THE WHO IN ROME, PALASPORT, September 14, 1972.

Around 51 years ago this month The Who were playing concerts in Europe on a tour that saw them attract 400,000 to a concert in Paris, their biggest ever audience. Aside from that show, it was a low-key tour, with several days off between cities and all bar Keith flew home to the UK between shows. Keith and Dougal drove around Europe from show to show, looking for trouble I suppose. 

I caught up with them in Rome, on the last date of the tour, and there are two things I remember from this trip. After the show Keith, Dougal and myself took a taxi around Rome looking for female company in a club or a bar, but found nothing, and wound up back at the hotel a bit disappointed. The following day there was a mix-up with the plane tickets. They’d flown me out first class, very nice of them, but the first-class section was overbooked for the return, and I was relegated to coach. Pete thought this was very funny. “Melody Maker writers are second-class citizens,” I recall him saying, much to the amusement of John and Roger. 

        Below is my report as it appeared in MM, verbatim. I actually sat on the stage, up on a platform behind John's speakers, and wasn't to know that the sound in the hall was pretty bad, and that this was why Pete smashed his guitar. The picture above is the cover of a bootleg of the show I found on the internet, but I haven't heard it. Nor do I know if the photo on the front is from that night in Rome. The picture below is a cropped scan of the page from MM. Much of what I write about The Who these days is written with hindsight, but this isn't. 

Pete Townshend shed his white kaftan and slumped in an angular fashion across the dressing room table. Red braces upheld his baggy white trousers which were both soiled and stretched at the knees. A small white Meher Baba badge stood out against his tanned skin.

He gulped some brandy and pointed an accusing finger at sound engineer Bob Pridden. “I’m gonna cut your thumbs off,” he threatened.

Alan Smith, Townshend’s own roadie, came towards us with an unopened bottle of expensive Napoleon brandy. He dropped the bottle which smashed into a thousand pieces at Townshend’s feet. Townshend laughed and shook hands with an American kid who had somehow crashed through into the dressing room.

“It was great show. I know those kids out there didn’t like it but I thought it was fantastic,” said the young American. Townshend smiled and acknowledged the compliment. The young American babbled a bit about being a guitarist himself. He asked for some tips, then asked for a job as a roadie with The Who.

“We have a road team of ten and they are the best in the world,” replied Townshend.

Bob Pridden knew his thumbs were secure after all.

“I always cut Bob’s thumbs off at the end of a tour but they usually grow in time for the next one,” Townshend told me.

All this took place in Rome last Thursday when The Who wound up a three-week European tour, their first in three years. They played a massive sports hall in this ancient city and attracted an audience of around 10,000 Italian rock fans who sat impassively throughout the kind of set that most groups would swap their PAs for. It didn’t satisfy Pete Townshend but nothing but the best ever does. 

Roger Daltrey didn’t like the sound in the hall and John Entwistle was fed up with travelling around anyway. Only Keith Moon seemed happy enough about the outcome of the tour. 

It was the group’s first visit to Rome in a long time so reputation alone must have attracted those fans. Who’s Next sold only 7,000 copies in Italy. Tommy fared better and consequently drew a better reception from those peaceful Romans but it was all rather low key for a group of The Who’s stature. 

“They are always like that in Rome,” the young Italian promoter told me later that night. “All they want to do is listen. That is because they have never seen The Who before and won’t see them again in a long time. They wanted to make the best of it. If The Who plays again next week there will be a riot because these kids know they are good. They don’t want to show it too much in case the police stopped the concert or future concerts. “

He was speaking loudly because Entwistle and Moon were within earshot. But you can bet your shirt that whether they heard or not, The Who won’t be playing Rome again next week.

It seems an almost unbelievable situation: fans are unable to demonstrate their appreciation of an act for fear of arrest and future banning of rock show. Imagine, just for example, if some upholder of the law banned rock concerts at London’s Rainbow because a band succeeded in drawing fans from their seats to stamp, clap and cheer. 

In the north of Italy demonstrations like this during and after concerts have had these consequences. These Romans have obviously learned their lesson.

But back to The Who, who haven’t played in Britain now since the opening of the Rainbow last November. They won’t be playing in England for a while either, until they’ve finished their next album so that a new stage act can be presented. It seems unlikely this will be before the end of the year. And there are tentative plans for an American West Coast tour next February with a possible trip to Japan thrown in.

It was virtually the same act from The Who in Rome as it was 12 months ago in England. Point the accusing finger of “same old stuff” if you like, but remember many Europeans haven’t seen The Who in ages, so for many it would be a first-time experience anyway. 

It’s as good as it always is – a combination of violent excitement, near perfect sound and those power-packed Who songs. 

Townshend is the most fluid mover I’ve seen since those Olympic gymnasts. He twists and turns and spirals around, leaping from one side of the stage to another, spinning his arm like a propeller from start to finish. He falls over, somersaults and crashes to his knees like a man on a trampoline. 

Someday he’ll go head first into his stacks of speakers, break both legs and an arm but that’s his style and he couldn’t change it if he tried. He has to be the ultimate in visual rock guitarists.

At Rome only one new song was included in the set – ‘Relay’ , a Townshend rocker in the accepted Who style. The rest were as familiar as the Coronation Street theme tune: ‘Can’t Explain’ (which has to be the best ever opener), ‘Summertime Blues’, a selection from Who’s Next, ‘Magic Bus’ (which died a rather tragic death), ‘Pinball’ and ‘See Me Feel Me’ from Tommy, and the inevitable ‘My Generation’ for closing.

Townshend smashed his guitar into fragments – the first break of the tour – at the end and the Italian fans didn’t know what had hit them. He swung it wildly at Moon’s kit, and took three heavy blows against the stage floor before the instrument succumbed. The body left the neck and the whole mangled mess arrived in the front row. The police moved in and the ovation was stifled as a result. No one wants a truncheon across the skull no matter how good a band performs.

The Who were disappointed in the gig and it showed. It was nobody’s fault but if the blame has be credited to something, then doubtless the group themselves are more than just a teeny bit tired of playing the same numbers for so long despite the demand for them.

On a different scale, it’s not unlike the man at the car factory who spends all day every day screwing door knobs on car doors. A monotony has crept in and a selection of new material would help the group overcome the lethargy that arises from playing the same songs over and over again.

The Who are so good they could probably put their shows over with their eyes shut. The inevitable problem arises: what next for The Who?

Well, Townshend has just completed work on the orchestral version of Tommy which, among others, features Maggie Bell and Steve Winwood. He’s writing more material for The Who which they will soon be recording for their next album.

John Entwistle has completed his second solo album and in a week’s time he’s off to the States for three weeks to promote the album in America. His first solo album was vastly more successful in the States than over here and his single ‘My Size’, which failed to make any impression here, was a big seller in the States, especially in Los Angeles where fans thought it was a Who single.

Roger Daltrey is also working on a solo album which, knowing Roger’s personal tastes, is likely to me marked step away from the Who’s style. I predict an almost acoustic sound for his record.

Keith Moon, following in the footsteps of Ringo Starr, is getting himself involved in films and we can soon expect to see his grinning face on the big screen in some obscure comic role. A serious acting role really isn’t on for Keith Moon.

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