The Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl

beatles-hollywoodThe Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl was first released in 1977. This was before the first commercially released CD, hence before there was a market for remixed or deluxe reissues or other ways of extending a defunct band’s catalog. So, what better way to make more money than to release a “historic” live album? Unfortunately, the band’s otherwise fine performance here was marred by poor sound quality and the incessant screaming and howling of teenage fans.

Not to worry – all of that has been fixed in the new reissue, right? After all, George Martin’s son, Giles has said “Technology has moved on since my father worked on the material all those years ago.” “Now there’s improved clarity, and so the immediacy and visceral excitement can be heard like never before. … What we hear now is the raw energy of four lads playing together to a crowd that loved them. This is the closest you can get to being at the Hollywood Bowl at the height of Beatlemania.”

That last sentence is very telling. You are hearing what it may have sounded like to be in the crowd at the concert, which is to say that you will hear the Beatles in fine form as a live band. Nevertheless, you will also be annoyed by having thousands of (mostly) teenage girls scream in your ears. Do not listen to this with headphones if you value your sanity.

I cannot imagine why the screams and screeches could not have been attenuated with modern production techniques – can I get a notch filter? Moreover, I don’t understand why I have much more listenable bootlegs of Beatles concerts from the 1960’s than this official release.

I did an A/B listening test comparing the Live At The Hollywood Bowl 2016 reissue to performances of identical songs from the 9/3/64 afternoon show at the Indiana State Fair, 8/18/65 Atlanta, and Tokyo 1966. What I found was that the musical content of Hollywood Bowl had superior audio fidelity but this was obscured by the distracting screams. Since the audio on the bootlegs ranged from good to very good,  I would rather listen to them. On the bootlegs, you could hear the screams from the audience, but, as soon as the singing starts the screams fade into the background.

How is it that the screaming fades on the bootlegs but stays constant on the official release? The Beatles used dynamic microphones, as most live performers do. This is because dynamic microphones are very durable, able to withstand dropping and other adverse conditions encountered in live shows. Dynamic microphones are unidirectional, in other words, they are sensitive to sounds coming from directly in front of them. This would account for the lack of crowd noise once the singing and playing starts.

So, it is probable that the official release used a separate microphone to record the crowd and mixed this racket into final master. In some cases, this technique works well. For example, some of the Grateful Dead’s Dave’s Picks releases are what they call “matrix” recordings. These mix audience recordings with soundboard recordings to give you the feeling of a live show. However, the crowd on the Dead’s concerts aren’t screaming throughout each song.

It is really a shame that this release doesn’t live up to its promise. I haven’t been so disappointed with a Beatles recording since Let It Be Naked (and before that Let It Be). Nevertheless, if you absolutely must spend money on something Beatles related, by all means, buy this.

6 thoughts on “The Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl

  1. Yeah, I think I’ll pass on that. Saw the movie at a theater and enjoyed that, though. Based on what I heard, they would have been better off releasing the Shea Stadium stuff.

    1. Hi Jim,

      I saw the movie on Sunday and it was great. Hearing and seeing the Shea concert in a theater was a thrill. I was too young to have seen a Beatles concert but remember following their New York visit on the radio and in the newspapers. However, I did see John Lennon at Madison Square Garden with Stevie Wonder in 1972 and I was right in front of the stage. To see him perform Come Together was amazing.

  2. Hi Jim,

    It was not unusual in those days to miss a great concert. There was so much going on.

    Thanks for the link. I was at the afternoon show. I remember Lennon saying, “Welcome to the rehearsal.” It was anything but. Elephant’s Memory was looked down upon by the critics at the time. However, their rhythm section and sax player were not bad and their guitarist was more than adequate. They were joined by Jim Keltner on drums, who was beyond reproach. And Lennon was excellent on vocals, guitar and keyboards. Yoko, of course, was a classically trained piano player – so, her accompaniment would have been better than Linda Mc Cartney’s and yet somehow, we are to believe from the critics that the musicians were shabby in the afternoon show but very good in the evening show. This link also leaves out that Lennon performed Give Peace A Chance at the afternoon matinee.

    I’ll never forget Stevie Wonder performing Superstition, and also playing a drum solo.

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