Flashback: The Who perform their first and only show at SPAC, 49 years ago today

Two years after releasing Tommy and just ahead of the release of Who’s Next, UK rock stalwarts The Who performed at Saratoga Springs Performing Arts Center on Monday, August 2, 1971.

The show would serve as The Who’s only performance at SPAC, with a then-record attendance of 33,652 (reported as 27,800 by The Who), which shattered the previous record of 22,647 set by Chicago in 1970. Christian rock star and future Gospel Music Hall of Fame singer Mylon served as support for the show.

The Glens Falls Post-Star had this to say of the show in their concert review:

The crowd was everywhere, in the seats, on the lawn, on the stage, in the aisles and even on the steel girders on the side of the theater. The latter, fortunately, was only temporary until the police ordered the dozen young people down.

They were a noisy, restless audience to say the least, but seemed to lap up everything the four-man group offered. The Who gave them their money’s worth for an hour and a half, and do they work. As to the quality of their music, It was loud. I’ll leave further critique to those who favor this type of rock music. But the fact that they brought nearly 28,000 paying customers to SPAC is not to be denied.

They seemed to sing all the songs the crowd came for, as well as anumber of new ones, and had a difficult time convincing the crowd to go home.

Opening the show for the first have was Mylon, a long haired, grating singer-guitarist backed by five musicians and three girl singers. They did everything from rock to country-western, spirituals and even a standard, “Sixteen Ton.”

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The Post-Star review goes on to detail the sound at the show as well as fans camping on the lawn:

The sound throughout the program was loud for those in the theater, and everywhere backstage theater walls and floor were actually vibrating. Out on the lawn, the sound was more moderated. Thanks to the closed circuit TV system used again last night, those on the lawn had a perfect viewing spot. Watching the TV cameramen in the aisles and one on stage on a ladder trying to cover the show for those on the lawn was almost a show initself.

There were the usual several minor cuts and abrasions, as well as several fainting incidents requiring backstage first aid, with some also going to the hospital.

Reportedly several on the lawn camped there from late Sunday night in order to be sure of a good place, so that should give some indication of the popularity of The Who. For anyone so inclined, a close examination of the group’s tons of sound equipment would be a short course in the electronic world of amplification at its fullest.

The intermission was especially long, as management pleaded for the young people to clear the aisles to comply with state fire laws. They never did get the aisles clear, but finally did get most of the kids to sit down so those in seats could see the stage.

A unique feature to evenings at SPAC – a program was distributed to attendees, as seen below.

Program cover
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Program back

Among the small print, the program says of The Who:

Unlike so many groups in the fickle world of pop music, The Who have remained together as a band since their start in 1964. The creative sparkplug of the group is Pete Townsend, guitarist, songwriter and composer of Tommy. Bass player John Entwhistle is another fine songwriter. The two other members of the group are drummer Keith Moon and the explosive microphone-twirling singer Roger Daltry.

(Ed. Note: Townshend, Entwistle and Daltrey’s names were misspelled in the program)

Aside from the rock opera concept, The Who have been pioneers in many other areas of pop music. They were the first to refine guitar feedback to a high art, the first to use the previously sacred Union Jack as clothing and the first to wind up their performances by smashing their instruments.

The program goes on to note that The Who had just played two sold out shows at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens. They wrapped up their tour shortly after their Saratoga performance, with final tour stops at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, CT, Cobo Hall in Detroit and Chicago Auditorium.

Setlist: Love Ain’t For Keeping, Pure And Easy, My Wife, I Can’t Explain, Substitute, Bargain, Behind Blue Eyes, Won’t Get Fooled Again, I Don’t Know Myself, Baby Don’t You Do It (Marvin Gaye), Pinball Wizard, See Me Feel Me, Water

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