“The World’s Most-Famous Arena”
“The Place Where Legends Are Made”
Arguably, they’re right to claim this. There are the Royal Albert Hall, the Forum, yes – but still MSG reigns supreme. Luckily, the re-naming of famous venues to ‘Corporate Credit Card Arena’ or ‘Cellular Phone Company Hall’ never caught on with MSG; it would be sacrilege. And so, the legend continues on.
We can’t enter the building without thinking of the major milestones in The WHO History that happened here: Of course, there have been dozens of shows here since the 1974 tour when The WHO first stood onstage here. And with NY audiences what they are/were, it’s usually one of the best stops on the tour: Each show here is a special moment on tour that we look forward to…
But #1 will always be the show that no one saw coming; 2001’s The Concert for New York City, better-remembered as the 9-11 tribute concert, after the shocking tragedy here. That night The WHO cemented a bond to the citizens of NYC forever. They became as much a ‘local thing’ of pride as any Billy Joel or Bon Jovi has ever done. Coming out and playing hard and powerfully somehow was the catharsis that the city (and world watching) needed. No one expected an English band to connect so closely to the local fireman, families, and mourners worldwide. It was the emotion, the power, the honesty of their performance that did it. And it was the last show The Ox would ever play in America. So the band do not take this event’s connections lightly…
On 12/12/12, we were invited back, sort of a reprise of the previous event, with an even bigger line-up present. And it seems the band brought what was needed once again, a strong set, special graphics done just for the moment, and a resulting meaningful connection to the town and people. Some say it was THE highlight again, and the promoter thought so too; he’d planned it that way, despite the other legends onstage!
We started our show here tonight with another sad memory, that of longtime friend and fan, David Bowie. Nearly every year, he’d come to our MSG show and sit right at the edge of the Stage Right (near Pete) and enjoy himself immensely. I can’t tell you the number of musical celebrities who show up, shake hands, watch a few songs, then disappear backstage to talk and drink while the band plays. Not Bowie – not only a musical icon, but a huge music fan himself. Our opening slide mentioned:
“David Bowie: Friend of The Who, Son of New York.”
… and showed him in his ‘Earthling’ coat, made by Alexander McQueen, but certainly inspired by John and Pete’s Union Jack coat of the ‘60s. Our longtime lighting designer, Tom Kenny, found some great photos for us to use, as well as relating a great story about young Mr Bowie sneaking backstage to give The WHO his 1969 LP, which he’d just completed… great stuff. Somehow, the slide went viral, spreading the news about The Who and Bowie all across the web. Nice to see him so well-received that this slide moved even more people than we’d hoped.
On the positive: One very welcome sight was Joan Jett and her band and crew. It was most appropriate to have her back for this one show, in her hometown of NYC. With the visual exception of Joan’s sparkly red trousers, the band, in black, did their usual, strong catchy songs and reminded us all what a great time we had together last year.
Of course, The WHO followed on, as they do. You may remember my last posting about a Tricky Day of equipment troubles? Pete started right off by putting on, then removing his favorite #4 red Stratocaster, changing it for a gold one before even a note was struck. He’d noticed the neck shifted during the day, from temperature and atmosphere, and decided to lean towards the alternate guitar for this show. Luckily, that stopped nearly any issues of equipment for the night.
Soon enough, Roger mentioned it was “good to be playing a FULL show” here, “… and there isn’t a disaster!”; referencing the last few TV charity events mentioned before, where we only played a few songs. Pete mentioned they might CAUSE a few disasters, though, and Roger agreed they’d already done about 50 years of them!
‘Pictures of Lily’ was introduced as from the ‘lighter pop side’ that The WHO began with in the ‘60s. “We used to do a lot of that,” mentioned Roger. “We were a boy band!” They also mentioned the sly way the song was about a subject that the BBC censors totally missed; they’d managed to sneak it by without anyone ever noticing! After ‘Lily’, Pete noted how there were so many chords in it, and he was still having trouble finding his way around all of them. He did a little demonstration by himself of the chord progression through the song, and then it changes keys and begins another whole cycle of new chords. He said that just as he’d written it and made a small demo, who should come knocking but jazz-legend Keith Jarrett (*a seriously advanced musicalogical being, pushing limits of harmony and performance) who’d come over to visit Pete’s flat in London! Jarratt asked what he’d had been up to – and was reluctantly played the little pop ditty. Complicated for The WHO, simplistic to the extreme for Jarrett; Pete said “he really liked it!” anyway.
The NY crowd was active and stood most of the time. As has been typical at these shows, there is a higher-than-usual percentage of women and girls this year! That’s good, and they’re not just as part of a couple, often on their own or arriving in groups. Lots of teens and twenties. It’s still mainly guys out there, but not quite so bad!
Zak has been ON FIRE during these shows; he’s in excellent physical and musical shape. If you see one of the shows this leg, you’ll see what I mean. His new album is done, we hear, and we’re excited for its coming release…
Pete told a short story, which nicely illustrates a quiet little slice of WHO history: NYC was the location of the very first WHO shows in America, a series of four to five shows at day at the old RKO Theaters on the 1967 ‘Murray The K’ pop hit extravaganzas. Each band played a short set of three to four songs and left, then repeated the show multiple times that day. Just afterward, they went on to Detroit to play full-length concerts, with the animalistic MC5 – who were just starting out. Then, onto a completely different situation; the Monterey Pop Festival, with a short-but-explosive set before Hendrix. Quite a bizarre set of shows for your first American runaround! And America’s first shocking glimpse of something not-seen-before!
It’s hard to imagine anything comparing to The WHO shows of the 1970s when people first saw them in this venue. But I remember clearly some nights here where I saw about as good a WHO show as anyone could ever catch. The sound of the room is exceptional, big and not boomy. The side seats in the arena REALLY come right up to the stage (hence Bowie’s fondness for sitting there) which makes the audience and the band ‘feel each other’ so much more. In comparison to the ‘old days’ though, there’s a lot less smoke (of various kinds), better sound and lights, plus video screens making it easier to see and hear what’s going on in greater detail. Yes, it does cost a LOT more to go to rock shows now, but hopefully, now and then, you get a big show that’s worth it. Live music, without bands/singers ‘pretending to play’, taking musical chances, making jokes about the night, seeing and hearing versions that will never happen again – this is why a WHO show has been bringing people back again and again in droves.