Concert Memories: The Who at Great Woods, Mansfield, MA July 31, 1997

My very faded ticket stub

In July of 1997 I was 17 years old, had graduated high school the month before, and was a few weeks away from starting college. I was also in the midst of my era of playing guitar during every waking moment (something I'd gladly do now if I had the time!), writing songs, practicing with the band I was in, and immersing myself in as much music as I could. I also finally had my own car and the freedom to drive wherever I wanted (within reason). As a bit of background, I'm the oldest of three kids and I was on the young side compared to my classmates at school by virtue of skipping the fifth grade. Because I was the oldest my parents were a bit stricter with me than with my brother and sister (in the interest of full disclosure, I was an absolute pain in the arse for most of my teenage years), and due to being a year or two younger than all of my friends I wasn't able to do many of the things that they could (like drive) until a year after. By the summer of 1997 I was heading off to college and was old enough to mostly go where I wanted so after missing out on several concerts I'd wanted to see in previous years, I was ready to finally start going to some shows. Indeed, one of the reasons this Who concert that I'm going to write about holds so much significance for me isn't simply because I saw the remnants of one of my favorite, most meaningful bands but because it was the first real concert I ever went to. 

It all started in 1996, actually. I'd been a Who fan since I was a little kid in the 1980s thanks to my dad's record collection. I heard several of their songs when he would listen to them and when I got a little older, I played the hell out of his copies of Tommy, Who's Next, Quadrophenia, and Who Are You. There were a couple of formative events that cemented my obsession with this band that I can still remember vividly even though they were so many years ago. The first was in 1994 when I purchased my own copy of Tommy on CD. There was a record store in Portsmouth that my dad and I used to frequent called Strawberries and in the summer of 1994 they were making a big deal of it being the 25th anniversary of Woodstock. They were selling albums by all of the bands that played the original festival at a discount and had even set up a special display where they were all gathered together. Knowing Tommy from my dad's records, I bought that CD and proceeded to listen to it almost non-stop all of that summer. I had also gotten one of the first Sony DiscMan portable CD players earlier in the year, so every day involved listening to it at full blast through headphones, and every night involved falling asleep to it. For me at the age of fourteen, hearing it in that improved sound quality and absorbing every nuance of the album over the course of those weeks and months deepened my appreciation of the Who. The other event, which pushed me completely over the top, was a year later in 1995. My brother and I had been hanging out in our dad's office listening to records when he arrived home from work with some new CDs in his briefcase. The Who had recently begun their remaster campaign, releasing their albums with improved sound (albeit with some bastardized mixes when compared to the original vinyl) and bonus tracks. That evening, Dad brought home the new versions of Tommy, Who's Next, and Live at Leeds. Now, these were all albums I was familiar with, especially Tommy; however, apart from my CD of that album I'd only ever listened to these on either vinyl or the cassette dubs I'd made of the records. In the case of Live at Leeds, the original album only had six tracks whereas this remaster had fifteen! You mean there was more stuff they played at the concert? I couldn't believe it (not realizing, in my youth, that most live albums were cherry picked from full concerts). Dad wanted to hear how some of the tracks he dug from the original Live at Leeds album sounded on the new CD. "How about 'Young Man Blues?'" he said. After putting the CD in the player, cranking up the volume, and pressing "play," my teenage ears and mind were about to be blown and my life changed forever. The absolute heavy-metal assault of that song was absolutely staggering.

Even songs from the album I'd heard a bunch of times before, like "Substitute" and "Summertime Blues" sounded new and fresh, and the newly included live cuts...well, they were just the icing on the cake. A few years later when I was in college I would get a bootleg of the ENTIRE Leeds concert and that's the way I choose to enjoy the album nowadays, but I can't stress enough how life-changing that listen to Live at Leeds in 1995 was. It not only heightened my obsession with the Who, it completely changed how I played guitar. I learned how to play the entire Live at Leeds album note-for-note, every riff and solo, and the band my brother and I had with our friend Theo played every song from that album every time we jammed for the next year or two. It was an absolute revelation, as were the other remastered albums and the bonus tracks...there were so many songs we'd never heard of, let alone heard before. I ended up buying my own copies of those CDs and snatched up every subsequent remastered Who album that came out on CD in the next few years.  But now that I've gone off far enough on this tangent (hey, I'm building toward something so bear with me!)... the time 1996 rolled around, all I wanted to do was listen to and make music. When I wasn't at school, at band or sports practice, or with hanging out with my friends, I was playing guitar. I wanted to be in The Who. When they announced a big Hyde Park show in London in 1996 to play the entire Quadrophenia album (my favorite of theirs), I was thrilled although it was from 3,000 miles away. A few months later, though, I found out that they were going to play shows in the US during the summer of 1997 and well, what else could I do? I absolutely had to go see them. One problem, though...I had only just turned seventeen at the beginning of 1997 and no way were my parents going to let me drive to Mansfield alone (it's about 40 minutes south of Boston but I grew up in central New Hampshire so it was a two-hour drive to get there). Even worse, neither of them wanted to go with me and my brother. The date of the concert, July 31, was a Thursday so my dad had to work and my mum couldn't leave my sister home alone (twelve years old at the time) in order to take us. There was no way my brother Alex and I were going to miss this show, but how were we going to get there?

Enter salvation in the form of our friend Pete's dad (also named Alex, a very nice man who sadly passed away in 2011).  Pete was my one of brother's best friends and lived down the street from us in our neighborhood. Alex used to hang out at Pete's house a lot and during one visit he mentioned that we were trying to get someone to take us to the concert.  Alex (the dad) overheard and told us he'd take us. He had been a Who fan back in his college days and was used to driving down that way since he was a Patriots season ticket holder (the Patriots play in Foxborough, the next town over from Mansfield). So now we had someone who would take us to the show...success! I promptly ordered five tickets over the phone (remember, kids, these were the old days when the internet didn't really exist...I didn't send my first email or browse my first webpage until a month later when I started college). Alex (the dad) was going to take me, Alex (my brother), Pete, and Pete's younger brother Eric. I could finally breathe a sigh of relief as we had tickets, someone to take us, and several months to go until the concert in July.

Finally, July 31st arrived...Who day! I remember that it was a typical New England summer day: hot and muggy, although not unbearably so...just enough to make you uncomfortable. We all piled into Alex-the-dad's minivan and set out for Great Woods (again, I refuse to call it the "Whatever-Corporate-Sponsored-Name-It-Is-Now was Great Woods my whole life growing up and that's what I'll always call it) in Mansfield. Along the way we discussed the upcoming Patriots season and listened to the radio (we may have had the Red Sox game on the radio...I can't remember). When we got a bit closer to Boston where we could pick up the radio stations, we tuned in to hear that all of them were playing nothing but the Who which got us even more psyched up for the concert. Eventually we arrived at the venue, parked, and walked through the gates. Thinking ahead, we'd brought along some blankets to spread out on the ground; for those of you who have never been to Great Woods, it's a large outdoor amphitheatre that is divided into three sections. The first is where the bulk of the seats are and is covered by a roof. There are then several rows of seats that are behind the first section and aren't under the roof; finally, the rear section is the general admission lawn area. I've sat in all three sections at various concerts and any time you're not under the roof you're praying for good weather. Luckily there wasn't a cloud in the sky that day so there were no worries. After getting a spot on the lawn right up against the final row of seats and spreading out our blankets, I set off to buy some Who t-shirts from the merchandise stall. I ended up buying two: one was white with banding around the collar and sleeves and the target and band logos on the front, and the other was black with their early 1970s logo on the front and the tour dates on the back. I still have both shirts, they both still fit, and I'll add photos of them once I find them. Now it was time to hang out on the lawn until the show started.

