Review by Suzanne Coker
Soundcheck was extensive, almost a rehearsal. With Scott DeVours filling in for Zak, this is very nearly Roger's touring band, plus Pete, which has advantages and disadvantages. Scott's a powerful, confident drummer who can handle the material; he and Pino seem to mesh, and he's worked with nearly everyone else on stage extensively during Roger's tours. But now he's taking a crash course in working with Pete.
It was a joy to see that relationship under construction; though the pressure might not be so enjoyable onstage, I got the sense that Scott was welcome and Pete was trying to help him, not break him. I hope Zak heals soon, but in the meantime Scott has turned in some fine performances and the need to assimilate him seems to have opened things up for the rest of the band, including Pete. Sometimes teaching a thing brings new insight for the teacher(s) and in this case that's led to freshness, if not technical perfection. It's remarkable how well Scott's doing on short notice and if Zak can't be there, lucky there's someone this good to fill in.
Drowned was so good in soundcheck it drew applause; I'm One was nearly equal to it.
VIP party was charming; the buffet dinner had a sort of British theme, shepherd's pie, bubble and squeak, fish and chips, peas, even trifle for dessert. At one point the arrangement and proximity of chips and peas on my plate evoked not only pub meals enjoyed during travels, but a certain album liner photograph...though to be precise, that one featured beans.
Vintage Trouble riveting and energetic as always; good to see them again.
At this point, going song by song, saying I enjoyed this or the guys were great is sort of like saying Pete's a genius or Roger's hot or the sky is blue. But even though it's the same show each time, I don't get bored; each time there's a little change, a different emphasis, or something occurs to me I hadn't seen before. Those things are still worth summarizing, I guess.
Roger in great voice, hitting the high notes but not forcing himself to hold them; particularly in Love Reign O'er Me, the drop was very smooth and controlled and deliberately brought down into the gravel depths of his lower register. He seems to be getting more and more understanding and control of his current voice, that instrument reshaped by time, restrung by surgery, ever-changing in the way of all organic things. He was also wearing a new second necklace with a red chili pendant, perhaps in honor of the location.
Pete singing "lesbians and queers" full on, with no apology, finally. A bit of challenge in Roger's "I'll rape it;" this and some bits of stage humor added up to a reminder: these are still some very bad boys. Wouldn't want it any other way.
It occurred to me how important it is to build tension with the interchange of lines in Helpless Dancer, how it sets up what follows; this is just one little part of the intricate way this whole piece fits together. It's such a small thing on its own, not as if they can really botch it, but when it's done just right, the whole thing benefits. Tonight they nailed it, not just the words, but the timing and tone, a sort of crispness that set the air on edge; the whole show was like that, so many subtle but crucial things that make the difference between a good show and a great one falling into place, maybe because of extra alertness brought by working with Scott. Everybody just on tonight.
It was interesting to watch what went on onstage during John's bass solo: Pete blowing his nose; Roger getting his ear monitors changed, goofing around, acting like he'd been goosed; Simon watching how Scott handled playing along with that massive video. Talk about a trial by fire!
Pete during his sweet sweet love riff in Drowned: not just "bring on the fucking hurricane," but "you are the ocean." Each of us, all of us. Yes.
Some nights, Love Reign O'er Me is a lover's version, tenderness within the toughness exposed. Tonight it was a cry-from-the-street version: the tough within the tender. Hands bruised from fighting, cupped to catch the rain.
At repeated shows, I'm no longer ambushed by the emotion of this piece, but definitely still feel it.
Pete made a comment at the end about not stopping between songs, how it didn't give a chance to breathe; when he said that, Roger put a hand to his own throat in agreement. It's got to be murderously tough, but playing it that way is so important artistically, gives it so much more impact, the tension and emotion just builds and builds in a way it couldn't with stops between songs. That was the real problem with the narration. Didn't matter how well-written it was, or who was speaking; it drained away the impact of the piece as a whole by forcing the audience to back off and think instead of feeling.
Had a moment during the show where I realized I wasn't thinking at all . That's rare for me, and under the circumstances I very much liked it. Luckily, I didn't analyze the moment, just acknowledged it and dived back in.
Pete did stop things a moment before Tea and Theatre, though, to explain the true context of the song. People seem to think it's about him and Roger and all they've been through, but as most of us here already know, it was written as part of Wire and Glass and plays a part in that specific story; to paraphrase Pete's explanation, it's about two people who used to be in love and are finding each other again, though they don't really know how to cope with that and the best they can offer each other at the moment is...tea. The gorgeous humility of that is just one of the many, many reasons I love this song.
Thanks, Pete, for writing the fucking thing(s). And thanks, Roger, for singing them with such utter commitment, abandon, and dedication.
On the flight home, I listened to the studio version of Quadrophenia; while the current stage version is in many ways a faithful rendition, there are of course differences, and some of them are interesting in ways I hadn't noticed.
Most prominent: Drowned. In the current stage version, the song could much more easily stand alone, and is about a spiritual quest and spiritual longing. The album version fits more neatly into Jimmy's story, and is more about freedom. Both are absolutely incredible pieces of work.
And I never thought this would be possible, but I think I actually prefer current versions of Love Reign O'er Me, mostly because Roger is having to dig a lot deeper on it lately, and it's a song that benefits from that.
