The Beatles Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years

 If you are a Hulu subscriber, then right now, you can watch a new documentary from Ron Howard about The Beatles. It is also playing in select theatres for a few days and yesterday I was lucky enough to see it at The Violet Crown in Charlottesville with fellow Beatles fanatic Dana. (I’m not sure why Richmond was skipped when they picked cities to screen the film, but that’s a story for another time.)

Shea Stadium, August 1965

When this film was announced earlier this year, I was all at once excited and skeptical. Excited because, the prospect of being able to manipulate the original audio from The Beatles’ live concert recordings so that the band could actually be heard was a very intriguing prospect; and skeptical because with over fifty years of hindsight, any interview given by the remaining band members (Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr) were bound to be layered with an almost sickening coat of nostalgia with none of the immediacy or intensity that is found in the archived live recordings.

 

I wanted to see this in the theatre because I wanted to see on the big screen, for the first time, how great John, Paul, George and Ringo were as a live unit. Yes the band changed popular music forever and they get lauded for their many studio inventions that have now become standard, but often overlooked is how tight and sharp they were onstage. Seeing ‘Twist and Shout’ from the Royal Variety Show in 1963, ‘All My Loving’ from their appearance on Ed Sullivan in February 1964, and especially the performances from Shea Stadium in 1965, I was thrilled that the crackle and excitement from those performances still transcends time and they hold up remarkably well. They are timeless. Seeing the live footage was worth the price of the ticket alone.

 One point I have to mention: Every once in a while, an artist gets tagged as “The Biggest Since The Beatles”; for a time it was Michael Jackson, New Kids on the Block got the moniker in the late 80s, Bieber has been called that recently. Really, there’s no true comparison between the domination The Beatles had in America and the world in 1964 and whatever and whoever came next. This movie drives that point home without stating it explicitly. 

The interviews with contemporaries are good for the most part, but one stands alone as being great; that’s Larry Kane. Kane traveled with the band during their second US tour in 1964 (“Twenty-five cities in thirty days” laments a tired Ringo in 1964 as the tour begins) and Kane was there again in 1965 (where he soon found that the lads had discovered marijuana). Kane’s recollections are vivid and sincere and, since I haven’t read any of his three Beatle-themed books, they were one of the few items in the film that was new to me.

 

And that’s the huge drawback with this documentary. It feels like I have seen this before, and, for the most part, I have. In 1995, The Beatles released a 10-hour documentary series called ‘Anthology’ which a lot (I reiterate a lot) of the material used in this film is lifted from. So, since The Beatles have already told their story before, there’s really nothing new here.

 

That doesn’t mean this film isn’t worth seeing. The live performances are breathtaking, and this film should remove any doubt anyone ever had that The Beatles were not a great live band. In the end, the film serves as a love note to Ringo, who has never really gotten his due. As I watched the footage from Shea Stadium, I was awestruck. Remember, The Beatles invented ‘Stadium Rock’ before the technology could actually support them. There was no PA system (save for what the stadium announcer used to announce baseball games), so none of the four on that stage could hear anything at all, except the screams of 56,000 fans. Ringo had to keep the band in time, and he did it all by watching choreography cues and hand gestures!! As Lennon once said in an interview (not included in the film) ‘The Beatles were the best f***in’ group in the goddamn world!’ That assertion makes Ringo circa 1966, the best drummer on the planet. Those who are quick to dismiss him as ‘only the drummer’ and the writer who gave us ‘Octopus’s Garden’, I hope they have their minds changed by watching this film.

 

Two quick notes in closing: The film does include some studio recordings, and it was a joy to hear the interplay between Paul and John while recording ‘Eight Days A Week’ and ‘A Day In The Life.’ There may not be many things left in the archive to release for public consumption, but I for one would love to see a two-disc set of studio banter and outtakes from The Beatles Recording Sessions released. It may suit a niche audience, but I would love to have that.