For this tour, the Who were presenting Quadrophenia as a true rock opera onstage, with special guests playing the parts of the Ace Face and the Godfather to augment to the band.  All these years since the show I've distinctly remembered Billy Idol as the Ace Face and Gary Glitter as the Godfather, but while doing some research on the show for this post I've found some information stating that PJ Proby was the Godfather and Ben Waters was the Ace Face. Maybe I'm being stubborn but I'm still pretty sure it was Glitter and Idol at the show I saw, but it was so long ago that I guess I've been wrong! Anyway, in addition to these two characters, the band was fleshed out by Pete's brother Simon on second guitar, John "Rabbit" Bundrick on keyboards, a small horn section, and for me the most impressive addition: Zak Starkey on drums. For anyone who knows anything about me, I consider the true end of the Who to have been September 7, 1978 when Keith Moon died...since then they've been a different band to me. However, Zak Starkey excited me for a number of reasons: he was Ringo's son, he was Keith Moon's godson, and "Uncle" Keith had bought him his first drum kit and inspired him to play the drums. I'd read good things about his work with the Who from the previous year and I wanted to see if he would pass muster in my eyes. After waiting for what seemed an eternity, the house lights went down, the crowd began to roar, and there they were: Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, and John Entwistle. Three legends from one of my favorite bands onstage right in front of me! They began the show with the backing tape of "I Am the Sea" playing over the PA and the tension built up and the waves crashed around us until Roger's familiar voice sang out "can you see the real me? Can you? CAN YOU?" and they exploded into "The Real Me." The entire set list is below:

Set List:

I Am the Sea
The Real Me
Cut My Hair
The Punk and the Godfather
I'm One
The Dirty Jobs
Helpless Dancer
Is It in My Head?
I've Had Enough
Sea and Sand
Bell Boy
Doctor Jimmy
The Rock
Love, Reign O'er Me


Magic Bus
Won't Get Fooled Again
Behind Blue Eyes
I Can't Explain
Who Are You 

As you can see, they played the entire Quadrophenia album and then encored with some of their classic hits. It was very exciting to hear the entire album played live since, as any Who fan can tell you, they only played the full album live a few times in 1973 before dropping many of the songs. After 1974, they completely abandoned it apart from a handful of tracks ("Drowned," "5:15," "Doctor Jimmy," "The Real Me"). There are some great bootlegs from 1973 (in particular, the Philadelphia and Landover shows) where they played nearly the entire album, but because they were limited by the technology of the times they gave up on it far too quickly, in my opinion. So here we were in 1997 and they played through the whole thing. The band sounded great, but what of Zak Starkey? Answer: he absolutely blew me away! If you closed your eyes you would have sworn it was Keith playing drums, but Zak is incredibly talented in his own right and didn't simply ape Moon's parts...he brought a lot of himself to the music and fit in seamlessly. The additions of the Ace Face and Godfather were okay...I would have liked it to have been just the Who onstage, but they didn't detract from the quality of the performance. What I do remember is that it was just an excellent, excellent concert. By the time they finished playing Quadrophenia it was starting to get dark but we were all still hungry for more music. To start the encores, Pete, Roger, and John came onstage all by themselves, Pete with an acoustic guitar and John with his bass. They started playing "Magic Bus" and at one point after Pete sang the line "can I buy your Magic Bus?" and Roger sang back "you caaaaaaan't have it!" Pete stopped, looked at the crowd, and said "thirty years and he still won't sell it to me!" That got a hearty laugh from everyone before they picked up where they left off and finished the song. They followed it with an acoustic "Won't Get Fooled Again" that was really great, albeit not the full version (if I recall correctly, they only played a few minutes of it). They then did "Behind Blue Eyes" with those gorgeous three-part harmonies, playing acoustically as on the album before the rest of the band exploded to life behind them when they came to the hard rocking middle section of the song. The concert finished with full band versions of "Substitute," "I Can't Explain," and a great version of "Who Are You." After that, it was all over and my mind (and eardrums) had been blown. We made our way back to the car, sat in traffic for over an hour before we were able to leave, and hit a Wendy's drive-thru for some food to eat on the long drive back home.

