As well as being the mercurial drummer of The Who on stage, Keith Moon also took on the role of the group’s madman off stage. Yet, when he took to the stage with The Who on this day in 1978, nobody could’ve imagined it would be his last performance with his band.
The iconic drummer would sadly pass away just four months later due to his excessive rock and roll lifestyle and make this, The Who’s iconic performance at Shepperton Studios, the last time the group would ever perform as their famed line-up. It’s a poignant moment for the iconography of The Who and rock ‘n’ roll as a whole.
The gig came as part of the group’s documentary The Kids Are Alright and saw The Who filming pick-up shots for the film, providing the final performance for Moon. The short performance would be marred by tension within the group and a serious lack of cohesion between the band’s members, as they shot daggers across the room at one another. Th band that had started out life as a rock and roll gang were now ready to cut each other’s throats. It signalled that even without the loss of Moon that the band were perhaps nearing the end of the road.
The session was an undeniably tense one. The band had been previously somewhat estranged before the show and it added to an already disjointed set of circumstances. Having been off the road for two years prior, the band were more than rusty. Still, The Who powered on.
With a small audience in attendance, the group were being put under increasing pressure from the documentary’s director, Jeff Stein, to get the shots they needed. The filmmaker wanted the performance of the band’s 1970 anthem ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ to have a little more swagger and demanded The Who added some more verve to their rendition of the track. It became a grinding process of shooting and re-shooting.
Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwhistle and Keith Moon declined at first and argued the validity of re-shooting a live performance would be lost if it was so staged. The nine-song set finished with John Entwistle’s song ‘My Wife’, and the group returned to their dressing room sweaty, dishevelled and exhausted. It was done.
Not for long, though, as Stein wasn’t satisfied and said the film needed a “definitive end”. Pete Townshend was none too pleased, “A definitive end?” Townshend reportedly said. “What do you want me to do? Go out there and fall asleep on stage? Maybe I should go out there and die during my last solo? Or maybe I should hit that motherfucker who’s been yelling for ‘Magic Bus’ over the head with my guitar?”
They eventually relented and gave Stein the fiery finisher the director desired, providing a captivating last song for the small crowd. Afterwards, with Stein sated and his shots in the can, Keith Moon climbed over his drum kit, took a bow and shook hands with some members of the audience before walking off stage with The Who — sadly, for the very last time.
It’s a performance that hangs heavy over the heads of The Who fans and friends who were in attendance and beyond. One such friend was Chris Glen, who, while performing with Michael Schenker Group, had shared the last years of Keith Moon’s life with him.
“It’s very emotional, and sadly it’s far from his best,” said Glen in an exclusive interview with Ultimate Classic Rock. “He’d put on a lot of weight by that time … and the worst bit was that the Who hadn’t been together for a while. I saw him the week after the recording and he told me, ‘I wish we’d got together before it, just hung out together for a bit, and that would have made it better.’”
Watch Keith Moon’s last performance with The Who as they take on ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ for their documentary The Kids Are Alright.