Virtually nobody disputes the notion that the Who were never quite the same after Keith Moon died in 1978. Not only did Faces drummer Kenny Jones take his place behind the kit the following year, but the group also added keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick and a three-piece horn section to their live lineup. When the group reformed in 1989, a whopping 15 people were on the stage, with Pete Townshend playing only acoustic guitar. The original band was essentially a power trio with a lead singer, so this new incarnation sounded little like the Who that fans knew and love.
The Quadrophenia tour of 1996/97 was a small step in the right direction because Townshend began playing electric guitar again, but they didn’t really get themselves together until 1999 when they hit the road as a five-piece, with Ringo’s kid Zak Starkey on drums and Bundrick on keys. Things began slowly with a quick corporate gig in Las Vegas and an acoustic set at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit, but they didn’t fully unveil the potential of this reinvigorated Who until they played Chicago’s House of Blues in mid-November.
Tickets were just about impossible to score, especially since Eddie Vedder opened up the shows with his side project C-Average, but the lucky few inside witnessed an absolutely magical evening. Not only did they play for over two hours, but they busted out super rarities like “A Legal Matter,” “Let’s See Action,” “Pure and Easy” and “Getting in Tune.” Midway through, they even unplugged for an acoustic set packed with pre-Tommy obscurities like “Tattoo,” “Mary Ann With the Shaky Hands” and “I’m a Boy.”
A handful of songs from the night were released on the out-of-print double CD Blues to the Bush, but some kind soul has posted a stellar audience recording onto YouTube. Townshend is absolutely on fire all night, and John Entwistle’s thunderous bass powers every single song and reveals why his loss three years later was perhaps even more devastating to the band than Keith Moon’s death.
#24:32 – “Pure and Easy.” This beautiful song somehow was cut from Who’s Next, and this was the first time they’d played it since the summer of 1971.
#53:15 – “I’m a Boy.” The unplugged portion of the evening wraps up with the Who’s wonderfully obscure 1966 song about a future society were parents can custom-order the sex of their children, though in this case there was a screwup and a sad kid named Bill is forced to dress up like a girl. They played it again a few weeks later, and not a single time since.
#1:05:01 – “After the Fire.” Roger Daltrey’s solo career didn’t produce many great songs, though this 1985 Townshend-penned tune is a definite exception. “This is the only song I’ve ever written for Roger since The Who stopped recording in 1982,” he said. “This is the first time the Who have performed it.” This is another one they haven’t touched since the 1999 mini-tour.
#1:52:55 – “A Legal Matter”/”I Walk the Line”/”Ring of Fire.” There are only five known performances of the The Who Sings My Generation deep cut, and this is the most recent. “This is not something that’s ever happened to me,” Townsend says midway through. “But maybe you should sing it. I can’t identify with it anymore. I was very young when I wrote this, I was 19. I’d only had sex the year before.” The song then transitions into a medley of Johnny Cash songs with Roger Daltrey taking over lead vocals. This is about as loose and spontaneous as the Who get.
#2:03:30 – “Let’s See Action.” After a blazing “My Generation,” the Who brought out Eddie Vedder to join them on the 1971 non-album single “Let’s See Action.” The Pearl Jam frontman was clearly overjoyed to be singing with his idols, and it’s the perfect way to wrap up the Who’s single greatest post-Keith Moon concert.