THE WHO - Jacksonville, '76

The last Who concert I saw in America was also the last one I saw with Keith on the drum stool. It was at the Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, on Saturday August 7, 1976, when they were closing an open air all-day event in a big stadium in muggy, unpleasant weather after an ill-judged, weak supporting cast had limped on and off stage to little purpose. A greedy promoter had overcharged and Florida was never really Who territory, so the crowd numbered about 35,000 instead of a potential 60,000. This hurt their pride and they were angry, furious in fact, and having watched The Who at close quarters many times by then I knew all too well that anger could bring out the best or the worst in them. Sharp words were exchanged backstage and I kept my distance; only Keith, fuelled as ever by brandy and coke, seemed sociable. But come show time there was an extraordinary transformation and all their fury, all the frustration and pent-up rage that spilled out of Pete and Roger, was channelled into the music, and they played an absolute blinder, as powerful as any show I saw in the classic '69-'71 era.
     The Who at their almighty best came flooding over the crowd in that stadium that night; loud, precise and utterly compelling, every song played beyond perfection, with Pete careering around the stage, windmilling and jumping all over the place, his guitar leading the onslaught; Roger chucking the mike everywhere, bare-chested, singing his heart out; Keith animated like 10,000 volts was surging through his arms, legs and eye-sockets, battering his drums into submission; and John po-faced and cool as hell while his fingers danced up and down his bass; and the crowd exploded with endless ovations because they'd never seen or heard anything like it before, nor would they ever again.
     Afterwards, backstage, in the calm of the caravan that served as a dressing room, I clearly remember sitting down on the floor next to Pete and remarking to him on how good this show had been. Exhausted, slumped in a corner, his fingers shredded and covered in blood, his skinny, loose-limbed body wrapped in a towel, he knocked back a huge plastic beaker of brandy in one gulp. There was a strange, faraway look in those deep blue eyes of his as he looked up at me. He thought for a minute, fingered the Meher Baba pendant that hung from his neck, then managed a wry smile. “We were playing for the people who weren't there,” he said.

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