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The Who – New York 1979 (no label)

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New York 1979 (no label)

After the two warm up shows in Passaic, The Who played five sold out nights in Madison Square Garden in New York.  Since these were their first US shows with new drummer Kenny Jones and were the most important in their entire career, this was a major turning point.  Although New York had always embraced the band, playing on the world’s biggest stage would determine if their judgement was correct and a negative reaction could have ended the band right there.  

After the first show a review appeared in the New York Times which stated:  “The Who have remained a superb performing band throughout their long and varied recording career, and it was this facet of the group that a packed Madison Square Garden celebrated Thursday night. 

Despite the addition of John (Rabbit) Bundrick’s keyboards and a three-man brass section, and the replacement of the late Keith Moon, the Who’s original drummer, by Kenny Jones, this was basically the same, familiar Who.

“And despite the complaints of diehard fans, who missed Mr. Moon and seemed to resent the group’s deployment of additional instrumental resources, the Who gave a splendid rock-and-roll concert that carefully balanced innovation and tradition.  Unlike any other group popular enough to play five nights in a row at the Garden – Thursday’s show was the first of their run - the Who have retained an admirable on-stage looseness. 

“They don’t court anarchy with the devil-may-care attitude they had when Mr. Moon was contributing his splashy, mercurial drummer.  But Mr. Jones, who was working very hard, has picked Mr. Moon’s habit of phrasing across bar lines, which always combined with Pete Townshend’s rolling guitar chords to give the band’s live playing an almost jazzlike informality.” (Robert Palmer, ”The Who’s Balance”)

New York 1979 presents the first three of the five shows in the Garden and all are sourced from JEM master tapes.  These shows are presented in the best ever sound quality.  This run of shows by The Who at Madison Square Garden in 1979 are considered must have essential shows for the performances which were some of the best they ever did. 

The setlist for these shows are identical for the first three-fourths of the show, from the opener “Substitute” to “My Generation.”  Thereafter they introduce different songs and improvisations, some of which would resurface later in different forms, such as “Blue Black White” (and later Red), “I’m London (from the first night in Passaic, not to be confused “London Blues”), “That’s Rock and Roll” (played in the third New York show “You’ve Got Rock and Roll”), “I Am An Animal” and “Cat’s In The Cupboard” (the latter two would appear on Pete’s solo masterpiece Empty Glass). Later in the year they would add “How Can You Do It Alone” and “Dance It Away” (later recorded by the Who and Pete respectively). 

Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – September 13th, 1979

Disc 1 (67:40):  Intro., Substitute, I Can’t Explain, Baba O’Riley, The Punk And The Godfather, Boris The Spider, Sister Disco, Behind Blue Eyes, Music Must Change, Drowned, Who Are You, 5:15

Disc 2 (65:38):  Pinball Wizard, See Me Feel Me, Long Live Rock, My Generation, Blue Black White Red, The Relay, Magic Bus, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Trick Of The Light, Summertime Blues, Cat’s In The Cupboard, Big Boss Man, Naked Eye

The first New York show was released before on the poor sounding Cat’s In The Cupboard (Massive Attack) released in 1999.  New York 1979 is sourced from the master tape and is a substantial improvement.  It is complete and the sound is good to very good in quality.  Despite the improvement it is still a bit muffled but nothing to detract from enjoying the show.

The Who’s nerves are evident at the outset with rather stiff versions of “Substitute” and “I Can’t Explain.”  Roger Daltrey introduces Kenny Jones and Rabbit  Bundrick before ”Baba O’Riley.”  It really isn’t until they play “Sister Disco” that they relax a bit.  

Before the song Daltrey gets into a rambling discourse about the Passaic shows, saying:  “It’s a bit of a mind blower actually because two nights ago we were in New Jersey, right and it was terrific.  There were three thousand people there and it was a real rock and roll joint.  You know, smelly and smoky.  And they were ready for us when we arrived (*cough cough*) [obviously an inside joke].  Anyway we’ll make the most of it this time…” Pete Townshend chimes in saying ”I like it here… where am I?”

