From saki@evolution.bchs.uh.edu Wed Nov 16 09:37:20 CST 1994
The Fabs: Is it live or is it....<BR>

The Fabs: Is it live or is it....

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In article <1025834974.3581@neb.babylon.montreal.qc.ca> James_Ciminera@babylon.montreal.qc.ca writes: Re: "Sgt. Pepper":
>>>This album DID revolutionize music... and
>>>music would not be the WAY it is without it....
>
> Yes, but those values are everything that I dislike about music today. The
>overproduction and slickness. I doubt that there is a Beatle album in
>existance that is as powerful as some of their early live appearences in
>Germany. By SP they had lost the fire....

I've heard this one before.

Somehow I suspect that it's not the whole truth.

Admittedly the legend is firmly entrenched: in their element, dressed like leather-clad Teds, sweat-soaked, slogging through endless evenings of sleeplessness and smoke, pumped up with pills and beer and an occasional rare meal, pouring out their very soul into the dank night air of Hamburg and Liverpool.

This was the purest extract of Beatles, so it is writ. This was their veritable golden hour. All else was mere afterword, an aberrant epilogue to their erstwhile moment of musical ecstasy.

Who---besides the Fabs themselves :-)---really thinks this is all there was to their magic?

Don't get me wrong. There was magic enough in those wilder years. Plenty of witnesses will attest to it...those at Litherland; those at the Cavern. There were afternoons and evenings of the most unexplainable melodic fury, an enmeshing of performer and watcher. It was a phenomenon every bit as bewildering as Beatlemania---and it *was* a protomorphic version of it, in a sense.

It bewildered the senses because it was so unexpected. Everyone knows the Fabs didn't start out as the best band in Merseyside. There were other groups (Rory Storm, The Big Three) with apparent greater potential, or so everyone said. How the Beatles matched, and surpassed, that expectation remains an unsolvable equation.

Alas, we have precious few images, either sound or video, to help us picture what was going on. The Beatles' craft grew from these live gigs, hammered and shaped by long hours and ceaseless song. Some evidence gives just the wrong impression: viz., the tapes made in Hamburg on 31 December 1962, the famous "Star Club" sessions. Sure, the Boys were "live", but barely so that night; they didn't want to be there, after all, now that they had a recording contract and were on the edge of releasing their second single. You hear the deadly lethargy in their set, the plodding reluctance of their mood. That night they were not Mersey's pride.

There's a better clue in the famed Granada tape, the footage filmed just days after Ringo had joined, captured at the Cavern in August 1962. But it's still just a hint of what must've been ten times more explosive in that heavy basement atmosphere: the barely-restrained stage presence, their suits askew, the oft-chanted verses of Liverpool's favorite ditty, "Some Other Guy". Caught in the very genesis of their fame as a foursome, you can feel an electrical pulse in your soul as they channel their heat into the air.

And yet *live*, legend has it, they were even more devastating than this. Their power was more profound. Their conquest more pervasive. John used to wax nostalgic for these halcyon days. And some claimed, beyond all logic, that the Fabs were better live than ever on record.

Was it really so?

I've no doubt that the Boys enjoyed their freedom more; they had, apparently, the local world at their feet, a growing entourage of acolytes. They could wander Whitechapel's streets unimpeded, and yet they could enrapture the faithful by stomping the stage every night, seducing each ear with their rare vocal blend.

It must've been a nice enough life.

So what made them search beyond it for something more?

For that's what happened. Myth claims that the Beatles were already more powerful in the Cavern's embrace than they could ever be in the harsher world of popdom.

So why listen to what brought Mr. Epstein there? Why attend to promises of greater fame, of wider bookings, of toppermosts and poppermosts?

Brian's promise was indeed bold: entranced by their musical passion, if not their physical charisma, Brian (never before having done this) vowed to help them find fame beyond the Mersey's reach. And it was John, on behalf of the group, who gave him leave to help them break through Liverpool's loyal environs and inscribe their name in the charts.

Truth be told, this was the inevitable step. They wanted more than to be a footnote in pop history, the best local band in the North. Perhaps unable to articulate it, they felt the desire to transform the heights of pop music...quite beyond the old joys and jolts of the stage. Even in Liverpool, reports Mark Lewisohn, they began to see the dead end of that world. Maybe this helps explain how most of their live shows, preserved on tape or film, show precious little of their youthful joy. The real truth is that the fire was already elsewhere, housed in Lennon & McCartney's fertile compositional prowess and in the studio's allure.

Considering the excitement engendered by these Fabs more than thirty years after their first hits, one has to wonder how it could be that they were even more of a powerhouse on stage than on record. Especially when the circumstances at hand suggest otherwise. You can always chalk it up to the Golden Age fallacy, the theory that makes all of us look back to some time in our own personal history when all was grand and gilt-edged.

Let the historian beware. All that glisters, as they say, is not so unimpeachably golden.

Accept, if you will, that the Beatles were masters of musical passion, that they invented their version of it, and made their fans resonate in its waves whenever they took to the stage...and you might as well anguish over its loss---an unknowable, barely imaginable harmonic potency, made more strong by irrepressible myth, made more precious by its distance.

Where do you think that power went when the Boys stepped into the studio? Did it vanish utterly? Did it sleep? Was their creative soul slain by the hard reality of two-track, four-track, edit bits, overdubs, double tracks? By two- and three-part harmonies rehearsed with care and compulsion? By backward drums and tape loops, unconventional sounds and instruments? Was their real energy splintered into bits by their focus on self-penned words and tunes?

Was their *real* career over by 1962?

If that's what your ears perceive, I beg you to listen again. You're missing something vital---a force which changed popular music, a new wave so profound that pundits could scarcely see how much the Fabs made the past and the future recombinant, borrowing from their idols, building new musical icons.

It's the same force which the Beatles forged on stage during those antique years of cheap guitars and broken amps...but the men who made these sounds wrote out the deft translation of their past, embedded it in their new syncopation. Even when you change from one dialect to another, you're bound to leave something behind. But look what they gained in its stead! Their music on vinyl still electrifies those who let it flow in their veins...even those who were not born in time to hear its first pulse.

Power, you say? :-) Give these four guys some credit! They harnessed their outer anarchy. They transformed themselves---and their music---into a message that still resonates with inner light...and may well illumine music's path long after we and the dim sacred basements of their past have succumbed to dust.

--
"When they were together they wondered what for after all, what for? So all of a sudden they all grew guitars and formed a noise".--- saki@evolution.bchs.uh.edu (saki) Click here to return to the rmb home page.

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