October 29th, 1973
British audiences have come to take spectacular comebacks – and departures – for granted: the Stones filling Wembley with smoke clouds and search-lights, Pink Floyd flying model aircraft across Earls Court and crash-landing them onstage and David Bowie glittering his goodbye at Hammersmith.
When the Who announced their first British appearances in two years, it was generally assumed that they would come up with something comparable. After all, Pete Townshend had commissioned director Peter Neal (responsible for the film sequence in Jethro Tull‘s Passion Play) to prepare film to accompany several Who songs. The original idea was for the Who to play in front of three giant film screens, for Keith Moon, wearing cans, to drum to the film soundtrack, and for the rest to play to him – and so be in time with the film.
But what happened? Townshend decided to throw the whole concept out and get back to basics. No elaborate staging, no special clothes, and no special venues – just the Who, as they started out, playing smallish halls. The tour began at Stoke, a Midlands town of pollution and potteries, and the London dates were set for the Lyceum, a dance hall of fading grandeur. The press were invited up to the second night, when the band were in Wolverhampton (again in the Midlands, home of Slade) playing at the Civic Hall, which seats little more than 1000 and apparently has famous acoustics for classical concerts.
In these unlikely surroundings the Who put on one of the greatest revivalist shows I’ve ever seen. They managed to mix the excellent new material from Quadrophenia with the nostalgia of old Who hits, and present even the new concept songs as if they were bashing them out in the Marquee Club back in the mid-Sixties, Roger Daltrey ambled on in jeans and sang magnificently, Townshend leapt around the stage and chatted up the audience and John Entwistle was motionless as always in a black leather jacket, playing horns as well as bass. Keith Moon was particularly impressive, proving he was rather more than the band’s lunatic with some imaginative powerhouse drumming.
They warmed up with “I Can’t Explain,” “Summertime Blues” and “My Generation” before tackling about two-thirds of Quadrophenia. “We played it for the first time last night and it was bloody terrible,” said Townshend. This time it sounded fine though with only a few words of explanation from Townshend to go by, and the hall’s acoustics distorting some of the vocals, it was doubtful if many of the audience understood what it was all about. The subtleties of the story of the double schizoid Sixties Mod, hung up on pills and fashion and going to the seaside to come to terms with himself, didn’t seem to worry the audience too much. “The Real Me,” “I’m One,” “5:15,” and “Bell Boy” could be appreciated as classic Who rockers even if the brilliantly evocative lyrics were too often lost. Daltrey swung his microphone cable, a new and youthful generation of kids plunged for the stage, and nothing else seemed to matter.
Quadrophenia was well-received, and Townshend celebrated with another bash of “My Generation” and a beer or two, before running through another selection of oldies, ending as always with “Magic Bus” – something I can never understand as it’s the only weak song on the band’s list. Afterward, Townshend looked exhausted and cheerful. He has broken the jinx of how to follow Tommy and saved the Who.
This story is from the December 6th, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone.