Why the Beatles’ 1964 Washington D.C. Concert Kicks Ass

Last week, on  a rainy Friday evening, The American Cinematheque showcased a screening of The Beatles first concert in America: the Washington D.C. Coliseum, 1964 to a sold out audience. The energy of that performance, which has only intensified with age, left every last one of us riveted.

Which is the reason for this blog post. Apologies just might be in order: I’m an unabashed Fangirl.

1.) No Pyrotechnics. No HD Mega Screens. No sound monitors of ANY kind.

Today, the production of a concert is just as memorable as the music itself– and, often, moreso. Laser light shows. Pyrotechnics. Fireworks. All the bells and whistles that can keep the audience keen. On Febraury 11 1964,however, what the audience got was a concert as performed by your local high school band. Only … they kinda happen to be the best rock band on the planet.

You can easily count the number of amps they’re using because… they’re all on the stage. In a stockpile. One, two, three, four … five amplifiers. The boys were using Vox AC-30 amps that night, just as they had used back in Britain for about a year or so. Their sound was sharp, hard and clear– perfect for the clang of an early 60s guitar. But… still… 30 watts! It wasn’t until 1965 that Vox would design a special 100 watt amp specifically for the Beatles, and so they relied on 30 watt amplifiers to feed a crowd of three thousand hysterical, screaming teenage girls. Without sound monitors. Today, it would take four of Vox’s AC-30 amps to equate to one Vox Valvetornic amp. I’d love to see some of our over produced contemporary bands try something like that!

The Beatles in Concert. Photo by Rowland Sherman

2.) U.F.O.s.

Today, a high-profile band is guarded by 400 pound security gorillas armed with oozies. In 1964? It was every man for himself. The Beatles were shoved onto a plywood 20 x 20 stage guarded by a few white-collar pencil pushers as a hysterical teenage audience pelted them with… jelly beans. The gesture was meant to be affectionate as it was a well known piece of Beatle-lore amongst teenage fans that the Beatles loved jelly babies. But in England, jelly babies are a soft little candy. Their American cousins, jelly beans? Quite another story. Recounts George Harrison:

That night, we were absolutely pelted by the fuckin’ things. They don’t have soft jelly babies there; they have hard jelly beans. To make matters worse, we were on a circular stage, so they hit us from all sides. Imagine waves of rock-hard little bullets raining down on your from the sky. It’s a bit dangerous, you know, ’cause if a jelly bean, travelling about 50 miles an hour through the air, hits you in the eye, you’re finished! … Every now and again, one would hit a string on my guitar and plonk off a bad note as I was trying to play.

3.) Rock and Roll

In the years before albums like Sgt. Pepper, Revolver or Rubber Soul pushed the boundaries of contemporary music, The Beatles were just a straight up Rock and Roll band.  They idolized black American R&B, emulated its raw intensity and the result was magic. This rendition of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally had been a stage staple since the early 60s, when The Beatles were nothing more than cellar regulars at The Cavern Club.

It has rarely been played with more purity and energy than this two minute bit in D.C.:

4.) RINGO

Ringo tends to get a hell of a lot of flack. People dismiss him as just a third wheel, a yes-man, or the luckiest substitute drummer in the history of music. Truth is: Ringo rocks. He was a major name in Liverpool WAY before The Beatles were even a blip on the radar and did the Lads a favor by playing with them over in Hamburg.

And if you insist on demeaning his skill as a musician, I highly suggest first taking in this particular number from the Washington D.C. concert.

Not only does he showcase his worth as a major percussionist… he is the man of the match!

5.) THE FANS

For the few of you out there who may not know… there is an art to being a Beatlefan. The head bump, the seat bounce, the finger scrunch– all are the result of much study and practice. Then again … it’s actually just the spontaneous, knee-jerk reaction of exposure to what was the most head-pounding rock and roll of its time.

The Beatlefan is unmistakable. And the 1963 Washington D.C. concert is especially noteworthy since the Beatlefans are at their unruly best. Beatlemania in the US was a new disease… and the symptoms manifested itself in some particularly entertaining cases…

best date night ever!!

Conniption Girl. This gingham gal probably has a good 10 years on her fellow fans ... but age poses no barrier on conniption fits.

This guy ... oh this guy. Lost a spring in his neck somewhere in the middle of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand.' That's Ok, luv. We all did.

I call this one "Sweetpea." She's the everygirl Beatlegirl. LOVE her.

The Pirate Bay. These supremely cool front row chicks, smuggled in a tape recorder and microphone. (Ohhh those years before intellectual property rights...)

This girl? Love her. Squealing, screaming and then staring straight into the camera as if to say 'Eat your heart out, girls. I'm the shit.'

