What could $4 buy you on February 11, 1964? A steak, a gallon of milk, a pound of pork chops, and a six pack of soda. Or, four 6-packs of beer. Or, a ticket to see The Beatles
at Washington Coliseum.
On February 11, 1964, The Beatles performed their first full concert in the United States in the nation's capitol. The boys rode the train to D.C., departing from Penn Station in New York, after sweeping the floor (along with magician Fred Kaps' salt) at the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9. The Maysles film team documented the D.C. concert as the Fabs continued on a journey that would eventually take them down to Miami for another appearance with Ed. Check out The Beatles: The First U. S. Visit.
The D.C. concert footage, which has miraculously good sound, is terrific stuff. Beatlemania was not yet scary, boring, or philosophically challenging. In the next year, John and Paul would be writing songs like "Help!
" and "Day Tripper"---instant classics that also cast a wary eye on their generation as well as themselves. But on this night, the Fabs are having as much fun as the audience.
The feeling of joy from the band and the crowd is a fantastic sight. No one knew what a rock concert really was yet. This was a new happening for the fans and for The Beatles. One example of how turned around things were—literally: notice that Ringo's drums are facing the wrong way at the start of the show and the Fabs work desperately to turn things around.
"That was the first time we'd ever played in the round," recalled Paul McCartney to the Washington Post.
"We said: 'Do we have to do it?' 'Yeah. We've sold tickets everywhere. You'll have to turn around.
' How the hell are we doing to do that? 'Well, just do a few numbers east then shuffle around north. Then do a few numbers north and shuffle around west.
' We said: 'What's Ringo doing to do?' He had to shuffle the kit around himself."
You also get a rare chance to see The Beatles plug in, tune up, and get their act together. They seem slightly nervous at first but when George kicks it in, finds a mic, and gets going, the show is on
and so are the 1960s.
"Opening with "Roll Over Beethoven" wasn't a statement," recalled McCartney. "We didn't plan those things. It was just: "Let's start with George doing "Roll Over Beethoven." It's rockin
'.' In retrospect, I should be telling you it was a calculated move to show the world of classical music that it was time they rolled over and made way for the delightful young sound that's going to take over."
In the time it takes most rock bands to cut a record today, The Fabs had gone from playing to foul-mouthed sailors on shore leave to sold out shows in America. The Washington D.C. concert never seems to lose its edge or its sense of glory. If you're feeling the winter blues, check it out, let it cheer you up, and yeah, Roll Over