From contributing editor Bea Durand comes a first-hand account of seeing the Who in their prime, front row center, during an unprecedented six-day stand at Manhattan’s famed Fillmore East, October 1969.
I’ve been hearing a lot of the Who classics recently: “Love, Reign o’er Me,” “Who Are You?” Not just on classic rock radio, but on the local college stations that play new releases and rarely play songs from the sixties.
The stations seem to have hooked on to Pete and the boys, and it got me thinking…
The Who. Fillmore East. October, 1969.
Why do I remember seeing them live?
Well to start with, I was five months pregnant at the time.
My love affair with the Who began that night in October. I’d always liked their songs—the lyrics, the arrangements, and Keith Moon’s drum insanity, played in my mind as clear as the vinyl I’d listened to over and over. But seeing them in person is difficult, or even impossible, to describe.
The night started at our favorite Italian restaurant in the West Village. When you’re pregnant, the capacity of your stomach is smaller than usual—a tiny amount of food can make you feel like you’ve eaten for four. Of course, I ate endlessly. Wonderful northern Italian food. And the garlic, oh the garlic.
After dinner, we grabbed a cab and headed down to the Fillmore, excited for our meeting with the Who. I had no idea where our seats were, and couldn’t believe passing row after row towards the stage as the usher directed us to our final destination.
Front row center.
That’s right, the Who—the loudest, most dynamic band in the world—front row center.
This had to be a mistake, right?
Our friends had made all the arrangements. Back in ‘69, you heard a group is coming to town and you hit the pavement, stood online for hours, sometimes up to five or six, and waited for the ticket office to open. You stood patiently in the bitter winter cold, with like-minded rock and rollers, huddled together for your chance to commune with the rock gods for an hour or so, and catch one of the hardest, heaviest, greatest bands to ever rock the planet. Doesn’t seem like a sacrifice, does it?
Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon took the stage to a howling uproar of wild fans, like caged animals released to act out without reserve. I can’t think of a song I didn’t know, and sang along as best I could. And the garlic permeating my pores filled the air, competing with the wild weed.
Oh, that smell.
I couldn’t smoke, I was pregnant for god’s sake! But all you had to do was inhale to catch a buzz.
Was it the Who or the weed?
The Who was definitely providing the intoxication. Was there a better group on god’s green Earth?
I’m not able to express in musical terms how they sounded. All I know is that they were out of sight, out of control, dynamite. Keith hurling sticks like a magic electric light show before it had its name. Roger, dressed like an Indian, on a rampage—sweaty, untamed. And, Pete being Pete: singer, songwriter, arranger, extortioner of that savage Who sound.
The crowning moment: Pete Townshend destroying his guitar. A beautiful, and probably very expensive, guitar. But hey, they were the Who, and they could afford it, and it was almost expected that they exploit and destroy, especially at the famed Fillmore East. My son (I didn’t know at the time I was having a boy—this was pre-sonogram days, when you waited, anticipating and excited at the outcome) jumped in my belly for a good two weeks after the concert.
No exaggeration. I was worried.
I feared consulting a doctor at the possible damage done, exposing my soon-to-be-born son to a pot-infused, hypervolume, wild concert.
Fortunately, the outcome was a boy who loves the Who, shares the same love of the songs played at that very concert, and is a fan to this day.
I can’t think of a better reason to remember the Who, live at the Fillmore East, October, 1969.
Fillmore East photographs by Paul S. Smith, from the October 20, 1969, performance.