Today marks 50 years since the first time I saw the Who in concert.
It was a triple bill and truthfully, I didn’t really go to see the Who. I went to see the headliner, Herman’s Hermits, my favorite band at the time. This was due at least in part to the fact that one member, Derek Leckenby, actually wore glasses!
I also knew of the Blues Magoos from their debut album Psychedelic Lollipop, since my brother’s garage band played some of their songs, including their hit, “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet.”
The Who? I’d hardly heard of them. “They smash their instruments,” my brother told me. That was hard to believe but I set it aside as probably some element of stage showmanship or something. “Happy Jack” was the only tune of theirs I’d heard at all, and I hadn’t really heard it that much — and paid it even less attention: a nice little ditty but nothing much, really, I remember thinking.
I’d only gone to one other rock & roll concert at that time, the Association (playing their big hits “Cherish” and “Everyone Knows It’s Wendy”), with a couple of local bands opening, so seeing a triple bill of touring acts was big doings. In addition to my brother, Scott, two of his friends and bandmates, David and Jim, were with us, as well as Jim’s younger brother, Tom. We were all too young to drive, so somebody’s folks mud have dropped us off.
Our seats were, predictably, way up and off to one side of the stage. This actually gave us a great vantage point to watch the whole stage as well the stairs leading up the back. Kicking the show off, the Blues Magoos were suitably psychedelic, ending their set with their then-infamous extended version of “Tobacco Road,” showing a psychedelic flair beyond even the recorded version we knew so well.
Then the Who hit the stage and this twelve-year-old never knew what hit him. Even from our bleacher seats, Pete Townshend loomed larger than life, arms windmilling wildly as he strutted the stage, spraying the audience with a wall of non-stop guitar, hitting both rhythm and lead. Roger Daltrey, resplendent in a multi-colored paisley cape he swirled about as he spun, swung his microphone like a cowboy’s lariat, almost losing it each time just before grabbing it again for the next line. Back on the drums, manic Keith Moon was blasting away on his double bass drums and array of snares and tom-toms of assorted sizes, looking like an overactive octopus, arms reaching out everywhere all at once. At one point in a song, he picked up a floor tom and heaved it over his head where it bounced a couple of times before falling of the back edge of the stage. Twirling his drumsticks and tossing them in the air, he not only hit every beat, he accented the melody as he played. The last fellow, John Entwhistle, bass player, simply stood over to the side looking mildly disinterested — until you heard his thundering bass lines playing like another lead player under and around Townshend’s power chords and soaring soloes.
The Who — Then:
Monterey Pop Festival, June ’67, one month prior to my show
And then they launched into “My Generation,” Roger pseudo-stuttering through the lyrics as the band brought the tune to a fever pitch of a crashing crescendo, smoke bombs going off on stage, Daltrey smashing his microphone into the cymbals repeatedly as Moon punched, kicked, beat and damned near destroyed his entire drum set, knocking it away from him. Pete played with his guitar like a cat with a dead bird — tossing it up in the air, spinning it, wielding it overhead like an ax, ramming the neck into the speakers behind him. The feedback roared louder, screeching the music to a grinding halt and Pete, Roger, and Keith exited. Still standing stock still off to the side, John simply removed his bass from around his neck, turned it strings down and dropped it to the stage, thundering the set to a close, smoke still drifting away as crew members scurried to clean up for the headliner.
It took them 30 minutes to clear the stage for Herman’s Hermits.
50 years later, I’m still blown away by the show that day — and still a huge Who fan!
The Who — Now:
The Tonight Show, July 19, 2017