The Who resumed their Moving On! world tour with a stop at Madison Square Garden on Sunday and used the opportunity to play their new song “Big Cigars” for the first time in America. The tune is part of their in-progress LP that Townshend told the audience will come out in November. It’s their first collection of new songs since 2006’s Endless Wire and just their second since 1982’s It’s Hard.
“Big Cigars” was first released as “Guantanamo” on Pete Townshend’s 2015 compilation album Truancy: The Very Best of Pete Townshend. The politically charged song is about the prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. “Down in Guantanamo/We still got the ball and chain,” Daltrey sang. “That pretty piece of Cuba/Resolved to cause men pain/When you light up in Cuba You won’t feel the same again.”
The Who first played it at London’s Wembley Stadium on July 6th along with “Hero Ground Zero,” a previously unknown song also slated for the Who’s new record. Townshend wrote most of the new songs specifically for Daltrey’s voice, but initially got very mixed feedback when he shared them with him. “Just silence from Roger,” Townshend told Rolling Stone in January. “I had to bully him to respond and then it wasn’t the response I wanted. He just blathered for a while and in the end I really stamped my foot and said, ‘Roger, I don’t care if you really like this stuff. You have to sing it. You’ll like it in 10 years time.’”
In time, though, Daltrey learned to love the material. “They’re all great songs,” he said. “ But sometimes I hear them and I think, ‘I can’t add anything to this to make my job as singer worthy of doing anything better than what Pete has already done.’ There’s at least five or six I can lay into and I’m sure they’ll come out incredible.”
For now, the Who are focused on this new leg of their Moving On! tour that will keep them on the road in North America through October 24th. Sunday’s MSG show was rocky at times with Daltrey struggling to hear himself throughout the night and Townshend dealing with a throat issue that eventually caused him to ask a crew member for a throat lozenge that he sucked on while performing.
“I seriously wish we were sharper tonight,” Townshend told the audience. “I know we’re not on top form. But you know, you have given us so much love. We appreciate it!”