On September 10 and 11, 1979, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, and John Entwistle got on stage in New Jersey, looked behind them and, for the first time at an American gig, they didn’t see Keith Moon. At the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, The Who played their first US concerts since Moon The Loon’s death the year before.
The band’s beloved drummer had died in September 1978, from an overdose of the pills he was taking to combat alcoholism. The very next day, his bandmates vowed to continue and were in production with the Quadrophenia movie before the end of the month. In January 1979, they announced former Faces and Small Faces drummer Kenney Jones as Keith’s replacement, and in May, he joined Pete, Roger and John on stage at the Rainbow in London.
As Quadrophenia was released that summer, The Who played their biggest ever UK show, at Wembley Stadium. Then it was time to hit the road in the States for the Who Are You tour, which began in New Jersey, before five straight nights at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The gigs in Passaic mixed songs from the album they’d released just before Moon’s death, including the title track and hit single “Who Are You,” alongside a host of Who favorites. At the September 11 show, they also played the new song “You’ve Got Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
The encore that night began with another Who Are You track, “Music Must Change,” followed by their celebrated cover of the Eddie Cochran rock‘n’roll staple “Summertime Blues.” There were also versions of Bo Diddley’s “Road Runner,” a snippet of “Pictures Of Lily,” an unusual run at Free’s “Alright Now,” and finally, from deep in their blues roots, Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man.”
“I loved playing with the new Who,” wrote Townshend in his autobiography Who I Am. “I was able to stretch out a lot more, play more single-note solos and my playing quickly got better. I was drinking on stage, but as long as I kept moving I’d stay in good shape.”