The Start of My Greatest Love of 35 Years

Writer’s note: Pulled from the archives of my personal blog at dimland.com, comes this story of my discovering my favorite band. Look. It’s been since July since I’ve written anything Who related. I was having withdrawal symptoms. OK? The following has been revised and updated, but the song remains the same. Song remains the same? That’s Led Zeppelin. We’re not talking about them.

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Press photo from thewho.info

This was a life changing concert for me. I know that sounds dramatic, but it is true. Seeing this show got me big into The Who and that led me to punk rock which led me to even more interesting and varied styles of music. In those days, I was listening to mostly crap. Journey, Styx, Foreigner, Boston, yuck! (Although, I must admit I have a soft spot for a lot of that crap today.) The Who changed that.

I wasn’t much of a Who fan at the time. I knew the band existed. I knew a few of their songs. (It turns out I knew quite a few, actually.) I knew Pete Townshend had some solo stuff out. I liked their new single Athena which was getting some radio play. At best, I thought they were OK and not much else.

I think I was aware the band would be in town that October weekend 35 years ago. I was even in downtown St. Paul the afternoon of the day of the first show of a two day stop in Minnesota. In fact, I had been right there by the St. Paul Civic Center where the concerts were going to be held. I had been downtown to pick up my comic books from a little comic shop that was less than a block away from where rock greatness would be experienced by fans that night and the next.

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Of course, I had no plans to attend either of the concerts. I had only been to one concert before and hadn’t yet been bitten by any kind of music bug.

My bus stop was located directly in front of the Civic Center (now the site of the Xcel Center, home of the Minnesota Wild). I have a vague recollection of seeing The Who’s name listed on the marquee.

My bus arrived to take me home. I took my seat, not giving the world’s greatest rock band a second thought. A couple stops later and on hopped a young pothead and a few of his friends, also potheads. I knew that young pothead, he and I worked together back then.

He spotted me.

“Hey, man! Are you going to The Who concert tonight?”

“Uh, no. I’ll be reading my comic books when I get home.”

“Dude! Really?! Aw, man!”

“Sorry.”

When I got home, my mom had an urgent message from my friend John. I was to call him right away!

John had bought three tickets to that night’s show. He had no one to go with. Why he bought three John doesn’t even know. He was able to get a mutual friend on board, but he needed a third. Luckily, he didn’t find anyone else before I was able to call him back.

I made a quick call to work to let them know I might be a little late. I worked the graveyard shift on the weekends and it was always very slow the first hour or so of the shift. The boss said it would be no problem. After all, this was The Who’s North American Farewell Tour, I was willing to risk being a little late, because they would never tour again. Right?

It was on this tour that The Clash opened for The Who at Shea Stadium in New York City. We didn’t get The Clash. We got T-Bone Burnett. We had no idea who he was. He was kinda weird. He did a guitar solo consisting of him plucking one note at one part of the stage, then walking to another part of the stage to pluck another note. He did several notes that way. We weren’t really digging this guy and his band. John and I have talked about being disappointed that we didn’t get The Clash at our show. Burnett would go on to be better know as a record producer and for his work in film scores and soundtracks. At the time, though, it was, “Who is this guy?”

I did learn in doing research for this blog that it is very likely Mick Ronson was part of Burnett’s band. Ronson played guitar for David Bowie in the Ziggy Stardust era. So it turns out the headliners weren’t the only legends we saw that night. We just didn’t know it.

Speaking of legends, there was that headlining act: The greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world – The Who. This was supposed to be their last tour. Despite the band’s impending retirement, they did have a new album to promote. The album was It’s Hard. Not a perfect album. It’s no Quadrophenia or Who’s Next. And it lacks the maniacal spontaneity of the late Keith Moon on drums, but it’s not as bad as it is said to be.

The show was loud. Very loud! Possibly the loudest concert I have ever attended. At least, one of the loudest. It certainly was the loudest then, but it was also only the second concert I had been to. It was a sold out show packed with boisterous Who fans. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the euphoria of the event. I found myself cheering and whistling as loud as I could. And I was cheering for Pete Townshend in particular. I can’t explain (wink) why, but I felt a connection to Townshend form that night and it has never broken.

They played most of their biggest hits (all of which I knew – much to my surprise) and a few songs from their new album. They didn’t play Athena or any of Pete’s solo stuff. I had wondered if they might. They did close the with a cover of Twist & Shout, which most people remember as a Beatles song, but their version was a cover as well. Also, this tour had Roger Daltrey playing guitar on a few numbers, most notable was Eminence Front. He hadn’t played guitar with the band since before he took over as lead singer way back when they were called The Detours.

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Their light show featured three sets of spotlights. One set on either side of the stage and one at the back of the main floor. Aimed straight up, each set of three spotlights would twirl around and open and close, casting bright white beams of light to the heavens… Well, the ceiling anyway.

Another fun feature of the show was the glow sticks that were sold to fans. People starting tossing the green glowing objects high over the crowd. They looked pretty cool as they sailed overhead. Then someone had the brilliant idea to take a lighter (a must fan item at concerts) and melt a hole in the plastic, then hurl the now leaking tube into the air. Cascading down were all these green glowing droplets. So fun!

The whole event was the talk of the school on Monday and my life had changed. I became obsessed with The Who and Pete Townshend. I bought all their albums and bought and read books about them and their history. I was all about The Who from then on.

And it all began on October 2, 1982, because a friend had an extra ticket.

Packing Peanuts!

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