50 years ago tomorrow (Mar. 25), the landscape of rock 'n roll changed forever in America when audiences in the United States were introduced to The Who live and in person for the very first time, the band that consisted of Roger Daltry, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon.
Three people who were lucky enough to bear witness to the event -- Mitch Ryder of '60s rock hitmakers Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and legendary organist Al Kooper (then playing with The Blues Project), both of whom also performed at the show, as well as Peter Altschuler, son of concert organizer Murray the K, offered Billboard their memories of the unforgettable landing.
The very first performance from The Who took place at the RKO 58th St. Theater in New York City and was part of a multi-day concert series put together by disc jockey Murray the K, the famous "Fifth Beatle" who was responsible for bringing much of the talent across the pond during the British invasion. While most of his shows had taken place at the Brooklyn Fox theater, that location had recently been shut down, forcing the change of venue.
Kooper noted that, "It was a very bizarre show. I think it ran a week to 10 days, and there were a lot of acts on it. Everybody played 2-3 songs, which is like an old-style rock n roll show." He also said that the most popular song the band played was "obviously 'My Generation;" as it had been getting a good amount of radio play.
Murray the K's son, Peter, was 19-year-old sophomore at New York University at the time. "When The Who made it to the stage, I don't think anyone, including me, was prepared for what was going to occur," he tells Billboard. "The notion that a band would end its set by completely destroying every instrument they were playing was a little bizarre - but that's of course what they did. They basically blew up the stage, walked off and the audience was pretty much left with their mouths agape."
It seemed as though their antics on stage were just as memorable, if not more, than the music itself. Mitch Ryder of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels also played those shows with The Who, and enjoyed their performance every day they played together. Ryder describes the band as being "a great deal more aggressive and almost destructive, [like they] had a lot of contempt for [their music]."
He laughs. "It was weird. I mean, they loved doing their songs but it's almost like they hated doing their songs, people knocking down their drums or smashing their guitars on the stage. I think the message they were trying to put across [was]... things are changing, and this is how it's gonna be in the new age."
Ryder also noted the shock and awe of The Who destroying their instruments, especially their electric guitars, since in those days, the instruments were considered to be "really, really expensive."
All in all, there is an overarching theme of that first show: revolution. Altschuler says, "The Who's appearance at that show completely changed the landscape of how acts performed. Nobody had done anything like it before, and until groups like the Sex Pistols came along, nobody did it afterwards."
50 years later, The Who are still going strong as they recently announced a Vegas residency that will take place over the summer at Caesars Palace starting July 29. It's still their generation.