The story of The Who’s sessions in late 1970 to the middle of 1971 is one of the most fascinating in the history of 20th century pop music. Under much pressure to provide a follow up to the masterpiece Tommy (mostly from himself), Pete Townshend conceived and wrote the music for the next project to be called Lifehouse. The theme, the liberation of one’s true identity through the power of music and technology, was so complicated and advanced that Townshend’s vision included music, film, and (what boarders on) performance art.
The project proceeded throughout the early months of 1971 with live sessions at the Young Vic Theatre in London including a recorded concert on April 26th and studio sessions at the Record Plant in New York in March and at Stargroves in May.
After innumerable obstacles to the project, it was finally abandoned during the studio sessions at Olympic Studios in London in late May and early June. Instead, a single LP called Who’s Next was recorded, mixed, and scheduled for release on August 14th. A tour of the US was also scheduled to begin in late July at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, New York.
Forest Hills 1971 is a four disc set covering the two New York shows from this interesting era. These are the first two shows from the tour and come right before the album was released. Although the album would receive rave reviews and would become one of the greatest albums ever released, the songs were virtually unknown to the New York audiences that night. Only a single edit of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was played on the radio at the time, so the new songs are really new.
Several low key gigs were played in the UK before these shows including one on July 3rd in Sheffield. Some of the newer songs that were played like “Time Is Passing,” “Going Mobile” and “Too Much Of Anything” were dropped in favour of other new songs and several well known stage numbers.
Important as they are, both shows are making their silver pressed debut in this collection. One has been released on vinyl before in the past, but they’ve both been overlooked in the past for better sounding shows.
Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, Flushing Meadows, NY – July 29th, 1971
Disc 1 (41:05): Love Ain’t For Keeping, Pure And Easy, My Wife, I Can’t Explain, Substitute, Bargain, Behind Blue Eyes, Won’t Get Fooled Again
Disc 2 (49:23): mc, I Don’t Even Know Myself, Baby Don’t You Do It, Pinball Wizard, See Me Feel Me, Water, My Generation, Magic Bus
One of the reasons why this show was never released is because the old tape source was horrible sounding. Muffled and fragmented, the recorder was hiding under a tarp for protection from the rain. This new recording surfaced several years ago and is good to very good and enjoyable. It’s a major upgrade over the old tape. The very beginning of “Love Ain’t For Keeping” is missing, and there are small cuts in “Behind Blue Eyes” at 3:01 and “See Me, Feel Me” at 1:28.
The tour originally was scheduled to start at the Civic Centre in Baltimore, but was rescheduled when the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium became available. It was a muggy night and it rained throughout the performance. Organized by Ron Delsner for the “Forest Hills Music Festival,” Labelle opened the show with a half hour performance.
Mike Jahn reviewed the show for the New York Times stating that “The Who tied rubber blocks to their shoes to avoid electrocution and played a long concert in a steady rain Thursday at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens.” He also stated that “most of the words were indecipherable, lost in the notorious volume that characteristics The Who … Peter Townshend and Roger Daltrey maintained an insult match with their equipment handlers all evening.”
The set begins with two new songs, “Love Ain’t For Keeping” from the new album and “Pure And Easy,” which wasn’t and would only be released three years later on Odds & Sodds.
“We’d like to enjoy the rain with you, but unfortunately our equipment doesn’t like it” Roger Daltrey says afterwards. A girl, probably the taper referring to her tape recorder, laughs “neither does ours!” Daltrey then introduces “My Wife” by John Entwistle. It would be one of the band’s most popular live numbers, but this is the first time they play it on stage. It segues directly into the older numbers “I Can’t Explain” and “Substitute” (which is inadvertently shortened to barely over a minute here).
After “Substitute” Keith Moon introduces the next song “from the new album that’s going to be released this week. It’s called The Who Sings Gene Kelly. ‘I’m singing in the rain…’” he sings, poking fun at the steady rain. After more banter Townshend stomps on a cockroach shouting “I HATE COCKROACHES!” After a pause Moon shouts, “he ain’t dead yet.”
“Bargain” follows and is faithful to the studio version except Townshend hums the synthesizer part. The guitarist gets into a long speech about the new song “Behind Blue Eyes,” telling them “the next song we’re gonna do was recorded firstly in New York City a place called The Record Plant which is where your heavy American groups record all their heavy things. But we come over here and we did something completely upside down, it’s about the lightest number we’ve ever done. It never came out as a single and maybe when you hear it you’ll understand why. It’s an album track from our latest album called Who’s Next called ‘Behind Blue Eyes.’” Moon then shouts “And it’s crap.” Townshend replies “And you’ll see why. Just watch him.”
It’s obvious the band are pushing the limits of the crowd’s patience with all the new material. There is scant applause and, while Townshend is talking, people are shouting for “Magic Bus” and carrying on their own conversations.
