Most fans of the Who point to the band’s 1989 reunion tour as their absolute low point as a live act. Not only did Pete Townshend play acoustic guitar most of the night to protect his damaged hearing, but the five-man lineup of their 1982 farewell tour suddenly swelled to a whopping fifteen musicians all crammed together onstage. Roger Daltrey was also far from top form since he was experiencing severe stomach problems through most of the tour that eventually required surgery.
Despite all the problems, bad haircuts and other poor decisions, the Who staged a marathon three-hour show every night that kicked off with a complete performance of Tommy followed by a mixture of hits, deep cuts and, in a move they’ve never done before or since, tracks from their solo careers. They even played unexpected covers like “Hey Joe” and “Born On The Bayou.”
One of the motivations for the tour was John Entwistle’s desperate financial situation. He often said that being in the Who was like “winning the lottery, but not cashing in the ticket.” His income sank dramatically in the 1980s, even as he continued to live a lavish lifestyle on a castle-like estate.
Entwistle’s songwriting skills were always overshadowed by the simple fact he was in a band with Pete Townshend, but the bassist was a very gifted writer who liked to draft songs about men with vices. “Whiskey Man” is about an alcoholic, “My Wife” is about a dodgy character whose wife (probably with good reason) suspects him of infidelity, and “Trick of the Light” is about a guy who hires a prostitute to gauge whether or not he’s skilled in bed. The man in “Boris The Spider” doesn’t seem to have any real vices, though his fixation on a spider that he eventually crushes is a little disturbing. (It’s no coincidence that Entwistle himself had issues with drugs, angry wives and women of ill-repute. It’s unclear what he thought about spiders.)
One of the highlights of the Who’s 1989 tour was “Trick of the Light.” (Check out the video above from a show in Tacoma, Washington.) “This is a song about hookers, ladies of the night,” Entwistle told the crowd at the Tacoma Dome. “And the good they do for everyone in the world.” About an hour or so later, Pete Townshend slashed open his hand while windmilling during “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” He rushed to the hospital for stitches, forcing the band to play the encores without him. Lucky for him, there were fourteen other people on stage more than capable of playing a couple songs without him.