Beatles II – Concert Memories

I never saw The Beatles in concert. I blame my parents for that.

It was 1964 and they were playing at the Forum in Montreal. All my friends wanted to go. My parents, like most other parents of the day, said no. I think the only person I knew who actually made it to the concert was my next door neighbour, who was four years older than me.

Tickets were only $4.50. It would have not destroyed the family budget for one of my parents to have accompanied me to keep me out of harm’s way. But they were adamant. They didn’t like The Beatles, neither their music nor everything they stood for. (Looking back they seem so tames by today’s standards. If you didn’t live through it you really can’t fathom the social upheaval The Beatles caused.

When I was older I did get to see The Beatles live, but only as individuals. They stopped touring in 1966 and were finished as a band by 1970.

John Lennon, who I saw as the most talented, came to Montreal to stage a bed-in for peace in 1969. Many teens sneaked into the hotel to meet him, but the thought of doing so never occurred to me. I never did get to see Lennon in concert; he didn’t really do that much live work before his death in 1980.

I did see George Harrison when he returned to the Forum in 1974 on the Dark Horse tour, the first by a former Beatle. I was no longer living in Montreal by then, but made the two-hour drive from Ottawa with friends. I remember the concert as being mostly uninspiring, with George’s performance lacking spark. Perhaps he was trying too hard to convey his religious message (he tampered with some lyrics). Or maybe it was just an off night.

I don’t think he would have been called back for an encore if it wasn’t for Billy Preston. Billy was the fifth Beatle (one of several people with that nickname). He was with them on that rooftop for their final performance in 1969. Billy was a gospel singer turned rocker who had the energy Harrison lacked. As I remember it, the closing numbers of the show were given to him. He electrified the building with “Will It Go Round In Circles” before astounding the audience with “That’s The Way God Planned It.” The audience came to its feet, screaming for more. It was more Billy everyone wanted, but sadly the encore was more George.

(Memory is a funny thing. Doing some fact checking before posting this I found the set list for the show, which does not list “That’s The Way” among the songs performed. I stand by my memory. Although I suppose my memory is misleading me. If you had asked me I would have said that Ringo Starr was playing drums for George that day, and that does not appear to have been the case either. The good news from a memory perspective is that according to everything I read about the tour, Ravi Shankar was given a good portion of the stage time. I think my mind deliberately suppressed that, though now that I read it I have vague recollections of at least his opening song.)

I avoided seeing Paul McCartney live for years. His music was always a little too sweet for me; I felt he missed John’s grittiness. But in 2013 I relented. He was once a Beatle after all, and aging. I thought it might be my last chance. Cheap seats were $130 – there’s that pesky inflation thing again.

I’ll give him credit; it was an excellent show, though I did think it was poorly structured. There is no doubt that McCartney’s solo work is inferior to his work with Wings and with The Beatles. Juxtaposing those tunes showed that rather painfully. I’m not going to complain though about a septuagenarian who still can deliver a riveting three-hour rock show.

The Beatles changed music and had a huge impact on popular culture. For my generation seeing any of them in concert was a thrill.


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