Among my most memorable concerts is one I didn’t see: The Who at the Providence Civic Center on December 17, 1979. Thanks to my brother Robert and my roommate Mark, we had great seats: Lower Arena, Section 109, $11.50 a ticket. Rob and Mark had “slept” outside the Civic Center the night before tickets went on sale. None of us had seen The Who before.
But two weeks prior to the Providence show, eleven people died at a Who concert in Cincinnati when general admission seating resulted in a stampede at the gate. Mayor Buddy Cianci cancelled The Who’s Providence date, citing public safety, even though the Civic Center show had reserved seating. Rob and Mark and I spent our refund money on pitchers of beer at Hope’s on Washington Street, as Who songs played on the juke box. We have lamented that missed show ever since.
I’ve been a Who fan since I was thirteen. That’s when my father gave my brothers and me Tommy. During high school, I listened to Who’s Next while shooting pool at my friend Jimmy’s house. I remember thinking “Bargain” was a great song, especially the bridge that Pete Townshend sings: “I’m looking for that free ride to me/I’m looking for you.” The cover was cool, too: four guys peeing in a slag heap. Rock on.
In the summer of 1978, I scored my teenage dream job: part-time cashier at Midland Records on Thayer Street on the East Side. One of my duties was to play music non-stop on the store’s sweet audio system. Who Are You came out on August 18th and immediately went to the top of the store playlist. Keith Moon died three weeks later. After that, all The Who albums were in heavy rotation.
And that’s when I discovered Quadrophenia. Released in 1973, it was a rock opera like Tommy, but with less pretense and more of the band’s signature sound: Daltry’s soaring vocals, Townshend’s grinding guitars, Entwistle’s melodic bass runs, and the relentless drum assault that was Moon. Quadrophenia also had a compelling narrative arc, centered on a young Mod named Jimmy who is a teenage everyman: alone, misunderstood, angry, looking for the girl, and trying to figure out how to fit in. I played the double-album non-stop. And when a film adaptation came out in 1979, it made me love the story and music even more.
Fast forward to 2012: my news feed reports that The Who are going on tour and the last date will be in Providence in February. What’s more, they will perform Quadrophenia in its entirety. The Dunkin’ Donuts Center, formerly the Civic Center, announces that anyone with tickets from the cancelled 1979 show can trade them in for seats at the February concert. Remarkably, fourteen fans emerge with their tickets.
It’s an early Thursday morning at work. I pull up the Ticketmaster site on my computer… The Who: Quadrophenia and More… Dunkin’ Donuts Center… February 26, 2013… Section 107… Row E… Seats 1-2… Boom! Two tickets for Rob and me – not too far from our original seats.
And then I blast “The Punk and The Godfather” from Quadrophenia: “The numbered seats in empty rows/It all belongs to me you know.”