2016's simultaneous release of Eight Days a Week and Live at the Hollywood Bowl reignited interest in the Beatles live shows. But these are not the only places you can find Liverpool’s favorite sons performing live.
Here’s an overview of all the ways you can experience the Beatles in concert:
Live! at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany – It was in Hamburg that the Beatles said they really came together and honed their live sound. Fortunately, during their final stint at the Star Club (after Ringo had joined but before Beatlemania hit), the club’s stage manager recorded the group on a reel-to-reel tape deck with a single microphone.
The tapes then went missing for a number of years before resurfacing in the early 1970’s. The Beatles passed on buying the tapes themselves and also were not successful in trying to keep them off the market through legal means.
While the resulting audio is of poor quality, it does give you an accurate picture of what the group sounded like just before they hit it big. The recordings also feature a good number of songs the group never recorded any place else. These tracks have been released multiple times on vinyl and CD. As no one is exactly sure when the tapes were recorded (some time in late December is the best guess), there is no way to say which songs belong in which order. This, combined with the overall low fidelity, make Live! At the Star Club an item for hard-core Beatles fans only.
The Beatles Live at the BBC and On Air: Live at the BBC Volume 2 – In those heady days of the 1960’s, the Beeb (as it was called) would regularly host pop stars who performed live in the studio. As Britain’s most popular band by far, the Beatles were frequent guests. These sets (both double discs) capture the lion’s share of those performances. Not only do you get the Beatles performing a raft of great rock ‘n’ roll cover songs, the boys are playing without having to fight hordes of screaming fans to be heard. These are a must-have item for any serious fan of the Beatles music.
The Four Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Beatles – For American Baby Boomers, we marked our young lives as before and after the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. In February of 1964, they made 3 consecutive Sunday night appearances (Feb. 9th, Feb. 16th and Feb 23rd) although the 3rd appearance had been taped at an earlier date. They made a return appearance on September 12, 1965.
These shows are available in their entirety on DVD and come highly recommended. Not only were the Beatles in fine form, but you can also experience the way TV of that era was still aimed at a mass audience, instead of a smaller demographic slice. So you’ll also see vintage live performances from Frank Gorshin, Cab Calloway, Tessie O’Shea, Mitzi Gaynor, Myron Cohen, Gordon McRae, Allen & Rossi and even Soupy Sales. Sullivan’s “really big shew” was definitely vaudeville’s last stand.
Pay particular attention to the Beatles’ very first appearance on February 3rd. Right after their opening segment, the next act is the Broadway cast of Oliver! singing “I’ll Do Anything for You.” Playing the Artful Dodger and singing lead on the song is a young Davy Jones, who would find his lasting fame in the Beatles’ knock-off group, the Monkees!
The Beatles on Ready, Steady, Go – Ready, Steady, Go was to British teenagers as American Bandstand was to kids in the U.S.A., except the acts usually performed live instead of lip-synching.
In the early days of home video, a VHS set of the Beatles’ live performances on the show was available. Unfortunately, a DVD version has never been made available. However, you may still find an old VHS copy at a thrift store on an internet auction site.
The Beatles in Washington, D.C. – After playing the first Sullivan show, the Beatles hopped down to Washington, D.C. for their first American concert at the Washington Coliseum on February 11, 1964.
This show was also broadcast live via closed circuit to American movie theaters. After the event, it was re-packaged with performances by Leslie Gore and the Beach Boys (from the T.A.M.I. Show event) and sent around to theaters.
This concert is available on DVD. It provides a great documentary of Beatlemania in the U.S. and also the low regard for rock musicians at that time. The concert is held “in the round” and the Beatles themselves (no stage hands available) actually have to move their own equipment every couple of numbers so they give everyone in the audience a chance to see them from the front!
Live in Paris – When the Beatles played two shows at 3 and 9 pm on June 20th, 1965 at the Palais de Sports to kick off their final European tour, both shows were broadcast by the French radio station Europe 1. As a result, complete recordings on these shows have been available on the “unofficial” market (did somebody say bootleg?) for many years. The audio quality is good and you can actually compare song performances from one show to the next.
Live at Budokan 1966 – The Beatles were actually the first musical act to play Budokan (which had been built for martial arts exhibitions). There was a great deal of controversy surrounding their appearance. Of course, once the Beatles played there, other rock acts (most famously, Cheap Trick) would follow in their footsteps.
The Fab Four’s first two shows in Japan were video-taped and then edited into a single show that was broadcast throughout Japan. As a result pirated versions of both the audio and video from these shows are widely available.
Anthology – Produced in 1995, this is both a 6-disc CD set and a 5-disc DVD set. The CDs presented rare outtakes and unreleased material while the DVDs chronicle the history of the group. You can find smatterings of live material on both.
Some rare, yet to be released gems:
Around the Beatles – This was a one-hour TV special made in Britain by ITV and broadcast in countries around the world in 1964. In America, it was shown on ABC-TV. The Beatles performed 7 numbers by themselves (including the only version of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” they ever recorded) and they also sang back-up for some of their musical guests (which included Cilla Black, P.J. Proby, and Long John Baldry). One of the highlights of the show was the Beatles performing in a send-up of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
While small portions of this show were included in Anthology, the complete show has never been re-broadcast nor has it ever been officially available on home video.
The Beatles at Shea Stadium - Footage of this show has been used in many retrospectives (including Howard's current film), but there was a one-hour TV special produced that captures the entire concert.
Let It Be – Believe it or not, the final Beatles film is currently not available on home video. This documentary includes footage of what turned out to be the Beatles last live performance on the rooftop of Apple offices in London.
There are rumors that the film may finally be re-released sometime in the near future.
While you’re waiting you can check any of the other live Beatle performances we’ve catalogued here.