The setlist for this mid-December (12/14/75 to be exact) performance by the Who at the Springfield Civic Center in Massachusetts may look like a bountiful roster of hits, but it didn’t exactly come off that way, laser light show aside. From the very start of “I Can’t Explain,” Pete Townshend looked like the last thing he wanted to be doing was windmills on his guitar as he leapt about the stage, so much so (and frequently) that, when the end of the concert arrived, (in his mind no doubt mercifully), the titular leader of the band violently took his instrument to his amplifier, ramming it repeatedly into the equipment as if to make up for either shortchanging the audience or consenting to maintenance of the band when he felt he had nothing left to say. To see Keith Moon climb over his drums, then walk over and drape his arm around his partner’s shoulders was to witness the sorrowful empathy of a long-time friend and bandmate who knew all too well what he was feeling.
And it was perfectly in keeping with the volatile ennui contained within the Who album that had just been released that fall. In its stripped-down instrumentation and alternately wry, rueful and regretful personal expression(s) such as “Dreaming From the Waist,” By Numbers sounded (then and now) like the antithesis of grand ambition the likes of which had preceded it two years prior in the magnificent form of Quadrophenia (none of which appeared here). And that’s not to mention the majesty of Who’s Next (actually the shards of a much larger concept piece known as Lifehouse) released in 1971 and the conceptual masterpiece that was/is 1969’s Tommy, the core of which the quartet retained as a sure-fire dramatic close to their single extended sets.
In line with that relative devolution of Townshend’s creativity, the Who’s stage presentation had turned more conventional. Backing tapes were relegated to the circular sounds integral to the finale of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” even as the band unveiled a battery of laser lights which, though used judiciously near the end of the performance, didn’t compare to the natural theater of the quartet. At their performing pinnacle, the Who’s individual and collective stage presence radiated a volatility in which its natural spontaneity carried the continuous threat of the four musicians imploding instrumentally, if not otherwise.
Not only the loudest band in the world at this time, the Who were the most riveting to witness. Lead vocalist Roger Daltrey continued to use his microphone and cord as a lasso, but even though on this night it could not wholly distract from Townshend’s antics, he didn’t seem at all self-conscious with the tactic. Or bored well-worn material such as “Substitute,” now a decade old but still fueled to explosive levels by the equally implacable and indefatigable bassist John Entwistle. And if the “teenage wasteland” refrain of “Baba O’Riley,” propelled by the combustible drumming of Moon, took on even more irony in the context of a show that also featured such prosaic material as “Squeeze Box,” it was a profundity lost on a crowd more enamored with its own familiar recognition of the material than its affinity for a band that once posited itself as standard bearers for rock and roll music as means to change the world.
Little wonder Pete Townshend acted so ill at ease with the rote conventions of a rock concert and all its attendant rituals, not the least of which were his own unfortunately condescending affectations. However diffident he acted, though, his teeming frustration was all too similar to that which propelled his playing in the early days of the Who and it rendered memorable a concert that otherwise might’ve been, as the late Lester Bangs might’ve said, ‘ prose by pros.’
The Who Setlist at Springfield Civic Center, Springfield, MA, USA 12/14/75
I Can’t Explain
Behind Blue Eyes
Dreaming From the Waist
Boris the Spider
The Acid Queen
Tommy’s Holiday Camp
We’re Not Gonna Take It
See Me, Feel Me
Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran cover)
Road Runner (Bo Diddleycover)
Won’t Get Fooled Again