Looking back on it (and listening to the recording of the concert which I've included as YouTube videos throughout this post), it was a fantastic way to lose my concert virginity. Seeing one of my all-time favorite bands, even without Keith Moon, was probably the best way I could have chosen to break into the world of attending concerts and the show was really great. I'm also very thankful that I got to see them with John as he died in 2001...I know my brother must feel the same way as The Ox is one of the greatest bass guitarists who ever played and has always been one of the biggest influences on Alex's own playing. When I think back on the show I don't remember too many specific details as it was almost twenty years ago. That's where the recording comes in handy as it helps to jump start my memories every time I listen to it. The summer of 1997 was just a special summer for me for all of the reasons I mentioned earlier, made even more so by the Who. To see my first proper concert in the month between high school and college and to have it be The Who...even if it was a lousy show it would hold a special place in my heart. The fact that it was great only makes it that much sweeter a concert memory for me.


  1. That was fun to read. My first concert was around the time I was out of high school and entering local junior college. The band was a small outfit that barely had a name, although I think, iirc, my brother had their first album already--so we knew who they were. It was Z Z Top, and they played the small auditorium in our home town of Big Spring, Tx. (This was even before their bearded personae hype or stage presence.)

    As you said this was before the days of the internet and all that, and I believe we just bought tickets at the ticket counter going into the place along with everyone else. Tickets couldn't have been much more than $5 or so. The place was packed, and they played an amazing bluesy set from the first two albums--their second album, Rio Grande Mud, had not been released yet. I still prefer those first two albums over some of their other ones, they are less overdubbed with studio trickery in their early stage and showed a truer side to the band--although those albums have since been remastered, and reverb and such have been later added to them to make them seem bigger (sigh)--although I think that newer sound doesn't hurt those albums and probably appeals to a wider audience.

    I didn't like the MTV direction way the band drifted, and so my interest in them waned considerably, in fact, some of their songs and they way they presented themselves as some sort of biker or bilge rats band alludes and disgust me. But it was a first concert for me, and my introduction to live bands.

    1. Wow that's really cool! I'm not a ZZ Top fan but I certainly know their earlier stuff and as you said, it's definitely more rocking and bluesy than the commercialized, slick sound they switched to in order to get big in the MTV era. Didn't they open for the Who or Stones at one point in the 1970s? I might be misremembering...

      So which year was this for your first concert? Early 1970s I'm guessing?

  2. Yeah, it was in the early 70's, 71 something like that. I didn't see how they were traveling, but I assume it was minimal. I don't know about the Stones or the Who because bear in mind you never heard about this stuff--no internet, and I lived in a very small isolated town. I wasn't taking Rolling Stone at the time either, but would occasionally pick up an issue. But around '74 they had a big extravaganza called Z Z Top's First Barn Dance and Barbecue at UT in Austin. They were one of the main features to play at the UT football stadium there along with Santana, Jimmie Page, Bad Company, among some others. I didn't go, but my brother was there going to school. Although it was Sept. it's still hot and humid in that part of Texas and the stadium was packed with college kids. He enjoyed it because he was young and into music as well. But as you get older your tolerance for crowds dwindles pretty fast. :)

    1. Cool, I'll check that out! Yes, I remember reading Jimmy Page was touring with Bad Company (they were signed to Led Zeppelin's label and LZ were on hiatus from touring in '74 while recording Physical Graffiti). Interesting...

  3. I forgot to mention, when I first saw them early on, they all had short hair and NO beards if you can believe it. :)

    1. Haha! I always thought it was funny how the ONE GUY in the band who didn't have a beard in the 1980s had the last name of Beard. Irony!

  4. I was also at this 1997 WHO show at Great Woods, I was 19 at the time, just out of high school, and that magical night of rock will also hold a special place in my memory. The boys really blew the minds of everyone present, especially for me John Entwhistle, he was the best bass player I've ever heard. His solos were just sick.

  5. He really was tremendous, wasn't he? Even though I consider the *real* Who to be when Moon was in the band, I still feel so blessed to have seen them when the Ox was still alive and kicking. He's one of the all time great bass players, so to see and hear him in person was a thrill.


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