Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Concert With No Audience

This is a kind of follow-up on the last post, "The Album With No Name". Only the Beatles could put out an album with nothing on the cover except The Beatles  in small print and embossed in white on white. You really had to look to see it. They had previously put out two albums with only photos and drawings on the cover. But a concert with no audience? What's the point? And don't we actually call that a "rehearsal"? The Beatles quit touring and doing any performances except on radio or for television in August 1966. Their newest music couldn't even be performed in public as a lot of it could only be created with the equipment in the recording studio. They achieved some great things in the studio: Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sergeant Pepper's, Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album. But after the latter album, even during its recording, tensions between band members had begun to take their toll. Paul is doing the drum part on "Back in the USSR" on The White Album because Ringo had quit the band that day. A lot of The White Album is really individual rather than group effort. On another occasion George quit the group temporarily, which is why John is playing the lead guitar part on "Get Back". They had huge financial problems as well as the personality issues that loomed larger and larger. In an attempt to restore a good musical and personal atmosphere, it was proposed that they do some live performances of new material and film the process. The result was the film and album Let It Be which, ironically, showed what the breakup of the most famous popular musical act in history looked like. One of the problems was they could never agree on where to stage the live performances. This was actually a bigger problem than it sounds because the logistics of a Beatles live performance had gotten so difficult that it formed part of the decision to stop touring. Apart from the danger of assassination, simply getting themselves and their equipment to and from the concert without being trampled by fans was nearly impossible. And that was before they released some of their most successful albums. By this time the Beatles' Apple Corps had purchased a building in central London, 3 Savile Row. On January 30, 1969, desperate for some sort of live performance footage to end the film, they just dragged their gear up to the roof and played a forty minute set including "Get Back", "Don't Let Me Down", "I've Got a Feeling", "One After 909" and "Dig a Pony". As this caused considerable disruption in central London at lunchtime, what with cars stopping in the street, pedestrians gathering and the surrounding rooftops attracting knots of listeners, the police eventually arrived to stop the show. Ringo was hoping to be dragged off his drums as he thought it would make a splendid end to the film, but things ended less dramatically.

And that was it, the last public performance of the Beatles. Remarkably, they sound like a pretty good band despite the months of rancor. George brought the keyboardist Billy Preston to the sessions partly because the presence of an outsider tended to, in Harrison's words "cut the ice that we'd created among ourselves."

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