The Beatles, rock’s most important and innovative band, played their final, official live concert on August 29, 1966, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. So when Beatle John Lennon — who started the group in Liverpool, England, in 1957 — received a call on September 12, 1969, to perform live in Toronto the very next day, the already-legendary musician was understandably nervous.
Watch video of Lennon’s epochal concert in Toronto, below on this page.
“I just threw up for hours until I went on … I could hardly sing,” Lennon later revealed. In fact, though promoters initially invited Lennon and his then-new wife, Japanese avant-garde artist Yoko Ono, simply to appear as emcees at what was billed as a “Rock and Roll Revival” festival at 22,000-seat Varsity Stadium in Toronto, Canada, Lennon insisted on performing — and quickly regretted his reckless decision.
Lennon didn’t even have a band to back him up. The Beatles had no interest in returning to the live stage. Lennon attempted to recruit Beatles lead guitarist George Harrison to come along, but Harrison didn’t want to play live with or without The Beatles at that point.
With Clapton committing along with drummer Alan White — who would later join the successful “progressive rock” band Yes — and bassist Klaus Voorman who had been a friend of The Beatles since their days performing in Hamburg, Germany, before they became famous (and who designed the cover of the classic Beatles album Revolver), Lennon, with Ono, was seemingly ready for his return to live performing, accompanied by the makeshift group he dubbed The Plastic Ono Band.
But when it was time to meet at the airport for the flight from London, England, to Toronto on the morning of September 13, Lennon was nowhere to be found. He had simply decided to ditch his commitment and stay in bed. Fortunately, with Clapton’s help, the concert’s promoter John Brower was able to persuade Lennon and Ono to make their flight after all — and show up for the concert that evening.
Watch footage of the now-iconic performance, which was later released as the album Live Peace In Toronto and credited to The Plastic Ono Band, in the video below.
Lennon and the band had not rehearsed at all and had no idea which songs they could play together. To make matters more difficult, as Lennon admitted later, he was going through drug addiction and had used heroin shortly before taking the stage. But somehow, they pulled together a set that included Lennon’s Beatles number “Yer Blues,” and his newest solo song, “Cold Turkey,” as well as covers of the rock and roll oldies “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Money,” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzie,” the latter two of which had been recorded by The Beatles early in their career.
Though the sellout crowd at Varsity Stadium reportedly was not entirely happy with the show and even booed in parts — mainly due to Ono’s frequent, improvised, high-pitched screams — Lennon was exhilarated. He enjoyed the performance so much that the Toronto show gave him the motivation he needed to leave The Beatles once and for all.
“The buzz was incredible,” Lennon said the day after the brief concert. “I never felt so good in all my life. Everybody was with us and leaping up and down doing the peace sign.”
Lennon added that the show gave him confidence that he could experience “life beyond the Beatles.” Within days, he announced to his fellow Beatles that he was leaving the band. But the public was kept in the dark and the Beatles’ breakup was not revealed until April 10, 1970 when, much to the annoyance of Lennon, it was announced by his fellow Beatle and longtime songwriting partner, Paul McCartney.
[Featured Image by AP Images, File]