The Beatles at the Washington Coliseum

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Reports today indicate that since becoming available on iTunes last Tuesday, Nov. 16, the Beatles have sold over 450,000 albums and two million individual singles worldwide.  That probably makes the whole advertising blitz worthwhile, but there were also comments that, by releasing their entire catalogue at once, sales might have been muted by too many spending decisions.

If you’re a Beatles fan, or if you have just a passing interest, I’d encourage you to go to iTunes while this opportunity lasts.  The banner features The Beatles, so go ahead and click on that.  On the next screen, shown below, is a link to a viewable movie at the left – “Live at the Washington Coliseum, 1964.”


It’s free to view and well worth the time.  After all the fairly shoddy performances trotted out over the years (the horrible audio/video from The Cavern club in England, or the over worn Ed Sullivan show appearance, or the mass hysteria of the Shea Stadium recordings) it was quite a surprise to find that a complete performance had been captured, with excellent video quality (for the time), and as good an audio quality as can be expected.  It runs 41 minutes long, which includes an introduction before getting to the good stuff.  Added bonus:  It’s unedited.  It’s not just the music, but everything that happened between the songs.

My takeaways? 

1) McCartney was much more of the band leader, for this show at least, than I would have been led to believe based on various biographies that generally attribute that mantle to Lennon.  It’s surprising he relinquished virtually all of the audience banter to McCartney.

2)  Sure, there’s some cloying postures and practiced delivery, but there is more at work than playing because it’s a big moment or due to built up expectations.  They’re enthusiastic about what they’re doing, and it shows.  They wrote and sang great songs, and the commercial packaging certainly played a huge role in building their celebrity.  What packaging?  How about in-the-round staging (a boxing ring) and professional recording - of their first American concert?  But beyond all the interview quips and the “long” hair fascination, if they came off as being inauthentic or unlikable, they would have been a footnote in music history.  Watch.  They’re having fun.

3) Ringo has a very basic drum kit, and he may not have been the most imaginative drummer through the subsequent years, but I gained some respect watching him perform.

4) To see The Beatles move their stage equipment around wasn’t expected, and it certainly may have been borne of necessity.  But, they played for years before making it big, usually in dumps.  Their suits notwithstanding, you know they’ve done this before and they’re not above doing it again.  Beyond that, there’s a sense that they really wanted to give a great show to everyone, regardless of where they sat.

5) How can they play so well when they can’t hear?  In addition from the audience noise, they rarely have their stage monitors set to where they can hear them. 

6) There is more than a little irony of playing “black music” to a very young, all white crowd (“Roll Over Beethoven,” “Twist and Shout,” “Long Tall Sally”).  It’s well known that McCartney’s vocals borrowed quite a bit from Little Richard.  His delivery of “Long Tall Sally” seems beyond his years.  Attention establishment:  You tried to contain Elvis.  Give it up.  Rock and roll is coming, and fast.

7) It’s no wonder that a generation of teenagers went out and bought guitars.  With that kind of energy, and that kind of fan response, would you rather be a pop star or go work in the factory? 

8) Fans had cameras.  I like that in a concert.

More about the concert, including the set list, can be found HERE.

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