July 8, 1967.
I went to the first full-length Who concert in New York at the very run-down-but-once-sorta-glorious Village Theater on 2nd Avenue at East 6th St.
No preamble tonight... Let's get to the gig...
I loved/love that the light show, one of the very earliest, that July 8th, was called After The Third World Raspberry and featured "Psychloramic Lights"! The word, "psychedelic" was still a few months away from being formalized. Frankly, ATTWR's work was anemic crap compared to Joshua's Light Show, still eight months away from arriving with Bill Graham to transform this pit of a theater into the fabled Fillmore East. But we loved the effects, knowing no better.
We sat through the noble, but after three songs, mono-chromatic Richie Havens.
Then, The Blues Project thoroughly redeemed themselves after that bizarre non-performance we'd witnessed at Murray The K's show a few months earlier. This was a hot hot band! Very tight. Very tough. As close as New York City got to the mighty Paul Butterfield Blues Band in Chicago.
My Who Freak pal, and later, bassist of my band, The Planets, Anthony Jones and I then suffered the first 15 minutes of Chrysalis, a dishwater local band long since disappeared under the waves.
And then, along with a few dozen other brats, made them suffer the next 15 with lusty teenage cries of "Get off the stage!", "We want The Who!", etc.
The stage was kept extra dark while The Who's gear was put in place. The stage lights blasted on as The Who hit the beginning of "Substitute".
The Who put on the most outlandish and visually arresting show I'd ever seen.
There were three Vox Super Beatle amps on either side of Keith's enormous double-bass drum kit. In 1967, this looked like a wall of death by guitar and bass. Truly, for a guitar boy, one Super Beatle was a thrill to see. Six in a row was sensory overload. Ironically, The Who, among the very first clients, had long been using far-superior Marshalls in England, but, had to make due with rented Vox amps in the States, something that pissed Pete off no end when Jimi had shown up about two weeks earlier at Monterey Pop with his Marshall stacks. Jimi's manager, Chas Chandler, had been bassist in The Animals. He knew exactly how important those Marshalls were. The Who's management team, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, were non-musician clueless. Historic Irony... not only were Marshalls far and away the loudest, best sounding amps ever made at that point, but, Pete Townshend literally drew Jim Marshall the iconic design on a napkin at a pub...
"Jim, I want two square bottoms with four 12s in each and a separate head I can put where I want."
Voila, the Marshall Stack, the most venerable and imitated amp of all time. Hell, by now, it's a pop culture icon! Thanks, Pete!
Keith's sensational drum kit out-shined the six Vox amps, soon enough, literally. The entire kit was covered with all kinds of cool drippy neon-colored psychedelic graphics, Union Jacks, and sepia pin up girls from the 1900s, over a black background. Dazzling! A work of art as much as a musical instrument. Now, an icon drum kit, this was its first appearance in New York.
John Entwistle was wearing (Yes!) the infamous Union Jack jacket, complete with a garish candy-apple red Fender Jazz bass with matching headstock. His black-as-coal hair and mutton-chop sideburns were exactly like his publicity shots. He looked unreal, like a photo in a fan mag come to life.
Roger was dressed exactly as he was at Monterey Pop, some kind of transvestite granny-fop hard-as-granite nut. The single most unconvincing poof in history. Very very odd! Disconcerting even. Like, purposely 359 degrees off. Oh, and, without a doubt, the first guy I ever saw in two inch heels.
Pete, head to toe in icy white, was playing a sunburst Stratocaster. This, of course, meant, within seconds of the show beginning, I now had to have a Stratocaster, period. No discussion. A thought that obsessed me through the whole show. And... about seven weeks later, I sold a Danelectro guitar and a Premier reverb unit and used the money to buy a November 1957 Strat for a whopping $50! Yes, I still have it!
During the guitar solo of the first song, "Substitute", every light on stage suddenly went out. Now, the entire drum kit was glowing. GLOWING! They'd surrounded Keith's drum riser with black lights. With all the lights off and the black lights on, you could only see Pete and John's snow white pants, the swirling multi-neon-colored graphics on Keith's kit... and the fact that Keith's twirling drumsticks glowed green in the dark, too! After the show, I saw someone in the lobby with one of Keith's sticks. It was indeed pale green and at the grip end of the stick was stamped, "Keith Moon - The Who - Pictures Of Lily". I've never seen another.
The highlight of the whole show for me (besides the last 30 seconds, of course) was my first ever exposure to "a new one for us", as Roger garbled in an intensely thick London accent, "It's an old rock 'n' roll number by Eddie Cochran... 'Summertime Blues!'"
