Forty years ago today: My first arena concert, The Who at The Spectrum in Philadelphia

Who Spectrum 1979

The Who at The Spectrum in Philadelphia on Dec. 10, 1979.

Little did I know how many concerts were to come. But on Dec. 10, 1979 — 40 years ago today — I saw my first arena concert: The Who at The Spectrum in Philadelphia.

It was their first tour without Keith Moon, who had died in September 1978. Their latest studio album was 1978’s Who Are You, but the “Quadrophenia” movie and soundtrack had come out in October 1979, so the concert started with a screening of excerpts from the movie (there was no opening act). Kenney Jones was playing drums, and keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick and a small horn section came along for the tour, too.

The show took place a week after 11 fans died in a crowd surge as people rushed to get into a Who concert at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati. Everyone was aware of it, but the Spectrum concert had an open floor, and there was still a scary surge when the arena’s doors opened. No one was seriously hurt, as far as I know.

My ticket was on the floor. I was as college freshman at the time, in the Philadelphia area. Someone had posted on a campus bulletin board that he was looking to sell tickets to the show, and two friends and I snapped them up. We were all big Who fans. Though I had not been to a lot of rock concerts at that point — only one, actually, an Elvis Costello & the Attractions show in my senior year of high school — I did spend a lot of time listening to music, and The Who were definitely among my favorites. The documentary “The Kids Are Alright” had came out that year, and I had seen it, and been amazed by the band’s stage presence.

Anyway, memories of the Spectrum show are still very vivid in my mind: Pete Townshend windmilling; Roger Daltrey singing “Behind Blue Eyes” with a blue spotlight on him; John Entwistle, bathed in creepy yellow light, singing his demonic-sounding lines in “Summertime Blues.” I can still “see” the stage setup, with the horns and keyboards and Jones’ big kit.

Amazingly, I was able to find some footage from that night on YouTube: You can watch it below.

It wasn’t a particularly long tour: Just 34 shows, in Europe and the United States, from May to December. The band had already been in the area, performing twice at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic and five times at Madison Square Garden in September. (A second Spectrum show took place on Dec. 11.)

Here is the Dec. 10, 1979 setlist, according to setlist.fm, and, below it, a video of the band performing “Baba O’Riley” that night.

“Substitute”
“I Can’t Explain”
“Baba O’Riley”
“The Punk and the Godfather”
“My Wife”
“Sister Disco”
“Behind Blue Eyes”
“Music Must Change”
“Drowned”
“Who Are You”
“5:15”
“Pinball Wizard”
“See Me, Feel Me”
“Long Live Rock”
“My Generation”
“I Can See for Miles”
“Sparks”
“Won’t Get Fooled Again”

Encore:
“Trick of the Light”
“Summertime Blues”
“Take a Fool Like You”
“How Can You Do It Alone”
“Dancing in the Street”
“Dance It Away”
“The Real Me”

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