On this day, May 25th 1978, The Who played their final show with their iconic line-up. It would also sadly be the last time the band ever played with rhythmic extraordinaire Keith Moon. No one could have foreseen that this iconic performance at Shepperton Studios would be the last for the Moon.
The Who’s stalwart drummer would tragically pass away a few months later in September 1978. This famed show came as part of the English band’s documentary The Kids Are Alright. A compilation of live footage, the band’s set at Shepperton stemmed from the need for the band to fill in blanks left by the absence of live footage, either lost or discarded.
As is evident throughout the short performance, the tension within the group and lack of panache mark the show. The band of brothers, who had once been so close, were now tearing at the seams. Retrospectively, a lot of this has been put down to the excess that the band had come to embody. At this point, Moon was engulfed by alcoholism. Although this performance signalled the end for The Who, whether they were aware of it is irrelevant, as, on the performance of ‘Baba O’Riley’, they seem to actually come together as the song wears on. Whereas, at other moments of the set such as ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ they look uncomfortable and constantly shoot daggers at each other.
Before the show, the British icons hadn’t toured for two years and were understandably rusty. However, in typically tenacious fashion, they were undeterred. The 1971 mega-hit ‘Baba O’Riley’ rendition starts off rusty, with the backing track overpowering the rest of the mix and guitarist Pete Townshend doing a weird, disjointed jig looking like Bambi on ice.
However, when they get to the middle eight and Townshend sings, “Don’t cry/ don’t raise your eye/ it’s only teenage wasteland”, and then his guitar comes crashing in, you can see in the band’s eyes that they are uplifted and that they might actually be enjoying themselves. Come to the harmonica laden climax, even Moon looks engaged. They are met by thunderous applause to which Townshend shouts down the mic, “Cut!”, meaning that this rendition was good enough to make it to film.
The documentary and performance sticks in the minds of Who fans everywhere, as it represents the end of the road. One of Moon’s friends, Chris Glen, has said that he still finds the footage a tough watch. The pair had become friends in 1969 after Glen’s first band Tear Gas had supported The Who at the Caird Hall in Dundee, Scotland.
In 2018, Glen told Ultimate Classic Rock: “It’s very emotional, and sadly it’s far from his best”. Glen expanded, “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 final performance with The Who as they tear through ‘Baba O’Riley’ for their documentary The Kids Are Alright.