Tag - beatles

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week

This past Thursday night I attended the sold-out opening screening of “Eight Days A Week” – director Ron Howard’s ode to The Beatles that focuses primarily on their touring years, from 1962-1966.

It is hard now not to think of The Beatles as anything other than a phenomenon – Beatlemania! – and an iconic force of musical nature.  They were all of those things, but what this movie so effectively reminds us – as John Lennon famously said somewhere in the “Beatles Anthology” – is that they were “just a band.”

But oh my, what a band…

With vintage photos and film clips from the late 1950s and early 60s, “Eight Days A Week” shows us  four guys who grew up together (OK, maybe not so much Ringo, who joined The Beatles just as they started their recording career, but he shared their scrappy Liverpool origins).  It was essentially John’s band from the beginning, but part of his gift was his ability to recognize in Paul and George talent and ambition equal to his own.

The mission of the documentary is to trace the full arc of their years as a touring band:  from the clubs of Hamburg were their sound was forged, to the Cavern Club in Liverpool where they found their audience, and eventually around the world, where their concerts were drowned out by screaming fans.  Throughout the arc we are watch as the role “pop music” in the cultural firmament is transformed in front of our eyes and ears.

But the full power and sheer artistry of The Beatles is more fully conveyed in the 30 minutes of concert footage that follows the documentary.

Here are The Beatles in a truly epic setting: Shea Stadium in New York – the first performance of their final tour in 1966.  They dash out on the field and climb atop a stage that looks like a boxing ring erected over second base, in the middle of the vast expanse of a baseball field, 50 yards away from the nearest fan, some 56,000 of whom are screaming their heads off through the entire show.

Still,  you can’t help but be impressed with the quality of the performance.  The set includes both covers and originals, opening with “Twist and Shout” and ending with “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help.” Showing the complete concert after the documentary is its own tour-de-force; it reminds us what the phenomenon was really about: the sheer power of skilled musicianship, the intensity of accomplished artistry.

The documentary is a 90 minute setup; the concert footage is a 30 minutes payoff – the undeniable proof of everything postulated in the film.

Ron Howard’s film also reminds us just how much “Beatlemania” was a reflection of the times.  In America especially, The Beatles arrival in February 1964 was the medicine a grieving nation needed after the shock of the Kennedy assassination.  Their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show carved the opening cracks in what would eventually become the “Generation Gap.”  We are reminded of the tumultuous history that The Beatles were part of, from the conflagration in Vietnam to the Civil Rights movement.

One detail in the documentary that surprised me addressed the matter of race as it is uniquely experienced in America: The Beatles had a clause in their contracts that declared that they would not play for segregated audiences.  A voice over from Paul McCartney explains how foreign the whole idea of segregation and Jim Crow was to their experience in England.

Howard deftly gives all four Beatles nearly equal screen time for retrospective commentaries.   The surviving Beatles, Paul and Ringo, appear on screen several times in their current incarnations; There are equal amounts of archival footage of John and George looking back on their years as Beatles.  Their commentaries lend a “Rashomon” like perspective to the whole experience.

The Beatles 1966 tour ushered in the era of the stadium concert – despite technology woefully suited for the purpose; George explains how Vox built amplifiers especially for this tour: “I think they were a hundred watts…” – and much of the audio was piped through the crackly stadium PA system: “Now playing at second base… The Beatles!”

I think it was Ringo who described the aftermath of what would history would record as The Beatles final live performance, the last concert of the 1966 tour at Candlestick Park in San Francisco:  After the show the band was raced out of the stadium grounds in what Ringo describes as “a meat wagon” – a bare metal armored police wagon, the kind that ferries convicts to prisons.  It was pretty much within those lurching steel confines that all four Beatles decided “we’re not going to do this any more…”

Freed from the demands of a touring schedule, The Beatles dedicate themselves to the studio.  There is footage from the EMI studio at Abbey Road of audio tape loops strung between tape machines… and then there is “Sergeant Pepper.”

From there the documentary quickly traces the remainder of The Beatles recording career: 5 albums in three years, from “Magical Mystery Tour” to the “White Album,” “Abbey Road” and the “posthumously” released “Let It Be” (which was released after the band announced its demise early in 1970).