Afterwards, instead of getting into the explanation that “Sister Disco” isn’t about the music, Townshend says,  “I dunno what you think Roger but I think it’s going alright.  I like the club atmosphere. Listen, all you people leave the waitresses alone…and all you toerags in front move to the back.  IT’S GREAT TO BE BACK IN FUCKING NEW YORK!!  It’s great I tell you…the best!”

“Music Much Change” is introduced as the most adventurous thing they’ve ever done.  It was written when Keith was alive and Townshend introduces the brass section.  Bundrick’s moody Hammond punctuated by the brass indeed is strange for The Who but it turns into one of the highlights of the show.   

“This is what’s left of it…Tommy that is” Roger says before “Pinball Wizard” which, along with “See Me Feel Me” is the remnant of their opera.  AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell” is played as short introduction to “Long Live Rock.”  But the end of the show starts with ”My Generation” and Red is added to ”Blue Black White” tonight. 

There is a short reference to “The Relay” before a nine minute version of “Magic Bus.”  Pete and Bundrick get into a long, very strange instrumental passage which is dominated by an ecclesiastical sounding organ beneath Townshend’s doodling on the guitar.  This instrumental leads straight into “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

The encore set begins with the thundering “Trick Of The Light.”  The dual bass melody is so loud it seems to rattle the rafters of the Garden. 

“Cat’s In The Cupboard,” which would later appear on Townshend’s solo album Empty Glass is followed by a cover of Jimmy Reed’s ”Big Boss Man,” the band’s only attempt at a straight blues song.  The evening ends with the first attempt at “Naked Eye” by this line up of the Who, lasting close to eight minutes.

Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – September 14th, 1979

Disc 1 (66:13):  Intro, Substitute, I Can’t Explain, Baba O’Riley, The Punk And The Godfather, Boris The Spider, Sister Disco, Behind Blue Eyes, Music Must Change, Drowned, Who Are You, 5:15 

Disc 2 (61:26):  Pinball Wizard, See Me Feel Me, Long Live Rock, My Generation, Let’s See Action, Blue Black White, Join Together, Magic Bus, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Young Man Blues, The Real Me

The sound quality of the tape for the second night in the Garden is similar to the first night:  it is good to very good but slightly distant and has no cuts.  New York 1979 marks the first time it has ever been available on pressed compact disc. 

The second Madison Square Garden show is the shortest and least adventurous in the latter half of the show.  The playing is again confident however and The Who deliver an excellent show.  Daltrey and Townshend are less chatty in their song introductions. 

Like all the shows the first three quarters remains unchanged.  “The Punk And The Godfather” is interesting in this performance for the very strong Bundrick Hammond organ presence in the melody.  Although Townshend does enough interesting improvisations on stage, the arrangements are enhanced whenever the auxiliary musicians make themselves heard.

“Who Are You?” plods along fine until the very end when they lose their place and the song breaks down.  Daltrey jokes, saying “We’ll rename that one ‘Where are we?’  That goes for us.”  He brings Kenny Jones out, saying, “Just to prove he’s got a voice we’ll get Mr. Jones to announce this one.”  Jones’ introduction is short, saying “Hello New York…It’s really nice that you accept me the way you do…this number’s called ’5.15.’”

“My Generation” is segues into a rare performance of the single “Let’s See Action,” a song whose only other performance this year was in July in London.  There is agreat intro to “Blue, Black, White” and during the improvisation Daltrey coaxes them into “Join Together” played in a much different arrangement than expected.  The song made an appearance in Passaic and this is the only time its’ played in New York and won’t appear on stage again for another two years. 