And at every Beatles concert there is always THE number one fan. Ladies and Gentleman, here's Ringo's!

Why the Beatles' 1964 Washington D.C. Concert Kicks Ass

Last week, on  a rainy Friday evening, The American Cinematheque showcased a screening of The Beatles first concert in America: the Washington D.C. Coliseum, 1964 to a sold out audience. The energy of that performance, which has only intensified with age, left every last one of us riveted.

Which is the reason for this blog post. Apologies just might be in order: I’m an unabashed Fangirl.

1.) No Pyrotechnics. No HD Mega Screens. No sound monitors of ANY kind.

Today, the production of a concert is just as memorable as the music itself– and, often, moreso. Laser light shows. Pyrotechnics. Fireworks. All the bells and whistles that can keep the audience keen. On Febraury 11 1964,however, what the audience got was a concert as performed by your local high school band. Only … they kinda happen to be the best rock band on the planet.

You can easily count the number of amps they’re using because… they’re all on the stage. In a stockpile. One, two, three, four … five amplifiers. The boys were using Vox AC-30 amps that night, just as they had used back in Britain for about a year or so. Their sound was sharp, hard and clear– perfect for the clang of an early 60s guitar. But… still… 30 watts! It wasn’t until 1965 that Vox would design a special 100 watt amp specifically for the Beatles, and so they relied on 30 watt amplifiers to feed a crowd of three thousand hysterical, screaming teenage girls. Without sound monitors. Today, it would take four of Vox’s AC-30 amps to equate to one Vox Valvetornic amp. I’d love to see some of our over produced contemporary bands try something like that!

The Beatles in Concert. Photo by Rowland Sherman

2.) U.F.O.s.

Today, a high-profile band is guarded by 400 pound security gorillas armed with oozies. In 1964? It was every man for himself. The Beatles were shoved onto a plywood 20 x 20 stage guarded by a few white-collar pencil pushers as a hysterical teenage audience pelted them with… jelly beans. The gesture was meant to be affectionate as it was a well known piece of Beatle-lore amongst teenage fans that the Beatles loved jelly babies. But in England, jelly babies are a soft little candy. Their American cousins, jelly beans? Quite another story. Recounts George Harrison:

That night, we were absolutely pelted by the fuckin’ things. They don’t have soft jelly babies there; they have hard jelly beans. To make matters worse, we were on a circular stage, so they hit us from all sides. Imagine waves of rock-hard little bullets raining down on your from the sky. It’s a bit dangerous, you know, ’cause if a jelly bean, travelling about 50 miles an hour through the air, hits you in the eye, you’re finished! … Every now and again, one would hit a string on my guitar and plonk off a bad note as I was trying to play.

3.) Rock and Roll

In the years before albums like Sgt. Pepper, Revolver or Rubber Soul pushed the boundaries of contemporary music, The Beatles were just a straight up Rock and Roll band.  They idolized black American R&B, emulated its raw intensity and the result was magic. This rendition of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally had been a stage staple since the early 60s, when The Beatles were nothing more than cellar regulars at The Cavern Club.

It has rarely been played with more purity and energy than this two minute bit in D.C.:

4.) RINGO

Ringo tends to get a hell of a lot of flack. People dismiss him as just a third wheel, a yes-man, or the luckiest substitute drummer in the history of music. Truth is: Ringo rocks. He was a major name in Liverpool WAY before The Beatles were even a blip on the radar and did the Lads a favor by playing with them over in Hamburg.

And if you insist on demeaning his skill as a musician, I highly suggest first taking in this particular number from the Washington D.C. concert.

Not only does he showcase his worth as a major percussionist… he is the man of the match!

5.) THE FANS

For the few of you out there who may not know… there is an art to being a Beatlefan. The head bump, the seat bounce, the finger scrunch– all are the result of much study and practice. Then again … it’s actually just the spontaneous, knee-jerk reaction of exposure to what was the most head-pounding rock and roll of its time.

The Beatlefan is unmistakable. And the 1963 Washington D.C. concert is especially noteworthy since the Beatlefans are at their unruly best. Beatlemania in the US was a new disease… and the symptoms manifested itself in some particularly entertaining cases…

best date night ever!!

Conniption Girl. This gingham gal probably has a good 10 years on her fellow fans ... but age poses no barrier on conniption fits.

This guy ... oh this guy. Lost a spring in his neck somewhere in the middle of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand.' That's Ok, luv. We all did.

I call this one "Sweetpea." She's the everygirl Beatlegirl. LOVE her.

The Pirate Bay. These supremely cool front row chicks, smuggled in a tape recorder and microphone. (Ohhh those years before intellectual property rights...)