The movie ends with  the most footage I have ever seen from The Beatles last-ever ‘concert’ – that day in January 1969 when they set up on the roof of the Apple Corps headquarters in London and played to the people on the street below.  It’s more than three years since the last time they performed “live” together, and the footage proves, once and for all that The Beatles were still, and always were, a great fucking band.

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“Eight Days A Week Is” playing at The Belcourt.  Info and tickets here.  It will also be released to streaming video via Hulu next week. A subscription will be required. So go see it in a theater with good surround sound.

RIP George Martin – A Beatles Playlist

Like the rest of the world, I awoke to the news this morning (I read the news today, oh boy?) of Sir George Martin’s departure from this earthly plane:

George Martin, the urbane English record producer who signed the Beatles to a recording contract on the small Parlophone label after every other British record company had turned them down, and who guided them in their transformation from a regional dance band into the most inventive, influential and studio-savvy rock group of the 1960s, died on Tuesday. He was 90.

The New York Times obituary mentioned several songs that are regarded as among the breakthrough recordings that Sir George produced with the Beatles during their tenure at EMI / Abbey Road Studios in the 1960s.

So, naturally, I skipped over to Spotify and assembled a playlist of those breakthrough songs:

RIP, Sir George. Words fail, let the music speak for you…

What A Fucking Racket (Updated) Redux

I have tickets. Send me an e-mail or a private message if you want the secret handshake.

It’s a long story, and IOverlay-McCartney-2013 don’t want to go into the details now, but a little bird me told me a secret password and I managed to get into the site and score a couple of nosebleed level seats for $107 each.

But just to give you some idea how fucked up this is: the tickets are not officially “on sale” yet, but if you want a seat in, say, the first section off the floor, the $200 seats, good fucking luck: the “best available” today – 24 hours before the tickets “go on sale,” is behind the fucking stage.

That’s great if you’ve always wanted to see Paul McCartney’s ass.

Katy Perry At The Oscars

No, you didn’t see her on the actual telecast – unless you were at our house….

katy_yesterdayAs we do every year, Ann and I had a few friends over to our house to watch the Oscars telecast this past Sunday night.  Oddly, the highlight of the evening was not actually part of the show that we sat through for more than 4 hours (including the whole ridiculous “who are you wearing” red-carpet pre-show….).

No, rather, the highlight came via YouTube AppleTV and Airplay, the feature that lets you watch whatever is on your iPhone on your big TeeVee.

About two-thirds through the Oscar marathon, we were all scratching our heads after Pink’s performance of “Over the Rainbow.”  Excuse me but, ummm, “somewhere” is one word.  Why the big breath between “some” and “where”?  Yes, the woman has got some impressive pipes, and I’m familiar with the concept of Creative Phrasing, but this wasn’t that.

After Pink was done chopping up the word some…where, some… body in the room asked if any of us had seen Katy Perry’s performance of “Yesterday” during the 50th-Anniversary of The Beatles on Ed Sullivan tribute show that aired last month.

Why, yes, we had, and it was gratifying to learn that Ann and I were not the only ones who were genuinely impressed with that one performance.  With a bit of further discussion, a consensus quickly formed among us that that particular performance was the surprise highlight of a show that was pretty much filled with highlights – they were, after all, all Beatles songs…

Fortuitously, we’d reached a bit of an impasse in the evening’s programming.  We were watching the Oscarcast via our TiVo; Having started the playback about 30 minutes late, we could skip through all the commercials.  But just about the time Pink was done grinding Judy Garland’s rainbow into breathy little bits, the TiVo recording caught up to real time.  There was no buffer left for commercial skipping.

So, for the benefit of the few people in the room who hadn’t seen the Beatles thing, I pulled out my iPhone, went to YouTube, searched for “katy perry yesterday” and found a recording of her performance from that night; Then I  flipped the signal from the iPhone to the AppleTV to the flat panel HDTV via Airplay (Lefsetz just discovered this feature recently; we’ve been using it for a couple of years).

