The year was 1976 and I was just 12 years old, yet I remember this moment in my life as if it happened yesterday. It was a summer afternoon and I was playing baseball with my friends as the sounds of my neighbor’s AM radio wafted through the air. It was my turn at bat and suddenly, I heard a song that stopped me dead in my tracks. I had never heard anything like it and truthfully, I have not since. With its now familiar chorus of “teenage wasteland,” the song that brought me to a full stop that day was “Baba O’Riley” by The Who.
Clearly, I was not the only person that has been impacted this way by The Who’s music. Nevertheless, here I was nearly 45 years later getting ready to see my boyhood sonic heroes at Honda Center for their Hits Back! Tour.
The Who | Hits Back Tour
October 28, 2022
As I rolled up to the Honda Center, I was slightly surprised by the ages of the attendees. I thought it was going to be an AARP-inspired crowd, or some grey- and purple-haired teenage wasteland. Nope, it was fans of all ages, and everyone had their own stories as to what the music meant to them.
I spoke with a few fans, and the band has touched every corner of humanity with their music. They saved people, made them better, inspired some, and are reminders of a yesterday with long-lost friends. Their music runs the gambit of soulful impact on their fans. For me, their music takes me back to being a kid, good times with my friends, and a life still in front of me.
Before The Who took the stage, the crowd was treated to a great opening act: Mike Campbell. If the name sounds familiar, it should; he was a heartbreaker. No really, he was in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Now, he is the front-man for Mike Campbell & the Dirty Knobs. Just like Petty, Campbell too is a showman with a fantastic voice and man, can he play a guitar.
The band sounded incredible and even though most fans wanted to see The Who ASAP, we were all OK with being entertained by this band. His set list was eclectic, but it too brought smiles to concertgoers.
Campbell and the Knobs delivered big with “Wicked Mind,” “Fault Lines,” “Wreckless Abandon,” “I Still Love You,” “Even the Losers,” and received a huge response to “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”
After a very short intermission, the lights dimmed and out came the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers to a very enthusiastic crowd. As the band settled in, front-man Roger Daltrey took the stage in a very deliberate strut. Then Pete Townshend sprinted out, draped in a red cape or some kind of flag. The crowd lost its mind at the mere sight of these rock legends.
Daltrey and Townshend were backed by an orchestra that made their sonic vision reality in a larger-than-life setting. They opened with “Overture” from “Tommy.” Daltrey was sporting his tambourines, while Townshend was shredding his guitar.
They segued into “1921,” “Amazing Journey,” and “Sparks,” then the distinct opening of “Pinball Wizard” reanimated the crowd.
It was an amazing moment. The sound of the band, the orchestra, and a capacity crowd singing along to every word: “Ever since I was a young boy I’ve played the silver ball, from Soho down to Brighton I must have played ‘em all, But I ain’t seen nothing like him in any amusement hall, that deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball!”
Up next was “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and then what sounded like a 747 taking off, the house exploded to the sound of the opening to “Who Are You!” By then the crowd was fully immersed into the show. I noticed everyone was singing along, and I witnessed grown men and women in tears as they experienced the moment.
Eventually, the orchestra left the stage and the majesty that is The Who was on full display as it was just the band and their instruments. Townshend said, “Here’s one you can sing along to” and the distinctive intro to “You Better You Bet” began. I thought the crowd couldn’t get louder, but I was wrong.
Daltrey led them into a nice set featuring “The Seeker,” “Naked Eye,” and “Another Tricky Day.” It was about this time that I too was sucked into the vortex of emotional fans when I heard the chords to “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” It was a moment in time for me and the 20,000 other fans witnessing music history before them.
Once the frenzy of the song subsided, the orchestra rejoined the band. It was a remarkable transition to more of their epic catalog, this time they focused on their 1973 era-defining album, “Quadrophenia.” The crowd loved “The Real Me,” “I’m One,” “5:15,” “The Rock,” “Love, Reign O’er Me,” but then just like that, the show was ready to come to an end.
“I don’t need to fight, to prove I’m right… I don’t need to be forgiven”
Before the guys exited the stage, the keyboards reigned supreme and everyone was in awe as The Who went into their seminal hit – the one that made me stop and take notice as a young boy – “Baba O’Riley.”
Daltrey stood, almost as if at attention paying homage to the legacy of the song, before he went into the vocals, and Townshend also stood at attention, looking moved by the opening chords before winding up to pound out his signature windmill guitar riffs. Everyone in the house could tell the song meant just as much to The Who as it did to fans attending the show.
In the end, I can honestly say that I never do this; I always remain cool and collected and observe the crowd so I can write my stories. For this moment in time, I found myself feeling that same feeling when I was 12 years old with that AM radio blasting those lyrics. At the top of my lungs, I sang along with the other 20,000 souls at Honda Center, “Out here in the fields, I fight for my meals, I get my back into my living. I don’t need to fight, to prove I’m right, I don’t need to be forgiven… Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!”
I have been to a lot of shows in my lifetime, but I will remember this one. The Who delivered and the show was everything I thought it would be and hoped for.
It’s true what they say: music is the great communicator. A good band can make you remember, but a great band can make you feel! For me and countless fans at Honda Center that night, we all felt like teenagers again.