It's not quite what it says on the tin! This 4-disc (3-CDs-plus-DVD) box is subtitled "The Very Best Of The Beatles Broadcasting Live 1962-64", which actually gives a more accurate picture of the contents. Documentation is almost non-existent, but then these recordings will be expected to speak for themselves.
Disc 1 starts out pre-radio-session, though, with the mono single version of Love Me Do that featured Ringo (it's complicated, but the note recounts that it was later replaced by the album cut with Andy White on drums…). The disc also contains the BBC Saturday Club session of 16th March 1963, long thought lost; mostly good stuff, and an indication of the band's high degree of expertise and no-frills polish, even then, while retaining much of the Cavern era energy. The band's repertoire was on the cusp, between albums, with better-than-efficient covers rubbing shoulders with increasingly accomplished original compositions. Having said that, Too Much Monkey Business and Hippy Hippy Shake do let the side down a touch, notably in the vocal department. There are one or two alarming drops in recording quality (the first half-minute of From Me To You for instance), but no really serious problems otherwise considering the age and provenance of the tracks.
The final four selections (I think) are from the TV show Live At The Palladium - well, one of the shows (the Beatles appeared on the show twice, so it could be either October 1963 or early 1964, but we're not told which); they incorporate some stage banter exhorting audience participation, as well as an orchestra-pit trot through Twist & Shout. It's confusing, and certainly not the complete Palladium Beatles story. Another instance of unhelpful (or should I say complete lack of) supporting information.
Disc 2 features the 1964 live-to-air TV broadcasts from New York, Miami and Blackpool, and these demonstrate just how genuinely proficient the Fab Four were when performing absolutely live: well drilled yes, but spontaneously musical too. The first two of these were, of course, the famous Ed Sullivan Shows - from 9th and 16th February respectively. Highlight of the New York set is probably I Saw Her Standing There, whereas the parallel rendition of that song from Miami brings John's rasping harmony vocal a little too close for comfort. The lads' guitar prowess is especially notable on the Miami broadcast, and Ringo's drumming combines feeling and drive (even if All My Loving is pounded out somewhat!). This Boy receives a particularly beautiful reading on the Miami show. Finally, the Blackpool show differs completely from the American broadcasts in that it showcases A Hard Day's Night and sundry contemporaneous songs including You Can't Do That, rounding off with a storming Long Tall Sally. The Blackpool set also includes a modicum of ad-hoc song intros. The screaming of the audiences is mixed down pretty well, so that the sheer power of the music is everything.
Disc 3 presents the previously unreleased complete recording of the Philadelphia concert that was broadcast live by WIGB-FM in 1964: a dozen songs, taking us through the gamut from Twist And Shout and She Loves You to If I Fell and (just to feature Ringo) Boys. Although the brief accompanying note states that this is "not the finest quality in recording terms", I don't find this to be the case, certainly in comparison with some of Disc 1. But the concert certainly shows how far the band had grown in terms of tightness, "the complete act" and their confident stagecraft hand in hand with their musical accomplishment.
The DVD presents the remastered sound and pictures from the two above-mentioned live-on-air broadcasts of the Ed Sullivan Shows that took place on 9th and 16th February 1964. These effectively captured America for the Beatles, and are probably so well viewed as to need no further comment. To these is appended a 25-minute documentary, which contains extracts from the main broadcasts and a certain degree of commentary but doesn't really add much to our knowledge.
All told, the digital remastering and restoration has produced perfectly listenable results, if with some inevitably rough moments. I'll repeat my above moan about the lack of documentation for this box - I'm sure something better than a cover-tray print of little more than a tracklist could have been managed. A bit of a missed opportunity, then.
Since this review was submitted, it's been announced that legendary Beatles producer, Sir George Martin, has passed away. His importance to British pop history is almost incalcuable, so we'll raise a glass to him in celebration of his life and our thoughts are with his family and friends.
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