Monday 30 July 2018

The Who: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

You can now buy 'Gettin' In Tune - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of...The Who' in e-book form by clicking here

I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important. Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! The Who, of course, were born for the stage with a power and fire that couldn’t be contained within their (generally) more complex and elaborate studio recordings. To this day ‘Live At Leeds’ is the best-selling AAA live record of them all (just squeezing out The Rolling Stones’ ‘Get Yer Ya Yas Out) and while it was the Rollers who liked to be described as ‘the world’s greatest rock and roll band’ on stage, fans of both (who had to sit through more than a few patchy gigs) knew that The Who surely deserved that accolade. It seems a shame to restrict ourselves to just five concerts (especially given that The Who may well have played more shows than any AAA act bar Neil Young or The Beach Boys, with some three thousand ish – including five hundred odd gigs added to the official tally after their first official break-up in 1982). However until they invent a time machine so I can go back and watch every single one of those shows (sigh, trust me I really would…) this little list will have to do. Please note that, rather than do what we do with most of our bands, we haven’t gone with a ‘final’ gig even though the one performed at New Jersey’s Prudential Centre on March 29th 2017 was announced as the ‘last’ gig. We have of course been here before many many times (in 1982, 1985, 1989, 1997, 2000, 2008, 2014…) and my guess is that The Who will never be able to retire for very long. They just belong on stage too badly…

1)  Where: Paradise Club, London When: July 1st 1962 Why: First Gig Setlist: Unknown

We can though bring you their first gig, what little we know about it (there’s even debate about where and when it was though – some Who books say that it was Acton’ Town Hall on September 1st 1962; some form of this band existed since 1959 by the way but only Roger survived from that lineup and most people don’t count it as ‘The Who’). What we do know is that at the time The Who were still known as ‘The Detours’. They were very different though: Roger Daltrey is not yet their lead singer and is instead their lead guitarist, with vocals handled by Colin Dawson, while Doug Sandom is still their drummer for the next year or so before bumping into Keith Moon and Pete Townshend, down as their rhythm guitar player, is not yet writing any songs. Only John Entwistle is taking up the position he will take up on stage for the next forty years although for now he is playing on a home-made bass he created himself during woodwork lessons. The Detours are in fact all still at school except Roger (who has just left) and Doug (who being ten years older than the rest of the band left what must have seemed a lifetime ago). The setlist is very different too:  no one’s all that sure what the band played but it almost certainly featured nothing from any of the band’s future record (Roger hasn’t even started on his James Brown obsession yet) and probably included Chuck Berry covers (the band definitely played ‘C’mon’ for a time after London’s biggest local band The Rolling Stones started doing it). The band probably got this booking – the band’s first not for a school function or a private wedding – through local promoter Robert Druce, who was contacted as a favour to the band by Pete’s mum. They will continue to play around London’s clubs as The Detours until 1964 when, to their horror, they see a poster for a band named ‘Johnny Devlin and the Detours’ and realise that they need a new name. Oh and a new drummer…

2)  Where: Railway Hotel, Wealdstone When: June 30th 1964 Why: Breakthrough Gig Setlist: ‘Smokestack Lightning’ ‘I’m A Man’ ‘Road Runner’ (incomplete)

