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Ron Howard's 'Eight Days a Week' Is a Sweet, Slightly Empty Treat for Beatles Fans

TV/Film ReviewEthan WilliamsComment

How do you even begin to break down the immense mythology of a group widely considered to be the greatest of all time into something digestible and accessible but also still reverent? The eight years of musical, visual, historical, economical, political and social impact The Beatles left behind looms like a giant block of marble that should only intimidate any author or documentarian foolish enough to try and mold it into a singular experience that does the group justice.

And yet in truth, it’s insanely difficult to craft a bad movie around the story of the Fab Four. For all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the band’s legacy, any filmmaker who deigns to cover the band’s story essentially has the perfect subjects: four of the most affable, down-to-earth, creative and interesting people who ever walked the Earth. The filmmakers have a smorgasbord of every kind of song imaginable at their disposal to set a mood or tone, a majority of which are already in pop music’s pantheon of greatest ever. So really you’ve only got yourself to blame if you can make a bad film with all of that at your disposal.

With that said, at this point in history it is much easier to make a boring film about The Beatles. After so many books and documentaries covering every inch and aspect of The Beatles’ career, at some point a hardcore fan can only get so much out of a “new” interpretation a storyteller tries to craft out of that eight year marble block without some hint of what’s already come before.

And Ron Howard’s latest documentary begins dangerously on that cusp of blandness, threatening to turn into just a shiny new coat of paint on the same storyline even the most casual of Beatles fan is conscious of. The montage of those rough n’ tumble nights in Hamburg coupled with their subsequent haircuts/suits that led to Please Please Me’s chart-topping overnight success... it threatens on yada-yada-yada territory before the real fun actually begins.

Where Eight Days a Week begins to differentiate itself is in making you feel the absolute and all-consuming chaos of an event that was The Beatles’ touring years. A treasure trove of great concert material has been carefully remastered and restored for this documentary (a perfect justification for the film’s existence if you really needed one) and the footage of swaths of young people screaming their heads off, rushing stages, and evading police makes you feel just how singular an experience the Beatles were in history. Nothing had ever happened like this before and nothing would ever again.

The baby boomer generation was desperate for a way to express themselves, and these unassuming, charming lads with similar haircuts and incredible songwriting and vocal abilities came along and changed everything,These four young men were at the center of the world’s biggest cultural maelstrom and somehow trying to maintain their own sanity. The film runs you through the elation of Ed Sullivan and Shea Stadium all the way through to the bitter end at the KKK rallies in Memphis and the miserable Candlestick park final gig.

Their cheery and cheeky demeanor on that electric first tour of America heartbreakingly contrasted with the weariness of the magnifying glass is the film’s biggest success. It makes the mere existence of any Beatles music that followed the madness of their touring years seem like a God-given miracle.

The film wisely chooses to focus on the band’s overwhelming unity during these progressively trying times and puts a sunny disposition on the group’s overall dynamic. It’s nice to have a Beatles documentary that pits The Beatles against the world when so many others like to focus on their internal battles that came later. Those touring years, as Ringo mentions in the film, were when The Beatles had to look out for each other first and foremost. So while it may feel dishonest to exclude the turmoil of their later studio work, it’s impossible to deny the bond the Fab Four shared with one another.

There’s a few glaring omissions in terms of Beatles lore, in particular manager Brian Epstein is paid an abysmal amount of lip service considering how especially important he was to the success of this period of the Beatles career and in terms of interviewees, there’s hardly much on offer that hasn’t been stated better elsewhere (for instance the only real archival interview footage with George comes from the superior if exhaustive Beatles Anthology), and a few subjects may leave you scratching your head about their inclusion but overall it’s good fun and good-natured even if it doesn’t forge a brand new vision of history.

While hardcore fans familiar with most of these intimate details may not find anything revelatory here, it’s worth the price of admission for the glut of restored and remastered footage of some classic Beatles concerts and if you’re able to see it in theaters, the entire Shea Stadium concert plays following the movie, fully restored in 4K with remastered sound. It goes down like a smooth, soothing ale for those of us already under the Fab Four’s spell, while still providing those looking for an accessible entry point to the Beatles’ early career with a satisfying result.

