This Day in Music Spotlight: The Loudest Show in Rock History
May 31, 1976
Special thanks to ThisDayinMusic.com.
It’s May 31, 1976, and it’s a typically wet rainy night in London, England at the Charlton Athletic Football Stadium. The 60,000 people have been there all day watching the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Little Feat, The Outlaws, Streetwalkers and Widowmaker battle the elements. How many were there for Little Feat or Alex Harvey can’t be clear but the excitement grew tangible as the audience waited for the headlining act. As several tried to climb floodlight towers for a better vantage point, it was obvious that most were there to see one of the greatest live bands of all time, The Who.
The band were still on their ’70s creativity high, still pushing the boundaries of rock and roll performance. The Who by Numbers was just out and “Squeeze Box” had given them their first hit single in a while. Tommy would feature heavily in the set (which included “I Can’t Explain,” “Substitute,” “My Wife,” “Baba O’Riley,” “Squeeze Box,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Dreaming from the Waist,” “Magic Bus,” “Amazing Journey,” “Sparks,” “The Acid Queen,” “Fiddle About,” “Pinball Wizard,” “I’m Free, “Tommy’s Holiday Camp,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Summertime Blues,” “My Generation,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again”) partly because the Ken Russell movie was released the previous year. And they’d just set the record for the largest indoor arena attendance with 75,962 at the Pontiac Silverdome the previous December.
They were about to break another record.
Promoters had a 76,000-watt PA built for the show and with Pete Townshend at his fiercest, noisiest best, The Who pretty easily set a new record as the loudest band in the world by playing at a volume measured at 120 dB. It was a record they’d hold until the ’80s, when they were passed in the noise stakes by Manowar. For noise buffs, the record is held now by KISS for their 2009 gig the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest in Ottawa, Canada, when they reached a staggering 136 dB.
As the second half of the show began, Keith Moon took the mic: “You’d think you’ve got some kind of vested interest. I’ve seen your vests, and they stink… underneath this I’m totally nude, Peter! I don’t need any of your great flowing poncey robes. I don’t need all your glittering sequins to be a star! I don’t need to jump in the air, flash what little crotch I’ve got. And I must admit I’ve had no complaints.”
It was typical Moon. Irreverent, funny and utterly spontaneous and unpredictable. Sadly, the Charlton gig would be the last time he played a full concert with The Who in England.
Keith died on September 7, 1978, after he accidentally overdosed on the prescription drug Heminevrin. He’d been taking the pills to beat his alcohol addiction. Nothing Moon did, of course, was boring or typical. Even the house he died in was surrounded by rock and roll legend. He died in Harry Nilsson’s Curzon Place apartment in London’s Mayfair; the same flat Mama Cass died in, back in 1974.