This girl? Love her. Squealing, screaming and then staring straight into the camera as if to say 'Eat your heart out, girls. I'm the shit.'

And at every Beatles concert there is always THE number one fan. Ladies and Gentleman, here's Ringo's!

09.09.09: A Love Letter

The Beatles in 1968

The Beatles in 1968

Today being a hell of a big deal to Beatles fans like myself (the release of Rock Band, digital remasters et all), I interrupt the Pictorial’s regularly scheduled programming for a bit of shameless rhapsodizing.

The thing you have to understand is that I was thirteen years old when I fell in love with the Beatles.

Granted, 13 is a simply wonderful age to fall in love with anything, true, but when the stars happen to be aligned in the most beautiful of formations, well, you’ve really got it made.

In November of 1995, a chubby, frizzy haired thirteen-year-old average girl happened to tune into a special documentary on TV that would change every single thing about her life.

The Beatles Anthology aired on a night much like every other night in our household: Dad worked the graveyard shift then, since he did anything and everything to keep food on the table, and my mother was spending the customary two and a half hours on the phone with her mother who had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. (She would fight it for three valiant years before succumbing to the fatigue that would, eventually, claim most of my mother’s side of the family.)

Dad left for work around 6:00 each night and, this particularly warm November evening, he’d told me to, please, remember to set the VCR for him. It had been in all the newspapers, and even a stupid seventh grader with bad grades knew that something, something, special was going on.

So I set the VCR for dad, quietly intrigued by the constant conversations between he and my mother and my grandmother and granddad about things like ‘I remember the Ed Sullivan Show’ and ‘I remember where I was when he died’ and ‘That was the first album I ever bought’ and a slew of other personal memories that the talked so very openly about. And my family did not, as a rule, talk openly about anything.

Of course I knew who they were. Who didn’t? Who doesn’t? I knew I Want To Hold Your Hand and Let it Be and all those other songs that trafficked up the oldies radio station all the time.

But that night … November 19th it was … It shaped my life.

Because if I’d not pressed “record” on the VCR player that night on the otherwise quiet and unaffected Tamarisk Street in the hopeless suburban doldrums, I would simply not be the person I am today.

I pressed “record” on the VCR and decided to sit out at least a couple of minutes to see what had my Dad so excited. Mom popped in and out during her lively, animated conversations with Grandmother, but it was mainly me … alone … in the dark … with four figures the like of which I’d never seen, and the music … the like of which I had never heard.

I’m sure a lot of it was down to timing. My sister, all of sixteen, had decided she was leaving home (a Beatles song my parents still can’t listen to without crying) and left me, at twelve, all alone. It was for her own good, and nothing personal, I’ve since learned, but at the time I felt abandoned. And … Social skills not being my particular forte, I closed myself off. Mom and Dad communicated by shrieks and screams. And I looked, in vain, for something to understand.

On that November night, what I understood more than anything, was the melodious riff in Paul’s bass, the aching reach in John’s harmony, George’s dependable solo and, bless him, Ringo’s tirelessly optimistic beat. By the time the first episode of the Anthology ended, and the TV ran a banner counting down the seconds to the “new Beatles song” I was bouncing up and down like one my squealing black and white counterparts at the Ed Sullivan show. I’d never known such a feeling … I’d never known such music …

My need to know their music reached ridiculous heights. In the age before iTunes, and in a household where money was tight, I was relegated to listen to their wondrous sounds on a badly received station in the city, every Sunday morning from 7:00 am to 9:00, the necessity of which had me fashioning tin foil on my radio antenna and standing in just the right position, like a game of Twister, to get the correct frequency to indulge in that beautiful music that I’d come to live for.

It was there, in those uncomfortable yet necessary Sunday mornings, that I’d first heard Dear Prudence (right arm raised like an Egyptian, left leg hoisted like a Satyr) and I’ve Got A Feeling (crouched like a lioness in the middle of my room, not daring to breathe at the risk of upsetting the reception) and scores of others.  And I relished every second of it.

Going to bed that night, nearly fifteen years ago, I knew that my life would never be the same.

And it hasn’t been.

Tempered, admittedly, by adulthood, my love for those scruffy cuss’ from Liverpool has never been brighter and …today, 09.09.09, I remember that rapturous optimism … the beauty of discovery … the ecstasy of true love, the memory of finding oneself after years of desperate searching— in the form of criminally simple two and a half minute songs …

So I blow my kisses to you, my dearest lovely lads for the Pool, and thank you for everything you’ve given me, and hope that during this latest wave of your irrepressible mania, countless more awaken to the marvel that is … The Beatles.

Forever and Always.

Eternally,

Yours