The Who return to Cincinnati for the first time since 1979 tragedy: “There are no words”

"You never get over it, but you gotta live"

The Who‘s North American tour has taken them to Cincinnati, Ohio, for their first performance in the city for nearly 45 years.

The midwest US city was the centre of an infamous tragedy during the band’s tour in December of 1979. A crowd crush that occurred while fans were entering the Riverfront Coliseum left 11 dead and dozens more injured. A documentary on the tragedy, The Night That Changed Rock, aired in 2019 and featured interviews with frontman Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend.

After a failed attempt to return in 2020, The Who performed at Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium over the weekend (May 15). The band waived their fee for the performance, donating all ticket proceeds to local charities. The families of nine of the 11 victims were also in attendance, as they were given VIP front row tickets to the show.

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“I’ve been trying to think of what to say, what would be cool to say, [and] what would be uncool to say,” said Townshend to the audience. “Really, there are no words that we can say that can mean (as much as) the fact that you guys have come out tonight and supported this event. Thank you so much.”

Watch fan-shot footage from the performance below:

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the band paid direct tribute to the victims of the 1979 tragedy during their performance of ‘Love, Reign O’er Me’. Black-and-white photos of the 11 victims were projected onto the screen, with the full list of names presented following the performance.

A video message from Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder was also shared prior to the first encore of the evening. Vedder, who is currently also on tour in North America, told the Cincinnati audience that he was “hoping to be” at the show but was unable to attend. “We’re all thinking about you,” he said to the audience. “It’s a great thing remembering those young people, who will never be forgotten.”

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Vedder went on to mention that both Daltrey and Townshend had been there for him following Pearl Jam’s own tragedy, when nine people were killed during a stampede at the Roskilde Festival in 2000 while the band was performing.

For the final song of the evening, ‘Baba O’Riley’, the band were joined on-stage by students from Finneytown High School, a nearby school in Cincinnati. Three of the victims of the 1979 tragedy went to Finneytown High, and the school established its P.E.M. Memorial Scholarship Fund in the wake of it.

“You never get over it, but you gotta live,” Daltrey said as the band took its final bows of the evening.

The Who are set to continue their ‘Hits Back!’ tour tomorrow night in Boston, before continuing on to Philadelphia and Washington DC before wrapping the current leg of the tour next week at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

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