On August 29, 1966, The Beatles’ touring days came to an end with an anticlimactic, half-hour show at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, a now demolished sports arena. Paul McCartney seemed to have been in denial and kept lobbying for a return to the road, but his three bandmates, especially John Lennon, knew that the group’s live concerts had to stop. Fans were coming to scream and gawk, not listen to music. The musicians could barely hear each other on stage, so their shows had become musically sloppy. Besides that, the group’s 1966 world tour had been plagued with controversy, protests, and even death threats, mainly stemming from Lennon’s comment to an interviewer about his band being “more popular than Jesus.” The group remained vital in the studio; its pivotal Revolver LP was released just weeks before the Candlestick Park show. But from 1966 onward, the group was finished as a live act. The famed, unscheduled London rooftop performance of January 1969 was an anomaly.
Surprisingly, even though Lennon knew that the San Francisco show was the end of an era, the concert was not filmed for posterity by a professional crew. A fan named Barry Hood shot some amateur color footage, and there’s some black-and-white newsreel footage, too, but no complete documentary of the concert exists. What survives is an audio recording made by press agent Tony Barrow, the man who coined the term “the Fab Four.” The group’s 11-song set contains nothing from Revolver and instead begins and ends with covers. Unfortunately, Barrow’s tape wasn’t quite long enough to capture the closing number, Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” in its entirety. But the tape still gives listeners an indication of what a 1966 Beatles show was like. The group’s set may seem brief, but there were other acts on the bill that night, including The Ronettes, The Cyrkle, and The Remains.
The bittersweet 1966 show looms large in San Francisco concert lore. Candlestick Park had a capacity of 42,500 people, but only about 25,000 tickets were sold, so the concert was actually a money loser for Tempo Productions. The Beatles still netted $90,000 and were on a plane back to London the next day. McCartney would even return in August 2014 to perform one last concert at Candlestick. At the time, SFGate assembled an oral history of the 1966 show, as told from the perspective of fans. One spectator, Jim Nesbitt, summarized the concert this way:
The show was briskly paced with a few droll comments from Lennon between songs as he and McCartney shared front man duties. The only bit of showmanship was when McCartney intro’d “I Wanna Be Your Man” and swung a boom mic around that locked into position in front of Ringo’s face just as he began singing. The 11-song set was over in half an hour, finishing with “Long Tall Sally,” and Lennon promising “We’ll see you next year!”
No, they wouldn’t.