Review by DG Devin
There are a lot of things that can go into determining whether you, or I, decide a particular Who concert was good, or not so good. If earlier in the day you were strip-searched by airport security, and then you arrived at your hotel to discover you room overlooks the hotel garbage dumpsters, and when you get to the arena you find there is already vomit on your seat and plenty of obnoxious drunks likely to provide more vomit seated all around you--well, you're probably not going to be in the best of moods when the music starts.
And then there is the band, Pete and Roger in particular. Some nights Roger has no apparent trouble with his voice, while on other nights (especially when there is smoke in the air) he can struggle by the end of the show. Pete often seems happy to be onstage, but there are shows where one could get the impression he'd rather be back in his hotel room reading the latest issue of Sail magazine. They're human, it isn't an assembly line product they can churn out on demand, so one never knows when a show will be substandard. But I'm getting ahead of myself, I haven't written the Las Vegas Feb. 8 review yet.
Happily for us all the stars were in proper alignment at the Phoenix concert. Being herded through airport security like so many cattle suspected of serious felonies is never fun, but it went as well as could be expected and we arrived in Phoenix in good spirits even if we had both picked up a cold on the way to the Reno show (darn that woman on the train, I knew her sneezes were a bad sign). Nice rental car, lovely hotel room, and a short drive to what turned out to be one of the oddest concert venues I've ever seen. Jobing.com arena (dedicated to hockey much of the year) is set in the middle of a pack of restaurants and nightclubs lit up like the Vegas strip, right in the middle of a commercial district where I wouldn't expect to find a concert venue hosting a legendary band like The Who. But there we were, in good moods, and as soon as the band hit the stage I knew our boys were feeling the same, as there were smiles and laughs between Roger and Pete from the word go. Once Quad was over Pete was about as chatty as I've ever seen him, and I take that as a certain sign of a good show.
Now, some idiots will tell you that The Who deliver a better show when Pete and Roger are pissed off, said idiots will even do what they can to arrange that state of affairs if they are close enough to the stage like trying to shout down Pete when he is speaking to the crowd. Yet over and over again I've seen brilliant Who shows where Pete and Roger were clearly having a good time, so I find the belief of those self-absorbed morons that they need to irritate the band into playing better to be a load of crap. The guys were having a good time at Phoenix, and you could see and hear that in their performance.
What did come as a shock was realizing Zak wasn't behind the drums, and since we didn't get an explanation about that until Pete was doing the band introductions later on, we were concerned to say the least. Scott Halpin, errr, I mean Scott Devours does a fine job and is visibly happy as he can be to find himself playing with The Who, he rarely stops grinning. Pete could be seen coaching Scott on the beat of some songs, but he didn't appear annoyed at having to do so, he was just being the band leader. Obviously we're hoping Zak isn't gone long, he's become too much a part of this band over the past decade and a half. I find the notion that anyone besides Pete and Roger can be replaced on short notice and it will all come out the same unsettling, I just don't think it works that way, but maybe I'm overly romantic about it.
One moment really hit me. Roger had just nailed a vocal passage that he would have had trouble with on a bad might, and I could see a middle-aged guy right in front of us turn to his wife and yell "Yes!" with obvious delight. It was one of those epiphany-type moments for me, because these folks know how that song is supposed to sound and they were thrilled at how well Roger carried it off, they were as happy for him doing it as they were for themselves at hearing it. This wasn't some drunken louts bellowing because Pete did a windmill, these were people with a deep affection for the music and the men who have played it for us all these years, ecstatic at how good it still sounds. All over again I realized how much this music means to so many us, how big a part it has played in our lives--these were not just some snappy tunes to dance to and these men were never disposable pop stars. And just maybe there was a bit of generational delight there too--we aren't done quite yet folks, we can still deliver the goods, yes we can.
Pete commented on how much Phoenix had grow since the band had played there last and how pleased he was to return. He also half apologized for the ending of "Baba O'Riley" being so much shorter than it once was, that it used to last for hours. That prompted Roger to say that other things they used to do back then also lasted for hours. That's the kind of kidding around that marked the encore portion of the show--relaxed, happy, and a lot of fun to experience. After the intros Pete started the encore by saying, "Okay, here we go, same old shit." Hilarious, how many bands are there in the world with "same old shit" like that to offer their fans? Of course that doesn't mean mixing up the encore setlist now and then wouldn't be a bad idea....
When it came to Tea and Theatre, Pete interrupted Roger and said there was something he wanted to explain. He said you'll see some folks express the view that T&T is really about The Who, about Pete and Roger carrying on, rather than being part of the Wire and Glass mini opera. But really it's about two people who lost each other meeting again at the theatre and sharing a cup of tea, it's part of that story. Okay, who am I to disagree with the author (however much my hopelessly romantic brain hears a historical strain in the song).
At the end our boys seemed reluctant to leave the stage, they hung on for long moments waving and grinning at the audience, and that also is the sign of a good show in my books. I was partial to the Reno show, my wife thought Phoenix was a bit better because Roger didn't seem to struggle in the least and both he and Pete were so relaxed. I'm just thrilled that we could see two such good performances back to back and have difficulty deciding which was the better of the two.