The two years up to mid 1964 are a time of growth and development for The Who. Roger moves into lead singer position, Pete writes his first song (‘It Was You’, a ballad he is deeply embarrassed by and is often teased for) and Keith is a new drummer after joining the band from May 2nd 1964. However The Who don’t feel quite right yet. Their set is full of tidy covers of songs every other band was doing (including future live favourite Bo Diddley covers [  ] ‘Roadrunner’ and [26] ‘I’m A Man’ - Roger has indeed ‘made twenty-one’ though the rest haven’t, not for another couple of years yet or four in Keith’s case) as well as blues standard ‘Smokestack Lightnin’. Other songs known to be played on this tour (though not necessarily at this gig) include The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’, Booker T and the MGs’ ‘Green Onions’, Willie Dixon’s ‘Pretty Thing’ and future live favourite [114] ‘Young Man Blues’. They don’t yet have any of the songs from their debut album the next year in place and, well, it all feels a little bare and artificial. Until tonight when Pete gets really angry – this band are great, why are the crowd not dancing? Desperate to get them up on their feet and dancing he starts lunging about the stage, trying to get their attention. Unfortunately in his passion Pete forgets that the venue they’re playing is a very tiny place with very low ceilings and his Rickenbacker guitar launches up and tears a hole right through it. Everyone is watching now but Pete doesn’t want them to stop or freak out over what he’s just done to his guitar. So he nonchalantly plucks it down from the ceiling and stamps on it, Keith choosing that moment to utterly destroy his drums at the same time while Roger and John look on bemused. The audience goes nuts, thrilled at the sheer danger and excitement of it, starting a chant of ‘smash your guitar, Pete!’ that will last for decades. Pete will oblige more times than he says no (and even John will wreck a few instruments in shows a few years from now) and The Who become known as a violent act who care nothing for the destruction of their instruments every night. What no one knew at the time is that, as penniless musicians, The Who couldn’t afford to destroy their instruments every night and spent their time in-between gigs desperately sticking their guitars and drums back together for the next night when they will get smashed up all over again…

3)  Where: Bolton Institute Of Technology When: April 1969 Why: First Tommy Setlist: [116] Heaven and Hell [4] I Can’t Explain [86] Fortune Teller [56] Tattoo [114] Young Man Blues [87] Overture [89] 1921 [90] Amazing Journey [91] Sparks [92] Eyesight To The Blind [93] Christmas [95] The Acid Queen [97] Do You Think It’s Alright? [98] Fiddle About [99] Pinball Wizard [101] Go To The Mirror [102] Tommy Can You Hear Me? [103] Smash The Mirror [105] Miracle Cure [106] Sally Simpson [107] I’m Free! [109] Tommy’s Holiday Camp [110] We’re Not Gonna Take It-See Me Feel Me [78] Summertime Blues [115] Shakin’ All Over [22] My Generation

By 1969 The Who are an institution. They have survived the great split of 1967 (when Keith and John very nearly broke away to form ‘Led Zeppelin’ with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and Roger was nearly kicked out of the band for arguing too much!), flower power (1967 didn’t suit their natural destructive sound very much, though a performance at the Monterey Pop festival went down well) and the ‘lost’ year of 1968 (when the band released no new LPs and only novelty singles, unsure as to their new direction). Suddenly though, just as everyone have written The Who off, back they come with not just a new album but a whole new concept of making music. This first performance of Tommy (which we’ve picked as a ‘key’ gig over Woodstock four months later simply because we’ve already written about that elsewhere in this book) is a key moment. No other band had devoted so much of their setlist to a new work and even in reduced form (the band gave the boot to [94] ‘Cousin Kevin’ and [96] ‘The Underture’ in rehearsals figuring they slowed the piece down and would later drop the wordy [106] ‘Sally Simpson’ too) this new part of their show still ran to an hour without a pause or a break anywhere. Bolton fans weren’t expecting to be treated to such a debut and had in fact yet to hear the album which wouldn’t be out for another month (the gig was in fact a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the gig the papers were invited to, at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London on May 1st) but the show was a success right from the first and vindicated the faith the band had put into this major change in direction which, had it not been a success, could have easily been the last thing The Who would ever do. In time The Who would perform this setlists more or less complete for the next two hundred odd shows and two years including some of their finest  not just Woodstock but ‘Live At Leeds’ and ‘The Isle Of Wight Festival’ too.  Alas no live recordings exist of ‘Tommy’ all the way up to Woodstock.

4)  Where: Cow Palace, San Francisco When: November 20th 1973 Why: Keith Collapses Setlist: [4] I Can’t Explain [78] Summertime Blues [22] My Generation [145] I Am The Sea [146] The Real Me [149] The Punk and The Godfather [150] I’m One [152] Helpless Dancer [155] 5:15 [156] Sea and Sand [157] Drowned [158] Bell Boy [159] Dr Jimmy [161] Love Reign O’er Me [130] Won’t Get Fooled Again [83] Magic Bus [110] See Me Feel Me ‘Smokestack Lightning’ [117] Spoonful [140] Naked Eye

