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The Beatles and the Great Concert at Shea

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Critics' Reviews

amg review
Back in the early '90s, some enterprising soul got hold of the soundboard feed from a 1965 concert by the Beatles from Houston, which included not only the Liverpool quartet, but also all of the acts on the bill. The results were a revelation in terms of presenting a Beatles concert in full, something that no prior bootlegger had done, and that Capitol Records and the Beatles' business arm had never endeavored to offer. It was available for a short time as a box set and then disappeared, as these unauthorized underground productions tend to do.

The makers of this 2007 double-CD set have now outdone the work of their anonymous predecessors, turning to what was arguably the single most well-publicized concert of the Beatles' career and the entire British Invasion (no pop/rock concert had ever been presented in an outdoor sports arena before, and Shea Stadium was then brand new, and considered one of the wonders of the sports and entertainment world). This is the sort of handsome double-CD package that, if the source tapes were in slightly better shape, might well have been issued legitimately (perhaps as a deluxe, limited edition) sometime, on the Beatles' August 15, 1965 performance at Shea Stadium in New York: two CDs housed in a thin, compact, but heavily annotated and illustrated hardcover book. But it didn't appear legitimately; rather, it was some anonymous bootlegger who has done the job, and done it exceedingly well. The makers of this set got access to the unedited line-feed of the audio from the show, which reverses the usual problems inherent in any Beatles concert of the period: the audience noise, so overwhelming on most of their shows, is pushed into the background here, while the voices and instruments are where they should be, upfront and in center stage. Not that there aren't problems, including sound leakages and balances that make much of the recording very bass-heavy, and the occasional loss of instruments and vocals in the recording, due to moment-to-moment electrical anomalies at the time of the event. But overall this is the best presentation of the Beatles' music in a concert setting from the arena phase of their international career that has yet surfaced. And while there are some intermittent problems with the performance, mostly owing to the fact that the bandmembers could scarcely hear themselves, much less what their fellow musicians were playing and singing, it's also surprisingly tight for most of its length -- the group hadn't yet lost its edge from too many gigs of this sort, and were still giving basically good (even great) performances, even if the audience itself was no longer able to hear them through the noise. One must still adjust one's ears to get past the bass-heavy bias, but it's easy to appreciate the flourishes and excitement they brought to "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby," "Can't Buy Me Love" etc., especially on the break of the latter; even with their hopelessly tiny and under-powered amplifiers pushed to the limit, in a setting much too large for what they were trying to do, it's possible to hear the nuances of the playing, and the proper live rendition of "Act Naturally," sung by Ringo Starr (which was replaced by the record for the official film of this show) is also here, and the drummer does as well on his vocal spot as any of the other members of the group. What's more, the complete between-song patter is heard for the first time, which allows us to hear Paul McCartney's humor at the expense of "Baby's in Black" on his intro as well as other revealing moments. There are flaws, to be sure, including momentary dropouts, which mostly happen between songs, but do seriously mar the performance of "Help!" And their singing gets a bit raw toward the end, as the toll of the members trying (vainly for the most part) to be heard becomes a bit much after almost 40 minutes on-stage.

The producers have cheated a bit on this release, by editing the event so that the Beatles' set opens the first CD, but they're not naive enough to ignore why most people will be buying this item. So we get the Beatles' set, including the introduction by Ed Sullivan, and then the performances by King Curtis, the Discotheque Dancers, Cannibal & the Headhunters, Brenda Holloway, and Sounds Incorporated (of whom the latter appear on the second platter, which also contains the soundtrack to the finished BBC film of the Beatles' concert from that night, with its extensive sweetening and redubbing). The opening support acts' spots have most of the same technical flaws as the Beatles' set, with drop-outs in spots and even some tape stretching. But, despite some leakages and balance problems, the King Curtis set -- which includes "What'd I Say" and "Soul Twist" -- is great, and one heartily wishes that they had performed longer; the same goes for Cannibal & the Headhunters (who -- marred by some tape stretch at one point and balance shifts, interference, and tape damage elsewhere -- perform "Out of Sight," "The Way You Do the Things You Do," and "Land of 1000 Dances"), and Brenda Holloway. It shows a valiant effort by all of these acts to do the best kind of show they knew how, in a setting that was physically at least a dozen times beyond the limitations of their equipment. Holloway's set, one should add, is the one least marred by any shortcomings of any kind, and could be released commercially even today, and she is a wonder to hear on "Shake," "Satisfaction," "I Can't Help Myself" etc. Sounds Incorporated comes off well, too, running through Leonard Bernstein's "America," the "William Tell Overture," and "In the Hall of the Mountain Kings," among other familiar fare from their output, achieving surprising fidelity -- one suspects that the producers of the show were ironing out technical glitches throughout the opening sets, so that they could have everything working as well as possible for the Beatles' set that followed immediately after this.

This release will also alter the perceptions by modern audiences of the effort that went into the Beatles concerts of the era. Listeners from the '70s onward have had the impression, thanks to the various edited versions of the Beatles' sets that have appeared, legitimately and otherwise, that the group was demanding full ticket prices (then a little over $2!) for 28 minutes of music. In fact, as we learn here, the quartet was on-stage for over 40 minutes and the total length of the show, with the opening acts, was over 90 minutes; a lot of time is spent with various DJs, including Bruce Morrow (aka "Cousin Brucie"), Hal Jackson, Gary Stevens, Dean Anthony, and Murray the K, introducing various performers and doing some comic shtick, but they did try to give people more than their money's worth. It's also interesting to note, based on the audience reaction that we do hear, that some of the frenzied crowd of 55,000 mostly younger teens were trying to listen -- there is definite reaction to the introductions of the soul acts that make up the bulk of the program, and evidently some of those in attendance were there to hear music and not just scream their lungs out over John, Paul, George, and Ringo. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

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