LONDON — It was supposed to have been a dress rehearsal for the ”official” return of the Who, scheduled to take place May 12th in Cannes, France. But when practice sessions looked promising, the band members, feeling they owed it to their British fans, decided to make their comeback at home. So on May 2nd, the Who, with newcomers Kenney Jones on drums and John ”Rabbit” Bundrick on keyboards, returned to the stage after a two-year absence, playing before about 3000 fans at London’s Rainbow Theatre.
The show sold out within hours after being announced over the radio on April 30th. The biggest surprise was that the fans who showed up weren’t the aging hippies one might have expected for the revival of a fifteen-year-old band. Rather, they were young Mods: teenagers in short hair, desert boots, zoot suits, union jackets, op-art shirts and khaki pants right off the cover of Quadrophenia.
Roger Daltrey anticipated this Mod theme with his own short haircut, reminiscent of the way he looked in 1965, and the band wasted no time reminding everyone where it all started by opening with ”Substitute” and ”I Can’t Explain.” The sound was richer, thanks to Rabbit’s organ fills, but all eyes were on Kenney Jones, Keith Moon’s replacement. Dressed all in white and using a kit identical to Moon’s, Jones looked eerily like the deceased drummer from a distance. Painfully aware of the scrutiny, he stuck foursquare to the beat, consciously avoiding the manic triplet fills and cascading flourishes that had characterized Moon’s drunken-driven attack.
”We don’t have to tell you it’s good to be back,” Townshend told the audience after the opening songs. Daltrey then said he’d like to introduce ”two new members of the band – Pete Townshend and John Entwistle.” After some cheers and laughter from the crowd, the group played a letter-perfect ”Baba O’Riley.” A stirring version of ”Boris the Spider” was followed by ”Sister Disco,” complete with mock-Travolta poses from Townshend, and ”The Music Must Change.” Jones and Rabbit played particularly well on the latter, a new style of Who music that featured an easy, rolling drum pattern and long, jazzy exchanges between guitar and organ.
The logic that Jones adds to what once was the most anarchic rhythm section in rock has freed Entwistle from his traditional task of monitoring the rhythms. The bassist can now demonstrate his virtuoso technique as never before; his solo on ”Dreaming from the Waist” was astonishing, inspiring Townshend to add a counter-point guitar line. The crowd went absolutely bonkers at this point, and Townshend, obviously moved by the display of affection, took a long time trying to introduce the next song. Finally, Daltrey broke in and asked the audience to bear with Townshend. ”It’s his first night,” Daltrey joked.
A brief Tommy medley followed, and all hell broke loose. The energy level kept climbing through ”Long Live Rock,” ”Bargain” and a magnificent ”Who Are You,” with four-part harmony vocals. A near-apocalyptic ”My Generation” covered ”Join Together” and ”Magic Bus” before switching into a soft organ-guitar interlude that became an intro to ”Won’t Get Fooled Again.” After a powerful encore of ”The Real Me,” Entwistle ceremoniously shook Kenney Jones’ hand with a noticeable mixture of relief and congratulations. The Who were back in business.
This story is from the June 28th, 1979 issue of Rolling Stone.