It’s not every gig that nearly gets cancelled not because of illness or a band split but because the drummer has just overdosed on animal tranquilisers. This gig has gone down in history as the moment when things go a bit mad (well, madder), with Keith having an eveil look in his eyes all night and playing most of the songs in the first set too fast for the band to keep up with (playing havoc with the backing tracks for ‘Quadrophenia’). Come set two he’s visibly struggling and collapses across his kit a few bars into ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. The roadies heave him backstage and stick him in a cold shower – Keith comes around enough to try again and after a half-hour delay bounds back on to the stage apologising to fans. However he collapses again seconds into the same song and lies there lifeless. A desperate search backstage reveals that Keith has taken not just his normal quantity of booze and drugs but enough animal tranquiliser to fell an elephant. Unwilling to go home and afraid of a riot if the show gets stopped after such a long wait Pete pleads with the audience ‘is there anybody out there who can play the drums? I mean anyone good?’ A nineteen year old named Scott Halpin is out with friends who realise that he is a drummer and push him towards the security guard at the front of the stage - he’s the only person to put himself forward. Bill Graham, in charge of the show as ever, asks him if he thinks he’s up to it – Scott surprises himself by saying ‘yes!’ Pete chats to him, asks what songs he knows, introduces him to the audience and leads him to Keith’s drumkit. Alas The Who have already played most of their live favourites in the first half so decide to stick to the simplest songs in their set. Scott equits himself well and though debate still rages as to which songs he played on (memory being a fickle thing) most people agree that he played at least ‘Naked Eye’ ‘Magic Bus’ and ‘Spoonful’ (The Who also filled in time witrh a drum-less ‘See Me Feel Me’ while waiting for Keith to wake up – it seems odd they didn’t do their near a capella [129] ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ this way too). Poor Scott was exhausted after three songs and couldn’t manage a fourth, making this one of the shortest Who gigs of the era, but he gave the crowd a concert to remember and by all accounts acquitted himself well (he is, naturally, the AAA’s very own time-traveller if you read our April Fool’s Day column, *here*…) Amazingly, shaky audience-shot footage exists though alas only ten minutes worth of highlights (including the moment Keith collapses and Scott playing on ‘Smokestack Lightning’). As for Keith, he recuperated in hospital and never took animal tranqulisers again. He did, however, take lots of other stuff instead…

5)  Where: Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinatti, Ohio When: December 3rd 1979 Why: Most Notorious Gig Setlist: [44] Substitute [4] I Can’t Explain [122] Baba O’Riley [149] The Punk and The Godfather [125] My Wife [187] Sister Disco [129] Behind Blue Eyes [188] Music Must Change [157] Drowned [192] Who Are You? [155] 5:15 [99] Pinball Wizard [110] We’re Not Gonna Take It-See Me Feel Me [144] Long Live Rock! [144] Long Live Rock! [22] My Generation [58] I Can See For Miles [90] Amazing Journey [91] Sparks [130] Won’t Get Fooled Again [78] Summertime Blues [146] The Real Me

