I first saw the Who when I was 12 years old — turned my head right around, and started me on a long and happy career as a Who fanatic. Tonight, 48 years later, I get to see ’em again — and I’m probably even more excited now than I was back then. I’ve been lucky enough to see them a dozen times through the years.
July 22, 1967: My brother, Scott, let me tag along with him & his friends that first time. The Who was the middle act on a triple-bill, following the Blues Magoos. They were good enough but then the Who hit the stage, exploding with excitement. Roger whirled about in a paisley cloak, slinging his microphone far & wide as Pete windmilled wildly, jumping and kicking. Halfway through one song, Keith Moon jettisoned a floor tom, tossing it over his head to bounce off the back of the stage. As the others demolished their instruments and left the stage, John Entwhistle stood alone, turned his bass guitar strings down and dropped it for a thunderous exit. It took 30 minutes before the headliners, Herman’s Hermits, could take the stage.
March 17, 1968: My second show we sat very close-up, about 10th row. This show’s highlight for me: the mini-opera, A Quick One While He’s Away, and Pete toying with this guitar before smashing it and tossing the broken neck out to the audience.
June 20, 1970: Two weeks before this show, Townshend said in an interview they were tired of playing Tommy and had no intention of playing it any more. I was aghast — then relieved, when he announced from the stage. “I said we weren’t going to play this any more — but we going to play it anyway.” My first live Tommy!
Dec. 1, 1971: My 4th show before I left high school — I still claim that as a bragging right. Hot on the heels of Who’s Next, the guys were ablaze this night. I remember standing on not just on our chairs — but balancing between the backs of the chairs to see them.
Nov. 20, 1975: The next time seemed like it took forever. By this time, I was living in Austin, so I rounded up some friends for the Houston run to catch them at the newly opened Summit (now home to Joel Osteen’s mega-church). If I thought they’d been hot 4 years before, this time they were even more incredible.
Imagine my delight a couple of years ago to find it on DVD — looks way better than the view from my seat behind the stage at the time, but it’s missing that raw live Who energy.
Oct. 9, 1976: My first show anywhere but Houston found the Who paired with the Grateful Dead in Oakland Stadium, while I was on the road post-college and staying in the Bay Area. Friends back in Texas wondered if I might die of over-gratification. After the Dead’s opening set (rarity for them!) and a few songs, Moon startled everyone by announcing, “We’re not supposed to tell you, but it’s JOHN”S BIRTHDAY!” and leapt over — and through — his drum kit to run across the stage and launch himself in a flying hug onto Entwhistle. It was a beautiful moment in a great show — and the last time I would see them as the original 4. Keith only played a few more public shows later that month before his death in 1978.
So I really was incredibly lucky growing up— seeing the Who in their original line-up 6 times in all. That might be enough for most mortals— but I’ve seen just as many Who shows in the years since.
July 3, 1980: The Who’s first Austin show, and the first time I saw them play without Moon as well as with extra folks on stage, including a horn section. I had ended going alone despite being in Austin and the whole show felt a little odd. I wondered if the long ride was ending…
Dec. 3, 1982: This was part of their announced farewell tour, a huge show of 3 hours of hits and incredible stagecraft. All of the magic was back for one last shot — well, almost all of the magic, though no one could replace Moon. And this was almost that one last shot — except for all the shows during the next 33 years, of course.
Sept. 2, 1989: After a few one-off performances in the 80s, the big, bad Who reformed itself, and played the Astrodome as part of festival promotion called The Biggest Party in Texas. This time, despite the still slightly expanded band line-up, it did feel like this was the real return of the Who. Pete, Roger and John all played in stellar form and seemed to be having fun. Me, too, believe me, me too.
August 29, 2000: It was several years before I’d see them again. I took my brother this time, some 33 years after he’d introduced me to this incredible band. They seemed timeless and eternal, raging in advancing age much as they had in their youth, with a young Zak Starkey in Keith’s seat behind the drums. Little did I know it would be my final time to see John Entwhistle, the Ox.
Nov. 18, 2006: This show was a special one, as I got to take my son, Lucas, to his first Who show at age 13. He may have started a year later than I did on the live shows, but he had been a Who fan since birth, role-playing them in pre-school play.
Feb. 12, 2013: At long last, I saw Quadrophenia. Their 1973 tour missed Houston so I missed that run (Townshend felt like they did not execute it well anyway, I’ve read). Now I had to go to Denver to catch it this time. Fortunately, I also “had to” take Lucas up there to look at a college or two, so what could I do? We had to go to Denver, and we might as well see the show, right? And of course, we had to take our host, Arnie — and his nephew, another kid who’d only heard of the Who as some classic rock band. That’s one young metal-head who got his ears blasted open a bit wider!
And now, tonight, April 27, 2015 —it’s Lucky 13 and the last time around for me. After missing out on previous shows since we got married, Sara’s gonna make this her first big post-hospital outing so we can say farewell together. See, she has her own Who story, about that time in Boston when Keith Moon passed out and they re-scheduled for a week later, opening with “Won’t Get Fooled Again”…
Ladies and Gentlemen — the Who, still “the World’s Most Sensational Band”!
Thanks for the ride, guys!