This week, from contributing editor Joe Popp, comes a first-hand account of the transformative experience of seeing The Who in 1982, and the path one young rock ‘n’ roll convert took after seeing his favorite band live. Above, a young Popp, inspired by Pete Townshend, performing live at the Mr. Ugly Contest at Wolfson High School in Jacksonville, Florida, 1983.
with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and the B-52s
November 27, 1982
I’ve always loved The Who. Still do.
Primarily because of the performing, songwriting and guitar abilities of guitarist and co-singer Pete Townshend. Not only did I admire his high-flying jumps and destruction of equipment, but his musical diversity. Townshend penned great rock anthems that defined a generation, and wrote arguably the greatest rock opera ever with Tommy. He even proved his acoustic prowess as he flailed on a Gibson J-200 on The Secret Policeman’s Ball album.
He was my hero — the person I wanted to grow up to be.
I was an avid concertgoer during high school. I went to practically every show that came to the Jacksonville Coliseum. Nothing beat a live rock show with your buds. I remember sneaking a few Black Label beers from my dad, loading the crew into my ’72 Plymouth Satellite Sebring — windows rolled down, tunes cranked — and driving to concerts. It was all we needed — we were kings.
The Who announced their farewell tour in 1982, and the closest they would get to Jax was Orlando. I remember seeing the show bill in the Budget Tapes & Records store near my house. My friend Scott and I looked at the poster, turned to each other in true Animal House fashion, and yelled “Road Trip!” The concert was the tour’s second leg and they were out supporting It’s Hard, released that September. This was the one show in my life I knew I couldn’t miss, and it would be the first time I left town to see a band.
I remember driving in my friend Tad’s father’s 1981 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, with Scott and my other friend Steve. We took the car because all of our beaters would not have made the haul to Orlando. We all brought cassettes, only to find the Caddy had an 8-track player with one tape: Lou Rawls’ When You Hear Lou, You’ve Heard It All. We played that tape for the whole two-hour plus trip, which seemed to last forever. We laughed about it the whole drive, and as the tape looped and clunked, we all sang along.
We were in a great mood. We were going to see The Who.
Clicking through the turnstile and entering the stadium was one of the most powerful feelings I’d ever experienced. I was raised Catholic, and always had a tingle when I walked into the beaming lights thrown by the stained glass windows of San José Catholic Church, which my parents forced me to attend. But this was different, way different. This was my church — my new place of worship.
We ran up to the stage on the field as close as we could, and got up front. It was daylight and the opening bands began to play. The B52s got things going, but were instantly pelted with cups and other shit. Joan Jett didn’t fare much better.
This crowd was here for one thing:
The Who. Period.
The sun fell behind the stadium as we waited impatiently for the headliners, looking around at a crowd hungry with anticipation.
I noticed some college students next to us searching as if one of their group was missing. Finally a kid approached them screaming, “I found it, I found it!” High above his head he held in his dirty hands a collection of glass hip flasks wrapped in white medical tape, all covered in mud. Evidently, they’d figured out a way to bury a bunch of booze in the stadium prior to the show. This dude excavated the stash and now it was time to party. They shared some with us and we toasted to The Who. We also managed to sneak in a small parcel of something ourselves, which we mixed with Cokes and consumed quickly. But getting drunk was the furthest thing from my mind.
Then it happened.
The lights dimmed and The Who took the stage. The crowd erupted and the band cranked out what seemed to be a set created just for me. I’d been to tons of shows, but this was my first ever stadium concert. Everything was bigger. The sound system was thunderous and the lighting was brighter than the molten metal of a foundry.
I knew what was coming as I stood among the soon-to-be converted.
The instantly recognizable chords of “My Generation.”
I watched in awe as Pete jumped and shredded his Schecter Saturn, Roger whipped the mic around by the wire, John’s fingers blurred across the bass, and Kenny hammered his kit with precision. The songs flowed into one another — an endless chain of hits, and I knew every single word. I was screaming at the top of my lungs, singing the lyrics or cheering, and my voice stopped working long before the encore.
The song that connected with me the most was “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” I recall the lights flashing and the power chords blasting out of Pete’s Hiwatt stacks as they played the anthem of our youth.
We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
It was an uprising. The performance made me feel like I could do anything. My future was laid out in front of me and the Man was never going to hold me down!
I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
At that moment I had no doubts about what I would be — a guitarist. I felt the power and the glory that The Who were preaching. It all seemed to go by in a few minutes, like a dream you never want to end. This was my Red Ryder BB Gun, my salvation.
The Who, that night in Orlando, put on the greatest show I’d ever seen, and ever would see, for the rest my life. My highest expectations had been achieved. It changed who I was, and shaped my future as a musician, a person.
I’m 46 now and I look back on my musical career — ups, downs, close calls. I wasn’t able to do it for a living, yet somehow, music still gives me immense joy, both creating it and performing it. I’ve written rock musicals, love songs, hard rock songs and everything in between. I still try to maintain lightning speed of my right hand when I play acoustic, and still jump off amps when I play with my band, The Hornrims.
The Who, and more specifically Pete Townshend, taught me a lot that fateful night in 1982. The band shaped the way I write music and helped keep my mind open to create more than standard three-minute pop songs. Little did I know that rock music would become my religion, one I would practice for the rest of my life.
Life is full of questions that sometimes seem impossible to answer:
Who am I?
What am I supposed to be?
What is the meaning of life?
What is the best concert I’ve ever seen?
I am lucky that all of these questions have the same, resounding answer:
The Who, live in ‘82 at the Tangerine Bowl, Orlando, Florida.
Guitarist, Songwriter, Rock & Roll Evangelist
Due to the beauty of the internet, I found the setlist from the Tangerine Bowl show. “Classic” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
I Can’t Explain
The Quiet One
Behind Blue Eyes
I Can See for Miles
Cry If You Want
Who Are You
See Me, Feel Me
Love, Reign o’er Me
Long Live Rock
Won’t Get Fooled Again
The Who concert ticket, collection of the Rock File.