I Can't Explain
Who Are You
The Kids Are Alright
I Can See for Miles
Behind Blue Eyes
You Better You Bet
Love, Reign O'er Me
Pinball Wizard / See Me, Feel Me
Review by Joel Naftelberg
In July of 1971 I went to see my favorite band The Who perform a set of ‘new’ songs from the album Who’s Next. At the time I was about to turn 15 and was living with my parents 3 miles away in Bayside Queens. I’m certain my heart fluttered with anxious anticipation as the days became hours and then minutes before the rock and roll gods of my youth would take the stage at this quaint venue, known for its lush green tennis courts and located in the heart of middle class residential Queens neighborhood.
Tonight, almost 44 years later, my heart fluttered with anxious anticipation as I exited the Long Island Railroad train from NYC’s Penn Station to see The Who for the umpteenth time performing at this classic stone venue. I was both excited and a bit apprehensive. The weather was fabulous, a clear blue sky appeared after a few days of intense humidity.
Forest Hills was their second NYC show on the tour after Barclay Center (which I saw with my 28-year-old daughter) and third in the area after hitting Long Island's Nassau Coliseum the week prior (which I saw with my 13 year old son). They played an excellent set, but before that happened was another excellent set from their tour mates Joan Jett & The Blackhearts.
The evening got off to an early start at 7pm as consequence of the local ordinance or something that required no noise after 10pm. Joan Jett is a perfect opener for The Who. Joan and her band, like many great openers for The Who over the years, is an important and influential performer with a core rock and roll sound and several strong hits for the audience to sing to and warm up with. Joan’s brand of punk/hard rock surely owes a thing or two to the early Who. And she had no trouble getting their crowd going. Even if you've never actively sought out her music, just about anyone who's listened to classic rock radio can sing along to "I Hate Myself for Loving You" and her version of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll." I’ve been singing "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" since Nassau and doubt I’ll stop anytime soon. At the same time, we got "Cherry Bomb" and "You Drive Me Wild" off The Runaways' 1976 debut album. Maybe those had a little less of the crowd singing, but they're classics of the early punk era and Joan still delivers them with the energy they demand.
I saw Joan backstage before the show and she was anxious about playing with the sun shining directly into her eyes from above the stadium structure and more so directly onto the screen behind her. She took the stage and the sun set behind the stadium and Joan proceeded to rock the house.
After Joan's set, The Who took the stage at 8pm sharp and promptly took things all the way back to 1965, bursting into "I Can't Explain." (It was almost the same set list as Barclays Center -- we didn't get "A Quick One" on this night – curfew – but we did get an extended Tommy medley).
My take away from these performances is this - Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey show only minimal signs of slowing down. They have given new meaning to turning 70. Pete may be shattered/exhausted after each show and Roger may lose his place in a song or two but the dynamic and the power that is delivered each night is just phenomenal.
Roger mentioned on stage that they might not be able to do this for much longer, but it's hard to believe him. Roger Daltrey's still prancing around and swinging his mic and Pete Townshend's still wind milling that guitar just like all the old live footage. He does end the show with his guitar in one piece these days. Not many bands can successfully rock a stadium, especially one with 50 years behind them and only half of their original lineup still living, but The Who do it in a way that's genuinely enjoyable. The sound, the fury and the fist pumping power of Rock and Roll comes through each performance. It sure did at Forest Hills.
Daltrey and Townshend are joined by Zak Starkey on drums (Ringo Starr's son). Zak has been a perfect replacement for the irreplaceable Keith Moon. Along with Pete's younger brother Simon Townshend on guitar, Pino Palladino on bass, and three keyboardists, the sound is as big and full as it ever was with the original 70’s three-piece and a vocalist. Tributes to Keith Moon and John Entwistle were shown on the stage's screen between sets, multiple montages with photos of the original band were projected behind the current line up during certain songs. Pete and Roger own the stage but their band mates play an integral role in creating the current sound of The Who
The set list was extraordinary. I’m often asked, “what’s your favorite Who song?” Tonight at Forest Hills these 19 numbers were my favorites. Hit after hit. "The Kids Are Alright," "I Can See For Miles," "My Generation," "Bargain," "Love, Reign O'er Me," "Pinball Wizard," "See Me, Feel Me," the list goes on. The Tommy medley has been a particularly strong favorite for me this tour. They do it so well. “Amazing Journey” it has been and the journey continues. Pete’s machine gunning, birdman, wind mill routines reach a peak during this section of the show. And the audience just loves it. Tom Kenny’s work on the lighting of this tour is as good if not better than ever. For myself and so many other Who fans, these shows have provided a chance to revisit some great numbers from The Who catalog, live and in person, the way we fell in love with them. So many memories but in the moment, now, it’s all so good.
The songs that are being performed have been embedded in me for almost as long as I can remember. Although this is rock history, these are also great songs and it's beyond amazing that we still get to see them passionately performed by two of the guys who created them.
The Who and Joan Jett's tour picks back up again in late summer/early fall with tickets available at thewho.com.