The Beatles Live on in ‘Eight Days a Week’ | NBC Chicago

The Beatles Live on in ‘Eight Days a Week’

Ron Howard's documentary about the band's touring days offers a new look at the act you've known all these years.

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    The Beatles in action. (AP Photo)

    There's a great – and telling – sequence during the Beatles' first concert at New York's Shea Stadium when John Lennon, grinning maniacally, sweeps his right elbow back and forth along the Vox organ keys while playing "I'm Down."

    He captures both the band's elation over their biggest show ever – and the frustrating futility of struggling to be heard above the jet-like roar of 55,600 screaming fans.

    A little over a year later, the group, tired of touring, finished their last-ever paid concert at San Francisco's Candlestick Park on Aug. 29, 1966. They turned to producing innovative recording studio masterpieces like "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" that eventually would overshadow the early Beatlemania days. 

    Director Ron Howard vies to set the record straight on the group's years as a live act with a new documentary slated to hit theaters Friday and Hulu the next day. "The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – Touring Years" offers an expanded look at the legacy of act you've known all these years.

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    Sure, no nostalgia-dripping TV report on the Beatles is complete without the requisite clips of teens screaming as the band plays on. But, for all millions of feet of footage shot of the Fab Four, there's little in the way of high-quality concert video.

    The years, though, have paid off: Digital technology provided new opportunities for sound clarity. Plus, Howard tracked down long-unseen film, including amateur footage capturing the end of the Candlestick gig.

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    The past decades also have yielded an expanded fan base: More than 150 million people have been born in America alone since the Beatles quit touring a half-century ago.

    It's a good bet that many of the folks responsible for streaming 250 million Beatles tunes in the band’s first month on Spotify are among that demographic. It’s also likely the new, extended and enhanced version of "The Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl" album, timed to the release of the documentary, will grab fans by the ears.

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    Lennon famously told Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner that the Beatles’ "best work was never recorded," referring to their early Liverpool and Hamburg club days, of which there are limited surviving tapes. The closest fans can get to the group’s live performing days are concerts by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, who use modern amplifiers built to be heard.

    Howard’s documentary promises a more modest, if tantalizing chance to get back to a time when the band that went on to become music’s biggest-selling recording act was the most electrifying live act of them all.

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    Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.