Between Monday June 10 and Friday June 14, 1974, The Who played four shows at Madison Square Garden in New York and I attended every one. Unfortunately they weren’t at their best, and it turned out that much of the problem was down to a fan sat towards the front shouting ‘Jump, Pete, Jump’ to Townshend, which shocked him enormously. For the first time, he said later, he felt he was parodying himself, even resembling a circus act, and needed to force his uniquely athletic stage style that was so much a part of the excitement of The Who and which had previously come naturally to him. In the short term this contributed to an unsatisfactory season of concerts, at least by the absurdly high standards The Who had set in the past, and in the long term the behaviour of these fans had a profound effect on his attitude towards the group. Most fans loved the band no matter what, of course, and their blind faith depressed Pete still further.
From where I was sat on the first night I couldn’t see the fans up front but I could tell something wasn’t right. I put it down to sound problems, as was so often the case with The Who, especially when they hadn’t played for a while. It was the first time they’d played the Garden so the acoustics were new to them. I thought they’d iron out the problems after the first gig but they didn’t, not really. It was only later that I realised the true problem ran far deeper, and I suspect that the band used the dodgy sound as an excuse when they, or at least Pete, knew the problems lay deeper too. They hadn’t recorded any new material since Quadrophenia, so the set they played was a run-through of their past, a kind of greatest hits selection. The only real surprise was that they re-introduced ‘Tattoo’ into the set which the fans (and I) loved but which somehow contributed to a slightly unsettling feeling of nostalgia that had hit me earlier when I saw High Numbers t-shirts on sale outside the arena. Pete always wanted to progress but the others were content with the way things were, and I think this was also part of the problem. It was a problem that would never go away.
There was a terrible atmosphere backstage after the opening concert. The Who were screaming at each other behind a locked dressing room door. Kit Lambert, who wasn’t often seen at Who concerts by 1974, had turned up unexpectedly, drunk as a lord and demanding to mix the on-stage PA in future, a ludicrous suggestion, and that didn’t help matters either. Soundman Bobby Pridden ran out of the dressing room shouting that he was through with The Who, and I took him aside into another room and spent ages telling him not to quit, and of course he didn’t. Poor loyal Bob, the real fifth member of The Who, caught it in the neck so many times but he loved them far too much to ever quit. Eventually everyone calmed down and Pete Rudge, who was managing them in the US at the time, asked me to quietly steer Lambert away from the scene which I somehow managed to do. On our way back uptown to the Navarro I asked Kit if he could ask his limousine driver to stop so I could buy a pack of cigarettes. We stopped and Kit rushed into a liquor store and came back with two cartons for me – 20 packets!
The concerts improved as the week went by but they were never really firing on all four cylinders. Tuesday was much better than Monday, though, and after this show I took Pete, John and Keith down to Club 82 on East 4th Street where Television were playing. Pete said he wanted to see some young New York bands, and he liked Television but John hated them. I don’t know what Keith thought as he disappeared when we got into the club, no doubt in search of female company. I hope he realised that Club 82 was a gay hangout favoured by female impersonators and lesbians (who often dressed as men).
I did an interview with Pete on the Wednesday but he seemed in a bad way, stressed out through working on the Tommy film soundtrack, drinking too much and torn between the wishes of the fans, the band and what he wanted to do himself. The Who was like a high-performance sports car which needed to be kept in tune in order to obtain optimum results. When they took on a lengthy tour the first show or two might have been slightly under par but when they hit their stride, Olympic fitness as it were, they were superb. When they played the odd show here and there they suffered through being out of condition – and sometimes it showed. Before these MSG shows they hadn’t been playing live as often as they used to but Pete had certainly been working for the benefit of The Who, and I think he felt a great responsibility to everyone: the other three, the fans, the film producers and, of course, his family. Everybody wanted a piece of him, even me interviewing him for MM, but he needed a break from everything.
During their stay in New York, Pete stayed in a different hotel to the rest of the band who took suites at the Navarro on Central Park South which over the years had become the band’s regular New York hotel. It was the first time that the whole group hadn’t stayed together in the same hotel, which I thought was revealing, but Pete stayed in touch with developments at the Navarro by using a rudimentary cordless mobile phone, probably one of the earliest of its type, that had been assembled by the group’s sound crew.
After the Thursday show Keith and I visited John Lennon at the luxurious Pierre Hotel. On Friday, the final night, Pete smashed three of his Gibson Les Pauls and Keith joined in, chucking his drum kit everywhere and smashing the fourth and only remaining guitar.
My date at this final concert was Debbie Harry, whom I’d befriended after seeing her perform at the 82 Club with a group called The Stilettos, and we sat together on John’s side, a few rows up from the stage. She was appalled by the destruction. Afterwards we went backstage where Roger tried to put the make on her but she wasn’t having it. We went to the party together afterwards where Keith tried his luck this time, again without success.