 

And, the film has many scenes that I have seen before, which allowed me to concentrate on miniscule nuances. Example: As the band plays Shea Stadium, it comes time for John to introduce the next number, which is ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy.’ He begins his intro, ‘We’d like to do a song…’ and then in a split second he blanks, looks back at Ringo and says off mic ‘F**k, what’s next?’ That moment (included in the film and repeated again in the complete Shea Stadium concert that airs in theatres after the documentary ends) was one that cracked me up. That show was a blur for them, so to see him forget his next line was no surprise, but it was very real.

 

If you are a longtime Beatles fan, you’ll see this movie. Don’t expect much of anything new, unless you’re a fan who has not yet seen ‘Anthology’; those fans (if there’s anyone who hasn’t seen Anthology yet) will love every minute of this movie. For the rest of us, we’ve seen this before, but this is a repeat no one will mind watching again…and again.

 

Word of advice from someone who saw it in a theatre: When watching at home, I suggest you turn the volume up very loud.

 –Barry 

Fire, Blood and Time Travel: KISS @Richmond Coliseum 09.09.16

First things first: If you are looking for objectivity, stop reading now. I have far too much invested in this band to be objective. How long have I been a KISS fan? Thursday September 15 marks thirty-nine years to the day since I got my first KISS album. The only other people I have longer relationships with are my mom and my brother.

So, objectivity went out the window around about 1987.

 

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let me say that this will not be your usual review of a show, but then, KISS is not your usual band.

 

KISS shows are always a good time, and for me a big reason they are so much fun is the chance to see other KISS fans; seeing fans who found the band in the mid-70s like I did, and fans who found the band in the 80s when videos for songs like ‘Tears Are Falling’ and ‘Crazy Crazy Nights’ were voted #1 on Dial MTV, and the coolest part, the really young kids who were seeing their first concert by any band ever. KISS fandom now spans 40+ years and multiple generations. Walking the concourse and seeing the little ones made up in face paint and some even in full mini-costume, it told me once again that KISS are far bigger than just the show and just the band on stage.

 

So, let’s talk about the band on stage.

 

As I have said before in this blog, music is memory. Last night, I was transported through time and space. When the band began the show by flying down from the rafters on a platform while playing my favorite KISSong ‘Detroit Rock City’, I saw for a moment what was happening on stage, but in my mind, I was taken back to the last time the band played this venue, in 2000 and had the same opening. When ‘Shout It Loud’ was played, I was taken back to the glory days of The Reunion Tour, when I literally had goosebumps and tears while watching the original four members on stage.

Last night, Paul Stanley, the ring leader and consummate frontman, did not have a voice. I had seen them before on nights when his voice was rough, but last night, it was such a far cry from what it used to be that, when Paul sang, I had to go back in my memory to a time when I heard the same song performed at a much higher caliber, and all at once combine the past and the present. Gene Simmons is doing in 2016 what Paul did throughout the 80s; he’s carrying the band and the live show. From about 1984-92, Paul took control of the band because Gene was busy trying to be an actor, a music business mogul and a talent scout. KISS was not Gene’s priority, and it showed in his songwriting (see: songs such as ‘Burn Bitch Burn’ and ‘No No No’). KISS on stage became ‘The Paul Stanley Show’ where Paul had very long stage raps after almost every song, but it helped keep the band afloat and, eventually Gene regained his focus on the band around 1992 and contributed one of the best songs of his career in ‘Unholy.’ I am not sure if the state of Paul’s voice is due to after effects from surgery he had on his vocal chords in 2011, or if it is just the cumulative effect of singing 100 nights a year for over forty years. Whatever the reason, I would imagine it has to be demoralizing in a sense for him, to know he once was one of, if not the best frontman of his era (see his performance of ‘I Still Love You from the 1995 KISS Unplugged performance, or listen to any of his songs on 1987’s ‘Crazy Nights’ to hear him at his peak) and, now he just can’t hit the notes anymore.