The Who wasn’t an entirely unhappy ship fromn 1973 onwards but its fair to say that Keith’s incident marked a watershed moment in their live fortunes. The ‘Quadrophenia’ live tour hadn’t gone down as well with fans as hoped (especially as they played to a click-track tape and Roger was busy explaining the story every five minutes). A ‘greatest’ hits tour across 1974 and 1975 was the band’s last with Keith who was struggling to keep up with the band, the quartet playing their last full show at The Kilburn in 1977 (now out on DVD) and their last mini-performance together in front of a specially selected audience (and cameras) for the ‘Maximum R and B’ DVD. The Who returned to the live arena with a blast in 1979, eager to make up for lost time now that they had Keith’s replacement Kenny Jones of The Small Faces in tow who could give the band full power again at last. However even this longed for tour was not a happy one: they all missed Keith deeply, Roger struggled to sing to Kenney’s beat the same way he instinctively did to Keith’s and the band realised there was something wrong with the sound, electing to fill it with their first subsidiary musician, John ‘Rabbit’ Brundrick, whose keyboard work is the highlight of many a 1979 show. However it was by and large a miserable experience and the band only pushed through for financial reasons (John Entwistle needing a quick injection of cash to stay financially afloat yet again). The Who still hoped that things would get better though, that all band and fans had to do was adjust to the new sound. And then it happened – the deaths of eleven fans, in a terrible mistake. The arena seated 18,000 people with only 4000 pre-booked tickets – the rest were given on a first-come, first-served basis. Naturally many people wanted to get there earkly to get a ticket. So early, in fact, that The Who were still playing their soundcheck – later than planned due to a delay getting to the venue. The Coliseum had, at the time, a short corridor with single doors that could only be opened one way. It was, after all, everything they needed – they hadn’t held many large rock concerts and weren’t expecting so many people at once. But of course everyone arriving early heard The Who playing, clamoured to see what was happening and hadn’t realised the situation with the doors. The people at the front couldn’t open them quickly enough and got crushed, while more and more people turned up at the end of the line pushing to get in. The organisers decided to only open one official set of doors, to ‘funnel’ the crowd through these, but impatient and angry and sure they were missing a show the surge became too strong. As well as the eleven people who died of asphyxiation, twenty-three people sustained life-changing injuries in the crush. The Who weren’t told about any of this (for fear of cancelling and creating a bigger crisis) and wondered at half-time why the crowd were so subdued. The event had several ripples: The Who, used to violence at their shows since the early days, grew more sickened with touring; the next few shows were immediately cancelled; the venue had a ban on unbooked tickets until as late as 2004; a then-new band named Pearl Jam were the next to play the venue and played a version of [146] ‘The Real Me’ in tribute and the writers of Pink Floyd film ‘The Wall’ then in production decided to base their crowd scene on this moment (which must have been difficult for a guest at the premiere, one Pete Townshend, to sit through). The sad event was also a nail in the coffin of The Who in 1982, with none of the band facing touring with quite the same apetitite they’d once had (though they did still play forty-three shows across 1980, twenty-seven in 1981 and forty-two in 1982, so as usual these things are never clear cut!)  

Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) There are, of course, zillions of Who cover songs out there just as there with many of the more famous AAA members. What’s interesting, though, is how much they are spaced out (there is no one Who song covered more than the others, though [99] ‘Pinball Wizard’ and the ‘See Me Feel Me’ part of [110] ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ probably win by a nose), how many songs have been covered in total (even fragments of rock operas that shouldn’t work without the concept such as [103] ‘Smash The Mirror’, a minor hit for King’s Road in 1973 or obscure John Entwistle B-sides such as Dollface’s contemporary cover of [81] ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’) and how these all seem to ebb and flow across the decades, peaking in the great mod revival of 1979 and to a lesser extent with Britpop in the mid-1990s. There are a few Who tribute albums out there too, such as 2001’s ‘Substitute’ featuring Paul Weller, The Stereophonics , Sheryl Crow, David Bowie and Ocean Colour Scene and 2012’s ‘Who Are You?’ featuring Ian Paice and Iggy Pop, though we’ve stuck with three alternative choices for this week’s article.
1)  [29] Disguises (The Jam, B-Side ‘Funeral Pyre’, 1981)
Paul Weller was a huge fan of the mod scene in general and The Who in particular. The Jam, like The Who before them, always wore their influences on their sleeve and they featured several Townshend songs in their act down the years. [42] ‘So Sad About Us’ is the cover that always gets the most attention, but to these ears the band’s B-side run through an even more obscure Who song from their ‘Ready Steady Who!’ EP of 1966 is better yet. It would have been, in the early 1980s, a very modern sounding song – the whole point of the track is that something isn’t quite right, with its lyrics about forever mistaking strangers for your loved one and a performance that has shimmering guitars meshing with a deliberately ugly bass line and lashings of French Horn. You’re not meant to know which way is up or down and that’s very much in keeping with the new wave music scene. Weller’s arrangement drops the French Horn and tidies everything into a neat jacket but is basically the same – the narrator’s girlfriend is forever wearing disguises and always looks different while he’s forever surprised by new things he finds out about her personality. He sounds detached from us throughout, while the ever under-rated rhythm section of Bruce Foxton and Rick Butler keep up the endless relentless cacophony. The result is one of the last Jam B-sides and one of their best.
2)   [27] A Legal Matter (Richard Thompson, ‘One Thousand Years Of Popular Music’, 2003)
In the millennium Playboy magazine decided to run a feature on ‘the best songs of the thousand years’. They were being facetious of course – they didn’t expect any nominations before 1950 – but they should have known better than to ask music scholar and singer-songwriter Richard Thompson. In total he chose twenty-three songs that he felt best summed up the different passages of human civilisation which veered from Purcell and tales of ‘Henry V’s Conquest In France’ to songs by Prince and Britney Spears. When Playboy, realising their folly, decided to condense the article down and release it as a bare-bones CD instead Thompson took his list out on the road instead, interpreting all of these tracks for a live album instead. ‘A Legal Matter’ is the clear highlight as well as being the most obscure of the 20th century songs on the list. Pete Townshend’s lone vocal on Who debut ‘Sings My Generation’ it’s a tale of impish glee at having escaped the institution of marriage and the fact that his wife has broken the ‘vow’ first. Perhaps cheekily written to reflect Roger’s marital struggles of the time, Richard had his own major public fallout with wife Linda, a singer with a beautiful voice who was co-credited on a string of jaw-dropping albums across the 1970s and early 1980s. Here, though, Richard is alone, singing alone to his acoustic guitar how ‘you’ve got me on the run’ and ‘marrying’s no fun’. The song sounds great stripped to its bare bones like this and – with all respect to a twenty-year-old Pete who copes remarkably well on his first time singing lead in a cold studio environment – sung by someone who can really sing. The song really swings into gear as Richard gets impassioned and whips the song up into more of a frenzy with the cry ‘I’m sorry baby!’ Thrilling stuff.
3)  [62] Rael (Petra Haden ‘Sings The Who Sell Out’, 2005)
We close with a real labour of love that simply must be applauded. There are fan works out there that re-create entire albums – generally Beatle LPs and usually badly. ‘That Dog’ vocalist Petra Haden, though, wins the award for the most inventive re-working of an AAA LP by re-creating the entire ‘Who Sell Out’ album using nothing but her voice. Every lead and backing vocal, every psychedelic guitar solo, every whizzing effect (check out [52] ‘Armenia City In The Sky!’), every groovy bass line, every Moony drum solo, every French horn part, even every jingle is sung one by one and overdubbed on top of each other to create an album that’s if anything even more out-there and psychedelic than the original. Almost all of the album sounds great (though alas [58] ‘I Can See For Miles’ is the only track that doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot) but surely the most impressive moment comes in the re-creation of the album’s six minute closing number. Even the original was ridiculously complicated and that’s from a band all playing at once – re-created everything in ‘aahs’ ‘dums’ and ‘woohs’ is astonishing. Best of all you can actually hear what the words are thanks to Petra’s crystal-clear diction (Roger could have learnt a thing or two from her!) Oh and if that wasn’t enough Haden even re-creates the album covers too. Haven’t baked beans got smaller and redder in the intervening forty years?!? This album must have taken forever to put together but its worth every moment, an astonishing achievement of devotion and attention to detail which leaves me with nothing more to do than take my hat off to her. Pete Townshend too, who said on this album’s release that hearing such love and care devoted to his work was ‘better than a Grammy’.  It’s been a long time since 2005 though – is it too much to hope that Petra is busy working on re-creating the whole of double-album ‘Tommy’ as a sequel?!?

A complete collection of Who reviews:

'The Who Sing My Generation' (1965)

'Sell Out' (1967)

‘Tommy’ (1969)

'Live At Leeds' (1970)

'Lifehouse' (As It Might Have Been) (1971)

'Who's Next' ('Lifehouse' As It Became) (1971)

'Quadrophenia' (1973)

'The Who By Numbers' (1975)

'Who Are You' (1978)

'Face Dances' (1979)

'Empty Glass' (Townshend solo 1980)

'It's Hard' (1982)

Surviving Who TV Clips 1965-2015

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1964-1967

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2014

Pete Townshend “Scoop” 1-3

The Best Unreleased Who Recordings

Live/Solo/Rarities/Competition Albums Part One 1965-1972

Live/Solo/Rarities/Competition Albums Part Two 1972-1975

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Three 1976-1982

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Four 1983-1990

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Five 1991-2000

Essay: Who Are You And Who Am I?:

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