That song floored me. Still does! Later that summer, as a baby guitarist, I stumbled onto the three chord sequence in the same rhythm and attack and thought I'd come up with my first song. Played those three chords for weeks before I realized it was That Who Song! [Fun to note that Pete inverted the same three chords and came up with his classic, "Baba O'Riley".]
Many months later, a dear Who pal, artist David Fratkin, came over to my house with a little 3 inch spool of recording tape. He told me it was a surprise. I wound it into my Dad's tape deck and out of the speakers came an incredibly murky "Summertime Blues" some friend of David's had recorded at a show. David and I listened to it something like 20 times in a row. "Play is again!" was that evening's mantra.
The Who then played a superbly raw but tight take on their latest single, "Pictures Of Lily", contrary to Pete's swearing they never played it in the USA back then. It was also the one time I saw them perform one of Pete's less-heralded masterpieces, "So Sad About Us", which he announced simply as, "So Sad".
The longer a band is playing onstage, the more human they become. This happened to the least extent with The Who of any band I've ever seen. But, yes, by about the sixth song, they started taking on a certain almost-human quality and I was able to start analyzing the sounds I was hearing.
One of The Who's most significant sonic qualities came for the fact that all three instrumentalists had deliberately exaggerated their high end. While Townshend and Entwistle's guitars rumbled and thundered, both had a very raw almost brittle top end to their sound.
Add to that the fact that Keith, ever the complete rule breaker, rode on crash cymbals. This alone created a white noise wash across the sonic spectrum of The Who, akin to a jet engine, as Roger described Moon's playing the first time he sat in with him, Pete and John on Bo Diddley's "Road Runner", also the song where Pete "discovered" his patented string-scrape with his pick. While a drummer will likely wince at this absurd reductivism, there are really only two kinds of cymbals, thick and thin. The thicker, the deader, the more useful to "ride" on, a more open looser feel than keeping your 4/4 tempo on the open/close high-hat cymbals. The thinner the cymbal, the louder, the splashier, the shorter the duration. Keith didn't bother with ride cymbals. He had 3 cymbals out front and one over his floor toms. All four were crashes.
Combine the three layers of sizzling high end and, while you heard the music clearly, there was this sonic element that was just, well, intimidating, uniquely aggressive. An aural assault!
And when Pete hit his fuzz-pedal, Jesus, it wasn't really even music anymore.
I had simply never seen or heard anyone play bass remotely like John Entwistle. Both Chris Squire from Yes, and Greg Lake of King Crimson and ELP, neither of particular interest to me, but, both rightly acknowledged as modern bass masters, have publicly stated that seeing John at the Marquee Club at those Maximum R&B Tuesdays, changed their lives, made 'em buy basses. 100% The Ox's doing... the world over!
Entwistle (and God, he and Keith had the coolest last names in any Brit band) just flew around the neck, wildly spinning out flowing riffs, unwinding like an endless serpent. He was theatrical in his fingering, making both hands look like spiders leaping around, even from the 15th row.
And, John "The Ox"... was... LOUD!
Pete's guitar could and would fight through, but, fight was the operative word throughout the entire set. It was at this show that I realized John's semi-subtle shoulder-shrugging sighs of boredom were as much theater as Roger's mic-lasso, Keith's stick-twirling, Pete's leaps and windmills.
Keith... What can you say... Keith was The Who.
Noel Gallagher of Oasis, a band I have no truck with, really boiled Keith down to five words: The Jimi Hendrix of drummers.
I am madly in love with Ringo, the most underrated rock musician of all time. Charlie Watts is a pure hero to me. Bonham was The Rascals' Master Dino Danelli's greatest disciple. But, Keith Moon? The mold was broken BEFORE they made him. An ADHD savant-virtuoso. His style has been described as the sound of a drum-set down a staircase. Add to that a technique of inhuman ability. One listen to "Young Man Blues" on Live At Leeds is enough.
I would occasionally read Downbeat magazine back then. A pure jazz publication, I would read the interviews with jazz giants I barely knew anything about just because they were so opinionated and sick-knowledgable. Both Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, two of jazz's monolithically monumental drummers by anyone's standards, in separate interviews, both cited "that guy in The Who" as the only rock drummer that impressed them. To be fair, Elvin also mentioned Ringo. Yes!
