I remember the first time that I saw The Who was in 1965. They played a show at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon. There they were -- Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon, all looking Edwardian in their frock coats and their ruffle shirts that looked right out of the movie Tom Jones. You could tell at that time these guys were bold, wanted to have a lot of fun and they were dangerous, known especially for destroying their guitars and equipment on stage, especially Pete Townsend and Keith Moon.
The Who really manifested a lot of youthful alienation. They really searched and explored the lexicon of youthful angst.
The next time I saw The Who was at Bill Graham's Fillmore West in San Francisco. This was during the summer of 1968. The rock opera album Tommy had just been released and The Who were touring and playing the album live in its entirety.
My mother and I drove to San Francisco from Portland, Oregon in our 1962 Blue Volkswagen beetle. I was in the height of my rock and roll journalism career, just like out of the movie Almost Famous. I was writing for a magazine called Datebook and I managed to get to interview Pete Townsend at their hotel after The Who's show.
Meanwhile back at the Fillmore West, it was quite a scene. My mother waited outside at the base of the stairs talking to the African-American cop who looked up at the marquee sign and saw the name Cold Blood, a then mainstay San Francisco band at that time, and he shuddered. I remember walking up the stairs at the Fillmore West and passed Cass Elliott who was coming down the stairs. I think tickets for that show were four dollars. That night Bill Graham had The Who headlining along with the James Cotton Blues Band and Magic Sam, with a light show by the Holy See.
Upstairs there was a big dance floor, about 3,000 people were sitting on the floor, smoking, in various states of consciousness. The Who were performing on stage and the Holy See light show was blazing in the background. I remember Roger Daltrey swinging his microphone lasso style out over the heads of the people sitting on the floor at the Fillmore West. I thought if one person stands up, they could get decapitated.
Pete Townsend was very cool, very thoughtful. He sat on the couch, strummed his Martin acoustic guitar and was singing "The Pusher" by Steppenwolf. He talked about writers and politics. You could tell that he was an innovative guy.
In 1989, I saw The Who this time at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in Alpine Valley. This was a large outdoor Woodstockesque amphitheater. The Who was touring for the twentieth-fifth anniversary of the release of Tommy. The band this time was minus Keith Moon -- who had died in 1978. Kenny Jones now played drums and John Babbitt played keyboards. Pete Townsend, Roger Daltrey, and John Entwistle were out in front as the band blasted on stage to the theme of the television western series Bonanza.
So when The Who Hits 50 tour came to the Frank Erwin Center at the University of Texas in Austin on Monday night, April 27, 2015, I thought this will be interesting to see: Who they are now in 2015.
Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed. The band now in its post-Keith Moon/John Entwistle -- who died in 2002 -- phase features now Zak Starkey, son of Ringo Starr on the drums. This has become a nice merge of Beatles and Who culture. The visual light show, for example, was spectacular; it reminded me a lot of the Peter Max-type art form only now put in digital format. The visual swirls of red light highlighting pictures of the band members along with the endless light imagery of flowing blue water merged nicely with the fluidity of the music.
The band has never played better. Pete Townsend's guitar solos were mesmerizing and there were plenty of windmill whirls that Townsend performed while playing his guitar. Roger Daltrey's voice is still very strong and he managed to swirl his microphone effectively, this time with a shorter cord that did not revile his antics years ago at the Fillmore West.
The band's 22-song set ranged from the early "I Can't Explain" up through more recent tunes like "You Better, You Bet." The Who served up quite a few songs from Tommy and Quadrophenia including "Pinball Wizard", "Sparks", "I'm One" and "Love Reign Over Me". They also reached back to include gems like "Pictures Of Lily", "Magic Bus", "The Kids Are Alright" -- even the obscure mini-opera "A Quick One While He's Away". They played with great precision and passion as they delivered "Behind Blue Eyes", " Bargain", "Baba O'Reilly", "Who Are You?" and "Won't Get Fooled Again". Another highlight of the night was an especially jazzy "Eminence Front".
WHO are you in 2015? They are an incredible group of gifted musicians, storytellers and cultural observers who have generated a lot of great music for the past five decades. They have chronicled alienation from authority, lost love and even rage at Autism -- and they have been fun to watch. Roger Daltrey hinted that this will probably be their last tour, but then again The Who said this before in 1989 and they continued to flourish.
I really hope that The Who stays around for a while yet.
Yeah, the kids are alright.