The Who In 1989: ‘Tommy’ And Much More


The Who are marking their 50th birthday with a new compilation this autumn and an anniversary tour later in the year. But today we have the chance to look back at the halfway point in their remarkable journey. On August 24, 1989, as part of the band’s 25th anniversary tour, they played ‘Tommy’ and much more at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles.

As you can see from the poster, the LA gig was a star-studded affair. The Who’s performance of Pete Townshend’s rock opera featured guest appearances by Elton John (reprising his role in Ken Russell’s ‘Tommy’ film as the Pinball Wizard), Phil Collins, Billy Idol, Steve Winwood and Patti LaBelle, who played the Acid Queen. You’ll spot that Robert Plant was billed to perform, but he pulled out of the LA show. Ticket prices started at $75 and went all the way to $1,500, with proceeds going to charities for abused children and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The band were coming towards the end of the massive reunion tour of 1989 by the time they got to California. The itinerary began on June 21 in Glen Falls, New York, filling stadiums throughout North America until September 3. In October, the tour finished with four shows in Birmingham, four at Wembley Arena and two closing nights at the Royal Albert Hall.

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After featuring the whole of ‘Tommy,’ the Universal Amphitheatre gig followed the pattern of the North American tour with a second set of greatest hits, as well as three Townshend solo numbers, ‘Face The Face,’ ‘Dig’ and ‘Rough Boys.’ The band encored with ‘Who Are You’ and ‘Summertime Blues.’

Some songs from the LA show were included in the ‘Join Together’ live album that followed the tour in the spring of 1990, which only nudged the bottom of the US chart at No. 188 and the UK listings at No. 59. You can hear five performances from the second set here, as they appear on the ‘Greatest Hits Live’ collection of 2010. And so onwards to the 50th anniversary tour.


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