This post also appears today on my other blog, The Beatles Plus 50.
Mark Twain once famously said that “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” The good people of San Francisco apparently took this as a challenge. Unsatisfied with the opportunities for frostbite offered by, say, the perpetually fogbound Inner Sunset, in 1958 they decided to build a stadium on an exposed, windswept point south of the city.
This was Candlestick Park, where the Giants and the 49ers played for many years, and where the final show of The Beatles’ 1966 U.S. tour took place. I went to Candlestick several times, and I can tell you from experience that even on a good day you had to bundle up to avoid freezing. And August 29, by all accounts, was not a good day. Says Bob Spitz:
Gusts whipped through the stands with almost biblical vengeance. Banners strung around the stadium flapped ferociously against the squall and drafts picked up great clouds of dust and blew them volcanically across the infield.
That may be why Candlestick was only about half full. If you ever choose to time-travel to San Francisco on 8.29.66, you’ll be able to walk right up to the box office and buy a ticket. Be sure to take a parka.
Despite the conditions, many people appear to have fond memories of the show. One fan quoted in a piece on Billboard.com today says:
The energy, I have never felt that at any other concert…I could hear them. The only time I couldn’t hear the Beatles was when Ringo sang. I was screaming my head off and I could still hear them.
This may be wishful thinking, but that’s what Beatlemania is all about, innit? I came across a great quote in Rolling Stone’s piece on the last Beatles show — which I highly recommend reading in its entirety — where one female fan is asked why she’s crying. Her response: “Because I love Paul and I can’t tell him.”
Opinions on the musical quality of the show vary. Some say that the exhausted band phoned it in; some say they gave a little extra effort because they knew it would be their last show. You can judge for yourself because Paul had press agent Tony Barrow record the concert on a cassette:
It cuts off partway through “Long Tall Sally” because Barrow ran out of tape. And so it goes.
There is a legend, most likely apocryphal, that when the set was over Lennon stood on the stage playing the guitar riff to “In My Life,” thinking back to all the time he’d spent on stage. It makes for a nice mental image, but according to Spitz,
[John] didn’t hesitate for a moment when it came to leading the charge off the field and disappearing with the others into a waiting armored truck. A great release washed over him as the van kicked up dust speeding toward the right-field bullpen, toward the end of Beatlemania — toward liberation, at last.
On the plane that night George was heard to say “Right, that’s it. I’m not a Beatle anymore.” This did not turn out to be true, of course — after this he was a different kind of Beatle, maybe. But the traveling circus that was the Beatles touring apparatus was no more.
48 years later, Paul McCartney would return to Candlestick to play the final show there before it was demolished to make way for — not a new hyperspace bypass — but a shopping center. No doubt there will be some kind of Beatles-themed store there, and the great wheel of capitalism will roll on.
But August 29, 1966 marked a a turning point in Beatles history — the end of the touring era and the beginning of three and half years of intense studio experimentation that would result in some of the best music ever recorded, IMHO. It should be fun.