It was at this show that I got my first taste of just how utterly skewed and off-the-rails this band's overall dynamic was. The Who had to be the first group ever where the lead singer was the least important guy. This might have been the single most dramatically odd and compelling element of The Who's stage show. And Roger Daltrey was/is a genuinely and organically charismatic guy, and as strong and dramatic a singer as anyone you could name. But, he was surrounded by three actual savant/genius/hoodlums. Daltrey's saving grace (besides his magnificent voice) as a visual presence wasn't his ultra-cool extreme-fashion statements (he really was dressed like Norman Bates' mom at this show), it was the absolutely seething toughness he exuded. I can't think of another rock star who gave off this vibe as powerfully. It was clear from the 15th row, you wouldn't fuck with this semi-transvestite unless you wanted to have to drink your breakies and dindin through a straw for six to eight weeks. He famously knocked Pete out cold for several minutes with one punch during a rehearsal in the early '70s after Pete threw his guitar at him.
Now, Daltrey's a rock statesman, (a leftie, too, God bless him!) but back then, Rog was a thug, plain and simple. The aura of menace on their first US Decca release's cover, was plainly evident live and in person. Particularly with Roger Daltrey.
The Who's music/act was almost a weapon. They took the stage with something akin to an invasion/occupation. It was theirs now until they didn't want it anymore. Okay!? That Abby Hoffman chose this band to interrupt at Woodstock indicates that poor Abby was indeed tripping on that fuckin' brown acid.
Over the decades, Pete has had many a wonderful, provocative, quote. But, if I had to choose only one, it would be from a Nik Cohn article in Eye magazine, early 1968...
"We never let the music get in the way of the show."
Chisel in granite!
About five times that July evening, Pete broke into really serious lead guitar playing. In the middle of windmills, leaps, power chords, feedback, he'd suddenly be shredding 1967-style. Each time, within maybe ten seconds, he'd cut it dead with some huge blustery stage move that conveyed an attitude of, "Why waste my time playing real guitar for you? You don't care and, frankly, neither do I. We both know this bit of plank and wire won't even exist 20 minutes from now... and that's what you're fucking here for, right!"
About halfway through the show, the PA crapped out.
The Who launched into John's theme song, "The Ox", the absurdly over-the-top instrumental loosely based on "Wipeout" meets "Green Onions" from their first album. Pete came close to smashing that Strat several songs too early. He actually played paddle ball with the tremelo bar, holding the Strat straight out, flat, in front of him, by the trem bar, and shaking the bar with what seemed the intention of snapping it off. He did the trick twice and I have no idea how the bar survived or how the guitar stayed in tune. And, it did!
Years later, the same thing happened one night at the Fillmore East. Guitar amps okay, but, no PA for about 5 minutes. That night, The Who actually played "Green Onions". Turned out Pete knew all of Booker T's organ parts. It was kinda cute to see his concentration on getting them right, clearly something they jammed on a few times a year.
And yes, July 8, 1967, was back in the days when they still set off smoke bombs during the chaotic coda of "My Generation". Even knowing it was bullshit, it still looked just fantastic.
At one point, just before the Coda of Chaos began, all the stage lights went out again, but this time, while Keith's kit glowed in the dark, there was a tight hot white spotlight no more than two feet wide that landed square on Pete Townshend's white-clad ass. While The Who basically just made raw howling noise, Pete shook his ass at all of us. It was ummmmm memorable.
The destruction was thorough. That gorgeous new sunburst Fender guitar definitely did not make it to another show, that much I know. I saw the pieces fly!
I vividly recall, for me, the most thrilling little factor: Pete really seemed to have nothing but total contempt for the guitar. None of that "sacrificing something I love" jive. More like, "Fuck this cookie-cutter piece of shit!" A piece of shit that me and many hundreds of thousands of other kids worshipped like a sacred object. It was that impression of total jade-ment and his haughty disdainful dismissive anger, actually something akin to an ennui-fury, that made its mark on me.
There was a distinctly Clockwork Orange vibe about The Who. The wanton destruction had a harsh indifference about it. Although, with Keith Moon, you did get a dose of rabid glee, too. They really never came off remotely 'zany' during the smash-ups. Pete, especially, would often look really really pissed off.
God, whatta thrill!
The sad fact was, I was a kid whose parents' marriage was dramatically falling apart.
My reaction... I was always angry.
Pete manifested my anger and vented it in the most spectacular way, destroying that which I coveted most. Pete Townshend was blindingly, impossibly, cool.
The fact is, this show has taken on a remembering-a-dream-like quality over the decades.
I do know this: I arrived at that venue that night an excited Who fan... and left a Warped Zealot!