The audience give “Behind Blue Eyes” a reaction of silence mixed with shouts of obscenities. It’s not clear exactly what is going on, but there are some loud shouts of expletives heard from the audience while it’s being sought out.
“Won’t Get Fooled Again,” perhaps since it was released as a single, gets a bigger response. It was used as the set-closer earlier in the year, it’s now moved to the seventh number in the act and won’t return to show-closing status for a few years.
Before “Baby Don’t You Do It” Daltrey says “It’s a song we used to play in a club in London…equally damp … the Marquee.” After a blistering version of “Water,” the show finishes with “My Generation” moving into “Magic Bus” and what was reportedly a Townshend smash-up of not one, but two guitars.
John Swenson describes the ending of the show in his book The Who, published in 1979. “At the end of ‘Magic Bus,’ Townshend broke the neck off his guitar and flung it into the photographer’s pit. When a jittery roadie scuttled out to retrieve the body, Townshend threatened him with menacing gestures to stand aside (Who roadies always turn out to be Townshend’s straight men during a Who performance). Townshend then took a second guitar and, grabbing it like a paddle, picked up the body of the broken first guitar, tossed it into the air, and slammed it with the second guitar as it came down. Both guitars broke into pieces at Townshend’s feet. He then picked up a microphone stand and beat the mangled guitar bodies into splinters.”
Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, Flushing Meadows, NY – July 31st, 1971
Disc 3 (43:00): Introduction, Love Ain’t For Keeping, Pure And Easy, My Wife, I Can’t Explain, Substitute, Bargain, Behind Blue Eyes, Won’t Get Fooled Again
Disc 4 (63:18): mc, I Don’t Even Know Myself, Baby Don’t You Do It, Pinball Wizard, See Me Feel Me, Water, My Generation, Magic Bus, Naked Eye / improvisation, Roadrunner
The Friday July 31st show has been out before on the old vinyl title Such A Knight (WK23). The sound quality of the vinyl is described as abominable. The tape used for this release is very good. The taper was relatively close to the stage and pointed his microphone towards the speakers, ensuring a clean and uncluttered sound.
July 31st was played on a hot and muggy night with no rain, in contrast with the Thursday show. It’s much more polished as a result with only a bit of equipment problems at the beginning. The setlist remains basically the same, starting off with “Love Ain’t For Keeping.”
“Pure And Easy” follows but with some problems in the middle when Townshend’s guitar cuts out in the middle. Daltrey sings a verse for a smooth transition acapella and it sounds really nice and unique. It is a great song, but this would be excised from the set after the Dayton show on August 13th.
“My Wife” and two golden oldies “I Can’t Explain” and “Substitute” follow in devastating succession. Afterwards, with Townshend still have problems, Daltrey jokes “Big T. Gone very quiet tonight. Got a few problems with his guitars.”
Pete jokes back “No trouble with the guitar. I don’t like guitars and they don’t like me” before starting “Bargain.” More excitement on stage afterward when, while getting ready for “Behind Blue Eyes,” Mooney shouts “ANOTHER COCKROACH!!” Townshend jokes, “When you find a cockroach in your cutlery drawer, this is what you do” with a loud thump punctuating his demonstration.
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” received the biggest reaction of the night from the audience. There is a false start when the tape begins too early, but overall it’s a powerful performance to an expectant crowd. Daltrey’s shriek at the end seems to shake the foundations of the stadium. “Our latest single” Townshend humbly says afterwards.
The show picks up much momentum from there. Before “Baby Don’t You Do It” Townshend says how they “used to play it at a club in London and we were very chic because we played Tamla Motown songs. This is a song we play today, we still feel very chic. We still dig it.” This was one of their improvisational pieces during this time and tonight goes on for about seven minutes.
“Pinball Wizard” and “See Me, Feel Me” are well received but are curtly played, as if the band wanted to give the audience a minimum of Tommy. Afterwards Townshend refers to the rainy first show, saying “it’s a long way from Thursday. And any of you that were here on Thursday will remember how wet it was. Today it’s dry and it’s hot and sticky. We would like to sing a song about hot and sticky weather…’New York, New York.” and this one’s called ‘Water’ and it’s about a man trudging across the desert with footsteps like this…killing cockroaches!!
The unreleased song revives much of their improvisational prowess, leading into a syncopated blues melody before segueing into “Magic Bus.” Ostensibly the set closer, they track goes on until, when slowing down, Townshend plays the “Naked Eye” melody prompting the rest of the band to follow.
The long improvisation leads into an impromptu “Roadrunner” to close a very long and exhausting evening.
Many titles are available which document The Who during this important time. The sound of the live recordings are not all great, but they do reveal the virtues which made them such a potent live band. Forest Hills 1971 is a stunning release which every Who collector has to have.