The St. Louis Who concert announcement may have been the worst-kept secret in the world. By the time they actually went public, in about February or early March of 1980, rumors had been circulating for days or weeks, so I pretty well knew what to expect, and I was ready to pounce. The details: tickets would be sold by mail order only, with a cashier’s check or money order sent to a post office box, first come, first served, yada yada. At $11 each, they were the most expensive concert tickets I’d ever bought. AND, there was a service charge on EACH ticket of a WHOLE DOLLAR. But it was the WHO; well worth the price. I had a bunch of friends who wanted to go in on it, so I got cashier’s checks for 16 tickets. I prepared my self-addressed, stamped envelopes, and then, looking in the phone book, found the Post Office that hosted the specified P.O. Box, and drove there and mailed my orders — hey, anything to help improve my chances of getting good seats.
When my SASEs returned a couple of weeks later, I’d done pretty well — row 29, row 30, and Arena Circle near the back of the floor. Not exactly front row, but I would be on the floor, at a freakin’ WHO concert! This was huge.
The first thing I noticed when we walked out onto the floor of the Checkerdome that night was the stage setup: there was a big circle of lights above the stage like a giant halo, and the drum kit was raised on more lights. It was the same stage used in this video, which came out a couple of months later.
The atmosphere in the Checkerdome was electric, even more so than for a normal concert. Back in those days — when people actually smoked in public — you’d walk into a concert hall and you’d see a blue haze of smoke hanging in the air. That, combined with the fact that the band I’d idolized for years was soon to take the stage, and I was about ready to explode. And I had all of my closest friends from that era sitting around me — even my friend Tom, who bought his own tickets separately, ended up right across the aisle from us.
The opening act was the Pretenders, who at that time had just one album out, and judging by the reaction of the crowd, most people hadn’t heard it and didn’t care to. I thought they did a great set, and I stood on my chair, cheering, when they were done. I was about the only one.
After an agonizing break, The Who were ready to take the stage. The lights went down suddenly while I was at the back of the floor talking with my friends in the Arena Circle; I rushed back to my seat in time for the opening chords of Substitute. Roger Daltrey was revved up from the start, furiously swinging his microphone around, but Pete Townshend took a few songs to get into his routine.
I Can’t Explain, then the anthem Baba O’Riley, with the crowd singing along and apparently celebrating their teenage wasteland. The whole setlist, amazingly, can be found on the Internet here. (I can’t vouch for the complete accuracy of this list; for instance, there are a couple of songs I don’t recognize — but this was 30 years ago, after all.)
Highlights: Who Are You, a song I probably never appreciated until I heard it live; The Punk and the Godfather, which actually built on the considerable sonic fury of the album version; My Generation, with a classic bass solo from the handsomely attired John Entwistle; and Won’t Get Fooled Again, which started with a bomb going off and got more raucous from there.
For the encore, we flooded the aisles and rushed the stage. I got to within about three feet of the stage, right in front of Entwistle. A fight broke out near us; Daltrey ended up reaching down from the stage and banging one of the combatants on the head with his microphone to try to break it up. Townshend, aghast at the fighting, said “hey, we’re singing about love up here.” I also remember Townshend standing with a cigarette in his mouth while he was playing, exhaling slowly so his whole body was encased in a cloud of smoke, and leaning in and out of the cloud during his solo. Cool stuff. Well, maybe cool’s not the right word; by the time it was over and the band had taken their final bows — with Townshend twirling a towel to mimic Daltrey’s microphone-spinning antics — I was drenched in sweat.
We found our way out of the arena. I can’t remember who drove us back to Webster; I think it was my old roommate Bob, who was part of the contingent who drove up from Columbia that day for the show, and would soon be heading back. He had parked in the area west of Hampton Avenue; before we got into his car, I remember lying back on grass in someone’s lawn, soaking up the immensity of the evening. The Columbia crew drove back that night, Geoff flew back to New York the next morning, and life returned to normal. Well, 1980-normal, anyway.
Sometimes after seeing a great concert, you can be on a high that lasts for some time: leftover energy that lingers and carries you through the next few days. For me, for that concert, I’m still riding that high 30 years later.
How about you? Did you see that show? Or did you see the WHO on that tour or any time around then? What are your memories of the concert? Leave comments in the box below, if you’d like.