And so it came to pass that a living room full of boomers watched and listened to a contemporary cheesecake pop star deliver a song that we’ve been hearing since it was new –  with a measure of heart and soul that we probably haven’t heard in that song… well, since it was new.  And mind you, “Yesterday” may be the most covered, and most broadcast, song of all time. I think that song along has made Paul McCartney a billionaire.  So we’ve all heard it at least a million times.

But this delivery of this old chestnut was remarkable and noteworthy, even for a living room full of tired old baby boomers.

This was a very different Katy Perry from the one we’ve seen before, in magazines or on the Grammy show.  She wasn’t prancing around the stage with fireworks blasting from her boobs.  Quite the contrary, she wore some kind of billowing, flowered robe that looked like something that you could tuck a circus under.  And then she just stood there – and knocked the fucking song out of the park.

So here, for the benefit of anybody who might have missed it, is Katy Perry’s performance of “Yesterday” from the “Grammy Salutes The Beatles” show that was broadcast on the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on Feb 9, 1964.  Do yourself a favor and listen to it on some real speakers….

50 Years Since “The Aliens” Invaded

Like everybody else in the country, I’m thinking this morning about The Beatles.

BeatlesDC-2

Washington Coliseum – Feb 11, 1964

I’m posting because I want to pass along a piece I heard on NPR’s Weekend Edition/Saturday about the first live concert The Beatles performed after their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb 9, 1964 – fifty years ago today.

Their first concert was two days later in Washington DC.

The centerpiece of this NPR report is an interview with Mike Mitchell, at the time an 18-year-old photographer who somehow landed the plum gig of shooting this Beatles first U.S. concert.  The report revisits the venue, now a derelict building used mostly for a parking lot.

What struck me was the part where Scott Simon asks, “So what did they look like close up?”

And Mike Mitchell answers,

I’ve said before that they kind of were an alien species to us… At that point they looked incredibly fresh, you know, like a fresh iteration of the human race. Read More

A Celestial Jukebox in a Box: Sonos S5 System – And Still No Beatles

It's not exactly "Beatles… Abbey Road… Loud," but a new system offers some intriguing features, and excellent sound quality, even if it's a rather complicated system. David Pogue tries to figure out the Sonos S5: 

Sonos

The music sounds fantastic. Obviously, there’s not much sense of stereo-channel separation unless you have a very skinny head. But holy cow, the bass, the distinct instruments, the clarity — it’s all there. And with serious power. The higher volume settings are literally ear-splitting indoors. One S5 could fill a very large backyard with sound, and probably a school gym, without distortion or skipping.

This all sounds great, and it is great. But you hecklers in back are no doubt thinking: “Well, duh! Why not just buy a $95 AirPort Express pocket Wi-Fi base station, connect speakers to it and then control playback using Apple’s free Remote app on your iPhone/iPod Touch?”

This is true. That’s a wireless music system for a lot less money. There is, however, a caveat or five: the price doesn’t include speakers. That system doesn’t work when the computer is off or iTunes isn’t running. It doesn’t let you control the volume of each room. It doesn’t let you pipe different music to each room. It’s not nearly as easy to grab by the back-panel handle and carry out to the patio for a party. And the music sometimes drops out because it’s using Wi-Fi instead of Sonos’s much more reliable, stutter-free music signal.

via www.nytimes.com

The Sonos system has all kinds of digital sources, like your iTunes library, Rhapsody, Pandora, and Napster.  What's missing is (for me, anyway) is Lala.com.  

And while we're on the subject of the Beatles (we weren't really, but who's counting?) we'll take a minute to note that regardless of what system or technology you're using at home or on the road, you still can't deliver the Fab Four digitally by any means other than ripping your own CDs.  There are still not Beatles in iTunes, no Beatles on Pandora or (I assume) Rhapsody or Napster — there are no digital Beatles (something they have oddly in common with Garth Brooks).  

So we note with interest — and curiosity — that a website that thought it sell Beatles tunes online for 25-cents apiece has been shut down by a court in Los Angeles.  Apparently the purveyor believed he could alter the original recordings with "artistic touches based on a technique he pioneered called "psycho-acoustic simulation."

You really have to wonder what this guy was thinking.  The court wondered, too, and agreed with the attorneys who dismissed the whole ruse as "technobabble and doublespeak."