A 5 minute walk from the NoMa – Gallaudet U metro station will lead you to an unassuming brick building in an obscure area of D.C.’s NoMa neighborhood. However, unknown to most visitors that walk past (unless your knowledge of oldies band history is impeccable), this year marked the 50th anniversary of an event that altered American pop music history as we know it: the Beatles’ first U.S. concert.
What Is It: The Washington Coliseum, formerly known as the Uline Arena
Where Is It: 1140 3rd Street NE, Washington, DC 20002
What Happened Here: We’ll assume you haven’t lived under a rock for the past 60 years and have atleast the most basic knowledge of the British pop band that ruled the music world for a couple of decades. The “four lads from Liverpool” became immensely popular in England in the early 1960s. The Beatles were the first British band to permeate the American music scene, bringing their iconic sound (and panty dropping accents) into living rooms throughout America. The Beatles’ were met with fan pandemonium unparalleled by previous bands; a typical band outing was surrounded by unbearably high-pitched screams, and female fans regularly fainted from excitement.
Yes, you read that right, the Beatles packed such a punch that they caused mass fainting. We have that effect on people too.
The brand new 8,000 seat venue sold out within days, without having hosted a single major event to its name. Tickets were sold for $4. Oh, the days before TicketMaster and service fees.
The Beatles took the stage at 8:31 P.M. on February 11, 1964.
The band played a 12 song setlist, opening their U.S. debut with “Roll Over Beethoven”. In regards to the song choice, Paul McCartney, arguably a fan favorite (and arguably still kicking in the land of the living), said:
Opening with “Roll Over Beethoven” wasn’t a statement. Every time we did shows, we did the same as I do now: You just feel the climate; you put your finger in the air and whichever side goes cold is the way the wind’s blowin’. 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 [that] 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.
They. Didn’t. Even. Plan. An. Opener.
In today’s era of autotune and infamously terrible lip-synching, such a thing is unheard of. We can’t decide if the Beatles’ method was an act of naivety or a stroke of genius. It doesn’t really sound like they know, either. True to form back home in the land of the Brits, fan hysteria ensued. Albert Mayles, a documentary filmmaker and concert attendee, described the anarchy:
I never was a screamer. It was all about the music for me. The concert started with some warm-up groups, and I was relieved because I had heard about the screaming that went on in England. And I thought: Nobody’s screaming. This is going to be nice; we’re going to be able to hear them. (Laughs.) When they started playing, you couldn’t hear a thing. It was unbelievably loud, like white noise. I remember the policeman near me stuck bullets in his ears.
Watch video footage of the concert here:
Safe to say it was a successful U.S. introduction, no?
Want to find out what’s happened to the Uline Arena post Beatles era? Stay tuned for Thursdays post!
Peace, Love & Rock ‘n Roll,