Whitney Shuns Buzz Band Banality on 'Light Upon the Lake'

Music ReviewSean McHughComment

No band in the history of everything has managed to avoid “death” in the sense that all bands – from The Beatles to your favorite local proto-punk-neo-folk-soul group – break up for one reason or another, with varying degrees of adversity and dramaticism. Obviously, The Beatles disbanded in 1970, but weren’t “definitively” broken up until Mark David Chapman read Catcher in the Rye in December of 1980, and as far your favorite local proto-punk-neo-folk-soul group is concerned, their drummer Keith was promoted to the late shift manager at Starbucks, so he won’t be able to practice most evenings, and proto-punk-neo-folk-soul drummers are at a premium in Des Moines. But silly comparisons aside, band breakups are rarely ever a joyous occurrence – tensions run high, bridges are burned, and once-hopeful fans are left with a finite discography.

So, when a particularly “buzzy” band such as Smith Westerns calls it a quits, the resulting career uncertainty for the former members can become increasingly unsettling to the devout follower. Fortunately, the legacy that follows Smith Westerns’ end looks to be far more promising than whatever outlook the original group may have had. Former front-man Cullen Omori made his way over to Sub Pop and released his solid solo debut with New Misery in March, and now, former Smith Westerns drummer Julien Ehrlich (who also had a stint in Unknown Mortal Orchestra) and guitarist Max Kackacek have banded together to form Whitney, and release a wonderfully jangly 70s-revival debut record, Light Upon the Lake.

Light Upon the Lake begins with a stellar album opener in “No Woman,” a seemingly mawkish entrance that meanders aimlessly as Ehrlich’s soft-cooing vocals opine about waking up in Los Angeles and experiencing an indefinite and tiresome change. Kackacek’s deceptively smooth '70s Martin-esque riffs eventually lead the track in a decidedly more confident direction, with a cacophony of horns closing out the introductory track. The succeeding tracks on Light Upon the Lake see an uptick in tone and vibrancy as “The Falls” feels like a mix of Vulfpeck percussive piano playful nudging Ehrlich’s lyrical musings on losing control, leading into “Golden Days,” the wax poetic (and indie rock right of passage) chronicling of some relationship passed (can’t help but think there might be some Smith Westerns undertones) – “It’s a shame we can’t get it together now.”

Where many might try and incorporate aspects of past projects into their current one, Whitney does a fantastic of presenting a definite tone and substantive grip of who Whitney is, namely in the band’s consistent use of horns, bouncing piano, and clean Martin riffs deftly maneuvered by Kackacek – especially on the album’s eponymous standout, “Light Upon the Lake.” The overall feel of Light Upon the Lake could be likened to The Band meets UMO with flecks of Vulfpeck and Blake Mills – in short, its wholly unique. The album features a number of punk sensibilities when it comes to lyrical verisimilitude and general brevity – the three song stretch of “No Matter Where I Go,” “On My Own,” and “Red Moon” runs a whopping 5:38 – with “On My Own” into “Red Moon” being the most impressive track pairing of the bunch, primarily for the excellent showcasing of horns mixed with Kackacek’s ever-tasteful licks. All in all, the two strongest aspects of Light Upon the Lake are Kackacek’s guitar expertise and the incorporation of harmonious brass work – making the record distinctly modern but also managing to hearken back to a softer time in rock music.

Light On the Lake closes out as sweetly and satisfyingly as it opened, with the uber-funk fuzz of “Polly” marking it as best track on the album, a soft cooing-ballad that has features undertones of disenchanted realism under the guise of happy rhythms and horns. The album closes with “Follow” - the sonic sibling of “Polly” – setting Light On the Lake’s with as positive an outlook as any debut featuring lyrics like “I know I’ll hear the call any time…” that lend credence to the visionary nature of Light On the Lake as a whole. “Follow” allows the record to help establish Whitney as more than just another buzz band, but rather a supremely melancholic (but not miserable) introduction steeped with perspective that maintains an ultimately warm purview of the band’s future. Expect to see Light Upon the Lake on many a "year end" list, including Transverso's, as the record exemplifies the ideal dulcet tones of an indie band debut.  

A Very Transverso Holiday: 50 Songs for the Season

Music ListTransverso MediaComment

The holidays are a magical time of year, a time often evoked through the use of song. We at Transverso have decided to collect some of our favorite festive tunes into a playlist for you and yours to enjoy in the coming days, beginning with the original Christmas song, Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime."

These 50 seasonal tracks are sure to be the perfect soundtrack as you hang ornaments on your tree, bake cookies, or leave your young son at home without supervision in a crime-ridden Chicago suburb for an extended period of time.