The Concert For New York City: The Night The Who Ruled The World
True greatness rises to the occasion when it is most often needed. For public figures, it is something we often see in sports, but not necessarily in music. Artists frequently perform to large crowds every night, but there has never been a concert that has been so sorely needed to provide solace as the one which took place nearly 11 years ago in New York’s Madison Square Garden on October 20th, 2001. An evening that was organized by Paul McCartney in the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attacks one month earlier, the Concert For New York City was supposed to be an occasion of healing for the city’s police, fire, and first responders. But on a night with a somber atmosphere, one of England’s finest bands gave their best performance to an audience with whom they had bonded very closely over their tenure and had ached for a sorely needed distraction.
With a lineup that included Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, Elton John, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and a fireman who invited Osama Bin Laden to “kiss [his] royal Irish ass,” the night was sure to be a success, but it eventually belonged to The Who, who delivered the most important show in their storied career. While many of the artists chose to ere on the side of a more somber or dramatic performance, The Who turned it up well past 11 with a four-song set of career staples, “Who Are You,” “Baba O’Reilly,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
Watching the set is to see the embodiment of The Who’s legacy as a live band. Pete Townshend was simply breathtaking, dealing note after note of awe-inspiring guitar licks as he slung his six-string around as if it were light as a feather. Not to be left behind, members John Entwistle plucked a thunderous bass, drummer Zac Starkey earned his spot as the band’s best replacement for Keith Moon, and an emotional Roger Daltrey matched Townshend’s incredible energy on stage. It is hard to put into words exactly how well The Who played, but watching the crowd’s reaction may be the only way to process seeing people getting their minds blown by music after the terrible weeks that preceded the show.
The Concert For New York City sadly, although somewhat appropriately, wound up being John Entwistle’s final concert in North America, as the bassist died only eight months later as The Who were to begin a reunion tour. When The Who were needed the most to give back to their fans, the band was able to give it with the last appearance of their esteemed bass player.
Last year, Paul McCartney released The Love We Make, a documentary that relayed the behind-the-scenes aspects of the show. Shortly after The Who’s performance, Stella McCartney burst into her father’s dressing room to tell him how well the band played and that they “woke” the crowd up. She merely delivered an understatement about a band that owned the spotlight at a time when they have never been needed more.