The Last Beatles Concert

It was 50 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught…wait, no, that’s not right. What was 50 years ago on Monday was the last time the Beatles took to a stage to perform a concert. It might be argued that the January 1969 London rooftop jam session was the Beatles’ last public performance, but their final concert proper was held August 29, 1966, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the end of a U.S. tour that had been as stressful and unpleasant as it had been brief.

You can’t blame the band for wanting to get off the road. Touring had long been a well-known drag. After the Beatles had performed in Stockholm, for example, John Lennon was asked what he thought of the trip. “Fine,” he said. “It was a room, a car, a concert and a sandwich.” There’s the road in all its glamor.

The Beatles had reason to feel the road wasn’t just a bore, but a dangerous bore. The backlash in the United States when Lennon floated the notion the Beatles were more popular than Jesus was nothing compared to the angry reaction when, in July 1966, the lads seemed to snub Imelda Marcos in the Philippines. Having had a bitter experience at the British embassy in Washington back in 1964, the Beatles made it a point not to go to embassy events or other official shindigs. But when they didn’t show for a Manila palace lunch with Ferdinand Marcos’s wife (and 200 children who were her guests), things got ugly, fast. The Beatles escaped their hotel down hallways lined with staff shouting abuse at them; their transportation disappeared and when they did get a car to pack into, soldiers along the route to the airport kept forcing them off the main highway; when they did finally make it to the airport it wasn’t clear whether they were going to be let on the plane or just done in by a mob right then and there.

A few weeks after their harrowing escape, the Beatles were back on the gerbil wheel in the States, where they worked their way from Chicago to Detroit, Cleveland (where fans nearly trampled them), Washington, and Philadelphia. And then down to Memphis, where a cherry bomb was tossed onstage, making the band think they were being shot at (troupers that they were, they kept playing).

But neither security concerns nor the grim plains-trains-and-automobiles slog fully explain why the Beatles gave up the stage. It was no way for them to make music. Even before their first, triumphant trip to the States, the Beatles were getting sick of standing in front of shrieking crowds of adolescent berserkers. “They’re not listening to anything,” John griped. “All they’re doing is going mad.”