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'Tommy' Takes the Opera Houses

The band hits opera houses in England, France and Germany, but gets cold-shouldered elsewhere

February 7, 1970
The Who performing on stage in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The Who performing on stage in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Jan Persson/Redferns

LONDON — French conductor Pierre Boulez once expressed a wish to blow up opera houses. Pete Townshend obviously prefers infiltration.

On January 16th, the Who start their first tour of Europe in four years. A grand tour. They open in Paris at the Theatre Champs Elysees, the first pop group ever to play that establishment. From there it's the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen and on to Germany and the Cologne Opera House, the Hamburg Opera House and Berlin's German Opera House.

On December 14th the Who brought their British tour to an end with a performance of Tommy at the London Coliseum opera house. Except for the royal box, all 2,500 seats were filled.

In Germany, says Who factotum Peter Rudge, the group is scheduled to have "a cup of tea and a doughnut with President Heinemann and then they're going to lay some bread on him for the Save The Children Fund." In turn, President Heinemann will attend the Who's performance in Cologne.

At the London Coliseum Townshend told the audience "I went to Covent Garden last night . . . Not bad, but not so good as us. Now we're going to take over."

They then performed Tommy, the enormous dome of the opera house creating high-spaced echoes, far-away yearning calls of "Hear Me, Touch Me, Feel Me." They surrounded the performance of their opera with "I Can't Explain," "Fortune Teller," "Young Man Blues," "A Quick One While He's Away," "Substitute," "Happy Jack," "I'm a Boy," and, after the opera, "Summertime Blues," "Shakin' All Over," "My Generation"; revealing as usual Tommy's roots and extensions, showing Tommy's place in the Who's total body of music. The crowd at the Coliseum gave a standing ovation; the uniformed house attendants jigged to "A Quick One While He's Away."

"The European tour," says Rudge, "is very political. We were turned down in Austria, Italy, Switzerland and got the cold shoulder in Spain. We've been working on the tour for four or five months and the Germans were very groovy, so were the Dutch. But for some of the others it was a bit too much for them to contemplate the Who in their sacred opera houses. 'How can you suggest . . . a long-haired pop group!'"

Had they heard about what went on down at the Bristol Hippodrome, which the Who played just prior to London Coliseum, they really would have gone into a spin. Two smoke bombs hit the Hippodrome stage, the second during "Shakin' All Over." A spotlight shot up to the box whence the bombs arrived to illuminate the bomb thrower exposing his bare bottom. He was dragged away shouting "Fascist bastards" as Townshend asked the audience, "Did you see those pimples?"

"The Who hates Europe," says Rudge. "That's why they haven't been there for so long. But we wanted to do our bit to turn on Europe; it's a long way behind England and the U. S. in terms of its pop music."

In April, the Who will make a three week tour of the U S.

This story is from the February 7th, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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