treats, though, are the covers — staples like “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” “Twist and Shout,” “Long Tall Sally” and even Ringo Starr’s giddy take on “Boys.” All present the source material for what made the Beatles so inspiring. They were already titan pop craftsmen at the time, but they were champion rock ‘n’ rollers first - artists wildly versed on the music’s origins and its sense of possibility.
The bonus material, highlighted by a raw, exuberant “You Can’t Do That” and the jolting but dour electric waltz “Baby’s in Black,” extends the party. Sure, the screams are an unavoidable deterrent. But “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” manages, in pretty glorious terms, to capture a living snapshot of a lost pop age. As such, you can hardly blame the masses that assembled to witness it over 50 years ago for getting caught up in the moment.