Here’s a clip, and one of my favourite clips of all time, of the Fab Four – the Beatles, that is – at Shea Stadium 0n August 15th, 1965 – 46 years ago today. It’s “I’m Down”, the B-side to the single “Help”, and the closing number of the first large-scale concert in the age before your standard stadium show was standard. In fact, it was this very concert that convinced “the money”, for good or ill, that maybe this rock’n’ roll thing had legs where making tons of cash was concerned.*
*[March 2012 – as if to prove my point, EMI have blocked the clip because they own the rights to it. Sorry, kids.]
*[July 2014 – but here’s that clip again, thanks to Dailymotion. Suck it, The Man!]
But that aside, this was a key show for the band, just on the verge of transforming from a quartet of performing “moptops” to a serious studio entity, going well beyond the touring, radio, and TV appearance showbiz treadmill, to become what they’d always been – true artists. This in turn dovetailed with their growing disatisfaction with live performances, when their own chops as musicians were being lost in the screams of Beatlemania.
The specially-designed 100-Watt Vox amplifiers didn’t even make a dent.
Yet, as this clip shows, they still knew how to have a good time on stage, moved in this specific case perhaps by the fact that they were free to do whatever they wanted to do in front of a record-breaking crowd that wasn’t really listening anyway. So, as such, “I’m Down”, which was Paul’s Little Richardesque call-out to a scornful lover was offered up. John puts down his Rickenbacker guitar, and gets behind a Vox Continental keyboard, ready to play with his elbows if necessary.
John’s childlike antics and enthusiasm set the rest of the band to laughing hysterically, with Paul’s little turnaround twirl being one of my favourite moments in the history of the world, let alone in the clip. Their onstage manner is so full of affection, and is such a balm against the demands pressuring the group at the time. You could imagine something similar happening on stage in Hamburg five years before in front of a crowd of sailors, trannies, and gangsters in the Indra or the Star Club, rather than fifty-five thousand middle-class American kids at Shea Stadium.
This really was the beginning of the end of an era for the Beatles, with “I’m Down” serving as fine a send off as anything. The next year was something of an annus horriblis, with John’s “Jesus” remarks taken out of context in the press (and the ensuing American outrage), and their disastrous dates in the Phillipines being only two examples.
Enough was enough: touring was over, and time in the studio would be their prime concern. Being trapped in a succession of featureless hotel rooms, to be only allowed out to play shows that no one could hear just wasn’t sustainable. By August of the next year, The Beatles would play their last live show in Candlestick Park in San Francisco. No one would see them play again in concert until the Let It Be rooftop session in early 1969.
Even before their life as a touring band ended, the evolutionary process toward making artistic statements with their albums had begun. There is strong evidence of this progression starting on Rubber Soul, and it certainly bears itself out on Revolver, too. The new post-touring era was about continuing to develop their sound, and adding texture, nuance, and maturity to their songwriting. Instead of lovable moptops, the world would soon have a Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the record would go out on tour for them, rather than them having to do it themselves.
The Beatles’ focus on making albums in this way rather than touring in a traditional showbiz manner expanded the way a band could market themselves, and how the music itself was perceived as a result. Yet, as this clip shows, even in the midst of their touring drudgery, they could still kick ass as a live band, and as a group of close and affectionate friends playing music for each other’s enjoyment in what was becoming an increasingly absurd situation.
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