Why George Harrison Called The Beatles’ 1964 Show in San Francisco ‘One of the Most Painful’

In Aug. 1964, The Beatles went on their second American tour. In San Francisco, they played to an audience of 18,000 at the famous Cow Palace, the biggest show they’d ever played at the time. George Harrison called the experience “thrilling,” but also “painful.” Here’s why, and more on The Beatles’ second tour of America.

The Beatles August 19th 1964, more than six months after taking the East Coast by storm, the Fab Four traveled to California to take the stage at the Cow Palace in San Francisco for opening night of their first-ever concert tour of North US. (Picture) Paul McCartney (left) and George Harrison belting out one of the their many hits on stage.
Paul McCartney and George Harrison of The Beatles in San Francisco in 1964 | Henry Grossman/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

The most painful show The Beatles had ever played

Harrison wrote in his column for the Daily Express (with the help of Daily Express writer Derek Taylor) that playing in the Cow Palace was like “playing in the Mersey Tunnel. Its huge, arched ceiling seemed to extend to the heavens. People in the back seats looked like little ants.”

“This was by far the biggest audience that’s ever seen us and it was one of the most thrilling experiences of our lives,” he wrote, as recorded in the book George Harrison on George Harrison. “And one of the most painful.”

Why was it such a painful show? The Beatles fans began throwing candy at the band during live shows, particularly jelly beans, after Harrison and John Lennon told a magazine that they liked Jelly Babies.

“I lost count of the number of times those hard little jellybeans were showered upon us from four sides of the gigantic arena,” wrote Harrison. “I got hit on the back of the neck, on the face, on the nose, and on both hands, and also on my guitar.”

Cops had to keep order at The Beatles’ San Francisco show

With a show of that scale, police officers “ringed the stage at San Francisco’s massive Cow Palace.” But Harrison notes that even they “went wild.” Still, they protected the band and kept the peace among the rowdy crowd.

“We were glad Sheriff Whitmore’s men managed to hold back the surging, screaming crowd,” wrote Harrison. “Many of them were caged-in behind a nine-foot mesh fence only a few inches from Ringo’s expensive head.”

RELATED: How The Beatles Felt About Their Fans Screaming All Through Their Shows: ‘We Couldn’t Hear Us’

And, believe it or not, the cops surrounding the stage didn’t even harsh the atmosphere, according to Harrison.

“Although there were scores of uniformed sheriff’s men to control the crowd and the houselights went on, the excitement was terrific,” he wrote.

Next stop: Las Vegas

After The Beatles played the biggest show of their careers (up until that point), they made their way to Las Vegas, Nevada, which Harrison described as “another world.”

“We flew into Las Vegas on our 70-seater charter plane early today,” he wrote. “This city is just another world. We are staying on the Strip at the Sahara Hotel in the centre of the desert. I am writing this on the balcony in the hot, dry morning sun. Ahead lie two Vegas concerts and a night on the town.”

This was the last of Harrison’s column for the Daily Express — a brief window into the chaotic, magical experience of being a Beatle.

“There are worse lives than this,” he wrote.