 

Which is why I thanked the Rock Gods for Gene Simmons last night; after a rocky first song, when ‘Deuce’ began with its signature riff and the fans on the floor screamed the opening line, for a moment, all was right with the world. Gene was able to deliver a sonic memory very close to what I saw and heard before. Gene is at times simply a loud, opinionated former reality TV star, but last night, when his band needed him to, he was able to muster up all of his Demon prowess and make sure no one in attendance left disappointed.

I decided to get this moment on tape. He’s been spitting fake blood since 1974; it still remains a highlight. 


 

There was a time on the Reunion Tour where Gene lost his voice and Paul had to sing all of the songs in the set. I don’t think it would ever happen (mainly because Gene would never bother to learn all of the verses to the songs Paul currently sings) but, if the band is determined to keep performing, maybe it’s time for Gene or drummer Eric Singer to sing lead on songs like ‘Love Gun’ or ‘Do You Love Me.’

 

The ‘Deep Cut’ that the band has featured on this tour is ‘Flaming Youth’ from 1976’s ‘Destroyer’ album. It’s always been a bit of an anomaly in their catalog (the studio version contains a calliope) and it’s a song that the band would never have attempted unless Eric Singer were behind the drums. Since the song has a strange time signature shift, I know if Peter Criss ever attempted to play it live, it would end about one minute in, and it would be a train wreck. The song though is in a range that wasn’t too taxing on Paul’s voice, so it was a highlight.

 

Now, for perhaps the strangest moments of the night: This tour is called ‘The Freedom To Rock Tour’ and KISS donate money in each city to The Wounded Warriors Project.’ They also hire a veteran to be a ‘KISS Roadie for a Day.’ Both are laudable and worthy actions. While I am all for patriotism, I just think from a pacing standpoint, the show grinded to a complete halt while Paul introduced Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, who came on stage to present KISS with the key to the city, and then Paul led the crowd in a recitation of The Pledge of Allegiance. Patriotism is cool, but I would rather hear one more song than go through that exercise at an arena rock show.

 

If I seem a bit negative, please understand that I still had a fantastic time, and a KISShow is still unlike any other event out there. I know that, even if I deemed parts of last night performance lackluster, there were fans of all ages that walked away having seen the best concert of their lives, and that speaks volumes about how unique a KISShow is. 

 

The last year has not been an easy one for me, for many reasons, and so I cannot put in to words how much I needed last night’s show, how much I needed to walk away with a sore neck from headbanging during ‘Deuce’ and a sore shoulder from raising my fist during ‘Cold Gin.’ It was a wonderful and necessary release for me, so I am thrilled I saw this show. But, I know this show was my last. I cannot imagine a scenario where I see this band again. I doubt they will play Richmond again, and I know I won’t travel to see them. In fact, there is part of me that hopes tonight’s last scheduled show of this tour (09.10.16) in West Virginia is the last arena show for KISS. Just end, with no hype and no apologies. I don’t expect this to happen, but it’s a nice thought.

 

Lastly, a KISS show these days is really for the older generation of fans to introduce their kids to the experience, and that was my take away last night. In the row directly in front of me was a little girl, maybe four or five years of age, in makeup and Paul costume. As she watched the spectacle unfold before her eyes while standing on her chair, she was enraptured the entire night, especially when the blizzard of confetti rained down on her. No matter how many shows she attends In her life, she will never forget the time her daddy took her to see KISS.

That’s pretty cool.

 

Thank you to all the family and friends who attended KISShows with me since 1988. It was always great to be able to share my fascination with KISS, in all of its incarnations, with all of you. This marked my 19th KISShow (not including when I went to Totonto to see Paul on stage as the Phantom of the Opera). Each show has been memorable and had moments I will never forget. 

Last night’s setlist:

Detroit Rock City

Deuce

 Shout It Out Loud

Do You Love Me

I Love It Loud

Flaming Youth

Bass Solo

God of Thunder

Psycho Circus

Shock Me

Guitar Solo

 Cold Gin

Lick It Up

War Machine

Love Gun

Black Diamond

(Encore:)

Beth

The Star-Spangled Banner

Rock and Roll All Nite

Thank you for reading,

Barry

(Proud member of The KISS Army since 1977)