How the Who’s Half-Hour Live ‘My Generation’ Paved the Way for ‘Tommy’

Read how the Who’s legendary 33-minute 1968 live version of “My Generation,” finally released on a new archival album, paved the way for ‘Tommy.’

For years, serious Who fans have salivated over the rumored existence of a half-hour version of “My Generation” from the Fillmore East in April 1968. Could such a vault treasure seriously exist when no known live versions of the song lasted much longer than a quarter of an hour? Well, not only is the epic “My Generation” real; as we can hear on a new archival set, Live at the Fillmore East 1968, it helped plant the seed for the most famous rock opera of all time.

When we think of the Who as one of the greatest live bands in rock, that well-deserved rep usually originates with the gigs they unleashed on the world following the massive success of Tommy in 1969. Tommy made the Who financially viable, when just the year before, there was doubt whether the quartet would be carrying on for much longer. Failed singles and a ton of busted-up gear don’t tend to make for a surplus of funds.

Which could have meant that the two shows the band gave 50 years ago this month at NYC’s Fillmore East – on April 5th and 6th, 1968 – might have numbered among their last, and we would not have Live at the Fillmore East 1968, a set to rival even the mighty Live at Leeds in the tussle for best live Who album.

In their now-perpetual disarray after the release of The Who Sell Out, with Pete Townshend contemplating such airy thoughts as a rock band taking a stab at opera, Who manager Keith Lambert thought some well-recorded Fillmore tapes could make for a nice stopgap album.

This live incarnation of the Who was unlike any other that would follow. Their onstage performances were usually tight, faster than on record, a blend of art rock, Mod, and thumping Tamla-soul influences, filtered through an amphetamine haze.

Keith Moon was not yet hailed as a master drummer, and Townshend’s guitar prowess was something even he wasn’t keen on, telling Rolling Stone, around the time, “I find it hard to believe if anyone rates me as a guitarist at all.”

The tapes, in soundboard form, made it out on the bootleg market…