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Beatles at Shea Stadium, 50 Years on. Oh, and Sarah Siddons

August 15, 2015

beatles

Fifty years ago today, The Beatles played Shea Stadium.  The Rutles on the other hand, played Che Stadium (named after the famous Cuban revolutionary leader – Che Stadium).

This was the first of two performances at the Shea Stadium for the Fabs,  The set list as as follows.

Twist and Shout

She’s a Woman

I Feel Fine

Dizzy Miss Lizzy

Ticket to Ride

Everybody’s Trying to be My Baby

Can’t Buy me Love

Baby’s in Black

Act Naturally

A Hard Day’s Night

Help

I’m Down

Sadly the movie documentary does not include “She’s a Woman” – one of the more extraordinary and entertaining songs of this period.

In broader terms, events fifty years ago are thought to represent the inauguration of Stadium Rock which is generally regarded as something to be deplored.  A band that had honed their live skills in the Cavern Club in Liverpool were now supposed to become the cynosure of delight within a huge sporting venue.  As it happens, by 1965, they could not help but be a cynosure of delight no matter what they did.

They were, by all accounts – inaudible.  The screaming was such that “performance” was no longer an issue.  The Beatles were no longer performing to an audience but were, rather, an excuse for a congregation of the devout.

Perhaps what was illustrated fifty years ago was a natural self defeating cycle of performance logic.  The more popular you get the larger venues you play – the larger venues you play – the further removed you get from your audience and the more irrelevant you become as any kind of active agent in proceedings.

By the time The Beatles returned to Shea Stadium the following year, they had recently recorded Revolver – containing songs like “Eleanor Rigby” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” which never became part of their live set and which they could not conceive of being performed by three guitarists and a drummer in front of a live audience.  The 1965 Shea Stadium performance was therefore the acme and tipping point of their performance career, and a reminder that uncritical love on too vast a scale destroys certain forms of communication.

In a strange way, the same thing had happened nearly two hundred years earlier with the very great stage player – Sarah Siddons.  Sarah Siddons became such a star that her audiences became uncritical and competed among themselves to swoon and ooh and ah in all the right places.  Instead of audiences judging Siddons – she judged them and became a “touchstone” (horrible word) of sensibility.  The huge stage at Drury Lane became Siddons “Shea Stadium” – a place where she became fossilized by fame.

Oddly enough, rather like The Beatles, the eighteenth-century Siddons retreated to the Studio.  The Artist’s studio.  Working with painters like Reynolds and sculptors like Damer – she became increasingly obsessed with preserving her most characteristic theatrical attitudes and poses.  When live performance becomes impossible – more permanent media are called for.  Yet the impermanence of performance is its most endearing quality,

Such frivolous comparisons bedeck the concluding bits of my book about Thomas Sheridan.

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