“Magic Bus” features a long harmonica/guitar interlude.  Pete mentions the rain during “Magic Bus” and at about that point some in the audience could feel raindrops seeping in through the roof.  Townshend and Bundrick get into a similar guitar/organ melody as the previous night before segueing into “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” 

The encores are short compared to the other shows.  “Young Man Blues” is one of their very old numbers which was played only sporadically through the seventies but was resurrected in 1979.  The final song of the night is a very long “The Real Me” which features a strong and exciting brass presence and an improvisation in the middle.      

Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – September 16th, 1979

Disc 1 (64:57):  Substitute, Can’t Explain, Baba O’Riley, The Punk And The Godfather, Boris The Spider, Sister Disco, Behind Blue Eyes, Music Must Change, Drowned, Who Are You, 5:15

Disc 2 (74:36):  Pinball Wizard, See Me Feel Me, Long Live Rock, My Generation, Dreaming From The Waist, Dance It Away, Magic Bus, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Trick Of The Light, Shakin’ All Over, Spoonful, Blue Red Black White, Big Boss Man, That’s Rock And Roll!

After an off day The Who returned for their third New York show on September 16.  This is perhaps the most well known of the five since it has received wide circulation.  It first surfaced on the vinyl The Who (FD 59140-2) which was copied on Tour Of Germany (Creative Artistry). 

An edited version of the tape was release on the vinyl title The Keith Moon Memory Concert (WHITE KNIGHT WK273).  New York 1979 marks the CD debut of the tape after thirty years.  The sound quality is slightly distant but very good and better balanced than the first two New York shows.  

After the first two numbers Daltrey points out that it’s Kenny Jones’ birthday and leads the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to the new drummer.  “The Punk And The Godfather” is “more about New York”

Townshend introduces “big John Entwistle, wearing his cycling outfit and it’s NOT his birthday.”  Roger leads the audience in singing “We Love You, Conrad” from Bye Bye Birdie until Entwistle says, “that’s enough…this one’s all about a creepy crawly creature with eight legs called Roger, er Boris the spider.”

“Music Must Change” is the first real statement by the horn section in the setlist and tonight after that song Townshend mentions the “horn section playing with us tonight.  That was their introduction.  Later on when we play more stuff from Quadrophenia, in fact the next song is from Quadrophenia, and the keyboards with Rabbit and the horn section is helping us to grow.  They’re good company.” 

“Pinball Wizard” has a long introduction in this show before they get into the main melody.  When they play “Long Live Rock” Townshend gets very animated during his verse shouting “rock is fucking dead they say, BULLSHIT.” 

Afterwards he says, “there will always be some toerag to take over.  You’ll be alright.”  Although it was written, recorded and played live in 1972 it took on a different meaning when it was issued as a single in 1979.  In its initial context it was addressed to those who felt that the sixties aura of rock was dead and gone, but seven years latter is became a rallying cry against disco when the ”disco sucks” movement hit a fever pitch.  

“My Generation” has a slow heavy metal introduction, Townshend gets the band into “Dreaming From The Waist” which leads into “Dance It Away” recorded for the sessions for Townshend’s third solo album All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes in 1982 and included on the 2006 remaster.  “Magic Bus” again segues into “Won’t Get Fooled Again” as the final song.  

The first encore “Trick Of The Light” is given its last New York performance.  It would be played on November 11th in Brighton and December 10th in Philadelphia before being shelved for ten years and is followed by a long jam starting with “Shaking All Over” and ending with the second appearance in this group of shows of “That’s Rock and Roll!” 

The three shows are housed in a six disc fatboy jewel case with photographs from the era on the artwork. 

New York 1979 and its companion volumes are among the most interesting Who releases in recent years.  It brings to light a fascinating time in their history in very good sounding audio tapes and this is a must have for Who collectors.   

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If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)

The Who - New York 1979 (no label), 2.5 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

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  1. Avatar of npollack
    npollack says
    November 30, 2009, 8:16 am

    I just received a copy of this release and New Jersey 79. I do agree with your review and this is a must for any Who collector. I’m very pleased. I thought there was information at one time this release was going to have some 76 New York on it as well but I guess not. Keep up the good work!
    mecham3

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