‘The Who I Was There’ by Richard Houghton Documents Band’s Live History (BOOK REVIEW)

Richard Houghton doesn’t entertain any notion The Who I Was There is a comprehensive chronicle of the iconic British band’s concert history. Nevertheless, the book ends up being close to complete, despite the fact its parade of first-hand accounts of the quartet’s live performances over its fifty-year history is noticeably lacking on some fronts.

Four-hundred forty-some pages of text accompanied by a varied selection of period photos and other pertinent images provide something akin to a progress bar of the Who’s development as a live act, not to mention their ascension to rock and roll stardom. It is to Houghton’s great credit as an author and academic that he does not overlook the significance of the creative role of the quartet, and chief songwriter Pete Townshend, as gifted (not to mention flawed) human beings on an artistic quest.

It’s easy but fatuous to criticize The Who I Was There for its relative superficiality. There’s no pretense of a professional level of writing by these fans and, in fact, their perceptions bring a fresh perspective to a massive body of work—sixteen hundred plus performances– to which the band continues to add in its current incarnation (though tales of those are curiously few). And while its concept, given the extent of its subject, is arguably beyond reproach, it’s facile to find fault with the omissions or its format: so what if there’s no index? The chronological format of Richard Houghton’s collection of anecdotes (annotation is included the contents) is efficient enough for any true fan of the Who.

And, to be fair, no casual fans will probably be interested in nitpicking, much less obtaining the book as a resource. That’s for the devoted fandom that can cross-reference other resources, on-line or otherwise, to ascertain particular curiosities: for instance, is the February 1968 show at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco the one preceding Pete Townshend’s Rolling Stone interview where he speaks at length about the gestation of Tommy? Similarly, it’s simple to determine there is no witness whatsoever of the equally-famous (at least in Who lore) Fillmore East concert interrupted by a fire.

But even as Richard Houghton graciously offers no apology in his intro or acknowledgments for the fact this effort is not all-encompassing, he is comparably earnest about his means of follow-up. With research of his own, combined with additional input from fans and novice rock scholars, he can simultaneously expand and consolidate his findings as presented here; particularly in light of the surviving principles own hindsight, perhaps the Who’s career-changing performance at Woodstock or the (equally?) galvanizing 1970 appearance at The Isle of Wight Festival will ultimately receive deserved attention.

Along the same lines, while two entries appear devoted to the November 1973 tours top at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, during which an audience member had to substitute for drummer Keith Moon (victim of an overdose), there’s only one other report here of that sole American tour in support of Quadrophenia. Likewise, one brief notation hardly seems sufficient given the Who set an attendance record at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in August of 1971, early in the initial post-opera tour supporting Who’s Next. A solitary submission devoted to the group’s explosive appearance at Monterey Pop is (almost) understandable, but will grow egregious if subsequent editions of this tome don’t expand upon it.

The Who I Was There isn’t meant to be read cover to cover. Better the ‘reader’ scan the pages for the shows he or she attended or simply search for those intervals describing off-stage activity. For instance, the description of Keith Moon tumbling out of a bathroom stall next to the writer at THE Leeds University concert offers a different but hardly less revelatory insight into the band and their audience. Laudable as is the publication of Richard Houghton’s work here, such passages beg for further editing and amplification in a sequel.


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