Monday, April 22, 2019

The Greatest Beatles Performance of All Time



The Greatest Beatles Performance of All Time

Months before the The Ed Sullivan Show, the band played a seven-song set for Swedish radio that settles any doubt about their electrifying live presence.

With their last club residency in Hamburg’s boozed-up Reeperbahn district less than a year in the past, the Beatles were still one kickass bar band: adrenaline junkies with something punkish about them, though that punk vibe was shot through with rhythm and blues. But unlike when the band played Hamburg, now they had their own formidable compositions to perform.

They open with Paul McCartney’s “I Saw Her Standing There,” and they immediately make clear that this is going to be a full-speed affair. The sound isn’t just loud; it’s over-loud, possibly the loudest rock and roll anyone had ever cut to date. The guitars distort, adding abraded edges that make the song sound more lascivious than it is, the lines of “She was just 17 / If you know what I mean” now sufficiently scabrous to get the likes of Humbert Humbert up and dancing. The four guys sound thrilled, maybe over the fact that for once hardly anyone is screaming back at them.

If you’re a connoisseur of live recordings, you want one thing above all else: energy. Ballads can have it, death metal songs can have it, pop numbers, folk tunes, anything, potentially. It’s what binds material as disparate as Eric Dolphy and Booker Little’s Five Spot dates, Böhm’s Tristan und Isolde, and Jerry Lee Lewis’s Live at the Star Club. But what’s neat about this Beatles gig is that the band members themselves seem, in the very moments of their music-making, to clock on to this same idea—energy is the thing—and tease it out.
There are only two surviving Beatles concert recordings that feature the band playing both “Money” and “Twist and Shout,” conceivably their two most intense numbers. One reason is that singing both songs in a single session was no easy feat, as John Lennon absolutely screamed both of them. But we’re definitely getting “Money” here, and Lennon can’t wait to offer some input as the intro begins, letting loose a “Yeahhhh Yeahhhhh!” off-mike. The dual-guitar attack has what would become the Velvet Underground’s trademark fuzz to it, only sped up.
A version of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” follows, and it bests the Beatles’ studio version—the faster pace helps. Then it’s on into “You Really Got a Hold on Me” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, rhythmically complex black music that gawky British white kids aren’t supposed to be able to play well. Lennon isn’t fazed, though. He gives the song a jokey intro, telling everyone who it’s by in a slowed-down, take-some-notes-class kind of voice. The song itself is pure, bottomless groove, with Lennon letting his voice simply skip atop it, easy peasy, save that none of it is. 

Still, none of that prepares you for “She Loves You.” There is no more orgastic sound in all of rock and roll than when the opening chorus of “She Loves You” segues into Ringo’s cymbal explosion—a most tingly explosion—as the first verse begins. This is the sound of release, and on stage, here in Sweden, release is communal and energy palpable.

After “She Loves You,” there could be but one conclusion to the gig, one possible way of upping the energy further. The guitars are out of tune on “Twist and Shout,” but it’s easy to like them that way, and you get a deeper appreciation for the part they played in giving the studio version its rhythmic foundation. George Harrison—always a volume buff—and Lennon are clearly having a blast with throttling away on their guitars, and McCartney’s madman scream eggs Lennon on further on the final vocal pass. Nutso, unhinged, intense—and yet, controlled—stuff.