By the time The Beatles hit North America, they had three years’ worth of live performances behind them. A mixture of touring their homeland and performing their infamously gruelling residencies at Hamburg’s Star-Club had ensured that John, Paul, George and Ringo were veterans of the road. They’d earned themselves a devoted fanbase in the UK and, with Beatlemania in full flow at the start of 1964, set their sights on the States.
By this point, the group might reasonably have assumed they’d seen everything an audience could throw at them – quite literally, in the case of the Hamburg shows – but, if anything, the stateside crowds that gathered to greet Britain’s finest were even more overwhelming than the ones back home. The Beatles made their first impressions in the US through a live performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, beamed directly into North American homes on 9 February 1964; attracting an estimated 73 million viewers – the largest audience rating in the history of the venerated US institution – the appearance single-handedly kicked-started the British Invasion and turned The Beatles into household names overnight.
With performances in Washington and at New York’s legendary Carnegie Hall sandwiched in between, the group made two more appearances on the show, on consecutive Sundays, before returning home, very much leaving the US wanting more. When they came back to the States in the summer, however, The Beatles followed in the footsteps of many a pioneer before them – they moved west.
Which is how they ended up at the iconic Hollywood Bowl on 23 August 1964. Second perhaps only to Shea Stadium in terms of sheer scale, this 1964 show was the first of three appearances that the group would make in the space of 12 months. A two-night stand, on 29 and 30 August, would follow in 1965, and it’s the finest moments of these three shows that were captured for posterity on the 1977 live album The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl.
Arguably capturing the frenzy of Beatlemania better than any other document, the notoriously scream-laden tapes have been revisited by Giles Martin and Abbey Road engineer Sam Okell, who now re-present the album as Live At The Hollywood Bowl. With four bonus tracks in tow, the results finally give fans the chance to clearly hear The Beatles on stage during this period – even if “the boys” couldn’t hear themselves.
The new master doesn’t entirely dispense with the unhinged screams of nearly 20,000 Beatlemanics crammed into the Bowl – and that’s a good thing. Hearing the crowd rend themselves into bits over the mere sight of Britain’s finest is still startling, five decades later. You get the sense that The Beatles are in the eye of the storm – only the storm is an insatiable hurricane that threatens to consume everything in its path, and, ultimately, itself. And yet the group soldier on, performing their songs with a remarkable sense of poise, given the mania that surrounds them.
In these conditions, ‘Twist And Shout’ – recently moved from closer to opener in their setlist – surpasses even the famed Please Please Me album version for intensity, Lennon letting rip with a ferocious vocal most singers would save to the end of their performance. Yet for all the explosive energy on display, Live At The Hollywood Bowl also reveals just what consummate musicians The Beatles were. Despite the chaos surrounding them, the group remain professional throughout – and though they famously claimed to never be able to hear themselves play over the screams of the audience (“Can you hear me?” McCartney asks at one point), one listen to ‘Ticket To Ride’ suggests that didn’t matter: Harrison’s opening lead line is note-perfect, as is Ringo’s precision drumming.
That’s not to say their personalities don’t shine through. Trading song introductions, Lennon and McCartney are both gracious hosts and knowing double act. Finding humour in the situation they find themselves in, their playful asides – Lennon at one point even breaking into laughter at the absurdity of the crowd – are a touching reminder that somewhere among the maelstrom there remained four lads from Liverpool, playing music together and changing the world.