NEW YORK — The Who brought 45 individual speakers to bear on the first full-scale live performance of their rock opera Tommy and played six standing room, teeth gnashing performances at the Fillmore East in New York, October 20-25.
For their efforts, they walked away with 70 percent of the $75,000 gate. It was the first time ever that the Fillmore had been open during the week for a major group and the first time any group had played the theater for more than two consecutive days.
“It’s my feeling,” says Fillmore Managing Director, Kip Cohen, “that they could have played for a month to sellout audiences.”
Not only were they drawing the rock crowd, but a lot of other music and theater people who had tuned in to Tommy through sources like Clive Barnes (drama critic of the New York Times) and felt they were going to see something familiar.
The Who’s previous three Fillmore engagements had been downed – the first time by riots, second by the assassination of Martin Luther King and the last time, when they did portions of the 2 1/2 hour opera, by a fire in the next door supermarket.
This time any such extra excitement probably would have brought the roof down on the audience, already pulverized by the overwhelming sound. It was the first time the Fillmore had allowed an act to use its own sound system and for all but the fanatics, it was too loud, too treble, and there was too much feedback.
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For their next US tour, scheduled for February and March, the Who has its sights on arenas such as the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, where they can let it all blast out.
They will not, performing elsewhere in the United States, do the entire opera, but will do a truncated version of Tommy comprising about three-quarters of the original. That’s about two hours worth.
This story is from the November 29th, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.