When The Who Saved New York City After 9/11: Watch Their Cathartic Madison Square Garden Set (October 20, 2001)

A lit­tle more than a month after the ter­ror­ist attacks on 9/11, with the nation and world still reel­ing from that day, Madi­son Square Gar­den host­ed The Con­cert for New York City. A ben­e­fit con­cert of the first order, it was also a thank you to the sac­ri­fice of NYC’s fire and police depart­ments, which had lost many mem­bers dur­ing that day. (The for­mer had lost 343 fire­fight­ers.) But like a lot of things about that day twen­ty years lat­er, it has sort of van­ished down the cul­tur­al mem­o­ry hole.

How­ev­er, if you need remind­ing, the Who came out of retire­ment and deliv­ered what some con­sid­ered the set of the night. Tom Wat­son, writ­ing in Forbes mag­a­zine, called it “The Night The Who Saved New York.”

The con­cert was free to any fire­fight­er or police­man who came in uni­form. Wat­son describes the vibe thus:

“To say that occu­pan­cy laws were stretched that night is to under­sell the size of the place. Pic­ture a Knicks game, then dou­ble the crowd. From the start, the build­ing ran on a riv­er of emo­tion and beer, which, if you wore a uni­form — or your late loved one’s cap — was free. The thou­sands of cops in atten­dance stu­dious­ly ignored thou­sands of oth­er cops and fire­fight­ers light­ing up a lit­tle reefer. Large bot­tles of high proof spir­its were pro­duced. The Gar­den was the biggest Irish wake in his­to­ry.”

In a moment like this, a lot of the artists head­ed towards jin­go­ism. It was under­stand­able. Songs about Amer­i­ca (David Bowie), songs about New York City (Bil­ly Joel), songs about free­dom (Paul McCart­ney), songs about heroes (also Bowie). But, what the crowd want­ed that night was cathar­sis, and that’s what the Who brought.

The set is the Who at their most anthemic, but also the most rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the clas­sic rock radio these uni­formed men and women and their fam­i­lies grew up with: “Who Are You,” “Baba O’Reilly,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” and end­ing with “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” How­ev­er the line “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” is qui­et­ly delet­ed. Not this time, cyn­i­cism.

The con­cert was exact­ly what was need­ed for the grief of the com­mu­ni­ty. And death hangs over the whole event, as cam­era cut to fam­i­ly mem­bers hold­ing up pho­tos of lost loved ones, while the World Trade Cen­ter rub­ble still smol­dered.

And then there’s what nobody knew at the time: this would be bassist John Entwistle’s last gig before his fatal heart attack eight months lat­er. So many of the remain­ing first respon­ders would die from the tox­ic chem­i­cals breathed in on 9/11, and still they fight for some rec­om­pense from the gov­ern­ment that hon­ored them at first. May­or Giuliani…well, we know what hap­pened to him. And that ass whoopin’ we promised the Mid­dle East wound up kick­ing America’s econ­o­my in the butt instead.

Twen­ty years lat­er the per­for­mance still holds up, a moment in time just before we all got fooled again.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Kei­th Moon, Drum­mer of The Who, Pass­es Out at 1973 Con­cert; 19-Year-Old Fan Takes Over

Kei­th Moon’s Final Per­for­mance with The Who (1978)

What Made John Entwistle One of the Great Rock Bassists? Hear Iso­lat­ed Tracks from “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Baba O’Riley” & “Pin­ball Wiz­ard”

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.