Review by Tim Ballou
So it is written - on October 7, in the year nineteen hundred and eighty two, in the city of my birth - Louisville, Kentucky, I first didst see The Who perform live. And I saw that it was good. So very good that I didst keep on seeing them again and again for decades afterward.
A friend who was with me on that glorious first night, and another dear old Who-loving pal, decided in 2014 to essentially take out mortgages on our homes to invest in 4th row VIP tickets for the May 2014 Louisville show. Very likely their last appearance ever in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. To our dismay, that date was rescheduled to December due to Roger’s health issues. To our further dismay, the December date was rescheduled to 2015, again because of Roger’s health issues. Eventually, we found ourselves in Louisville on March 12, 2016. It was well worth the wait.
The 5 pm soundcheck had the band run through bits and pieces of Who Are You, Eminence Front, I Can See For Miles, and some interesting detail work on the transition between Pinball Wizard and See Me Feel Me. The latter was in an effort for Roger to properly hit his note on the “See me…” vocal. It was thrilling to sit in the near-empty arena watching about 150 years worth or rock star legends fiddling and noodling about as they began what was just another day in the office for them.
Pete was chatty and in good spirits. He looked back at the 100 or so VIPs, at about center court on floor, and asked why we were so far from the stage. “It’s because they think you’ll try to have conversations with us, isn’t it?” Roger said – “They’ll ask us what we had for breakfast.” Pete said he recognized some people amongst us. “Why are you spending so much money?”, he said. Roger chimed in – “the seats up here are shitty anyway.” One of the VIPs stood up and cheered – “We love you Pete!” Pete drolly responded – “I don’t know who the f*** you are.”
Roger and Pete bid us all a polite farewell. The VIPs were escorted to a private dining area overlooking the river where we engorged ourselves with adult beverages and the likes of beef wellington and shepherd’s pie. Two hours later, we returned, this time to the 4th row on Pete’s side of the stage. Tal Wilkenfeld, an extraordinary young Australian bass player I had admired when she played with Jeff Beck, opened with a 40 minute-ish setlist. There is no denying her talent, but I felt her slower-paced original songs and folksy, downbeat style were not well served in the context of a Who opener. Joan Jett, who launched most of the 2015 shows, would have likely been a more appropriate appetizer.
No surprises in the hits-heavy set list. A bit jarring to see them open with Who Are You vs their standard early singles, but it works. Mere seconds into the show, it was obvious that Roger’s mojo was back from its viral meningitis near-death. He was beaming and belting like a 72 year old out to prove something. Not that he is one minute younger than time has allotted him. But that he is still relevant and he can still serve the music that got him on that stage in the first place. Music that will outlive him and us fans alike.
Roger had a moment or two when he appeared frustrated with the sound. During soundcheck, he had addressed a speaker placement issue. He did an outstanding job with Love Reign O’er Me, but with a final vocal phrasing a little all over the place. He laughed it off.
And then there was Pete. Those windmill guitar strokes are fewer and slower these days, but we don’t care. We’re not demanding he lose fingernails or draw blood anymore. We’re just happy he’s still there – pounding stages at all. If it takes orthopedic shoes, so be it. We too know a little about arthritis, tinnitus, and whatever-else-itus. While walking out after the two-plus hour show, a fan turned to us and said – “I’m 49 years and all I did was stand, and I’M tired.”
Pete did manage a spastic little Baba O’Riley dance during the synthesizer opening. And he was typically talkative with a few song introductions. Both he and Roger expressed their regret for having to reschedule the show multiple times and their appreciation for all of us being there on a busy Saturday night. At one point Pete said – “You are quiet, Kentucky.” A bit later, after the crowd tried to compensate with some more volume he told us, as if apologizing for the previous comment, to not worry – do whatever you want. He made a reference to Roger recently turning 72 and that he shared a birthday with Justin Bieber. And a reference to Mick Jagger and the Stones – including Keith Richard’s headband – followed by an assertion that he loves the Stones.
Longtime fans love to complain about what was NOT played. I could easily do that, but it would serve no purpose. It is, after all, a celebration of 50 years (technically, I think we’re up to 52 now). No surprise that it’s going to be a radio-friendly set list. What I can say is that I was taken aback at how energized Roger and Pete seemed while playing even the most overplayed songs.
It was a spectacular night I had the privilege of sharing with truly great friends I’ve known and loved since grade school. The Who’s music was the soundtrack to our formative years. It was my 25th time seeing The Who live. Twenty-five is a nice easy to remember number. It all began in Louisville – and if it ended in Louisville, that’s good symmetry.
I’ve gone to many Who shows thinking it would be my last. But this time – the feeling was much stronger. For the entire show – I felt euphoric. I wanted to appreciate every moment. I even told myself I was not going to take pictures or video due to potential distractions, but once they got on stage, I just couldn’t resist. I still felt like I needed to capture every memory I could.
After final band intros, Roger uttered his standard “Be Lucky” closing. But this time he riffed it up a bit with a catchy, “Be Lucky, Kennnn-tuckeeeee!” If this is really the end for me, it is a perfect one. And I am luckeeeee!
Review by Pat Stanton
The show in Louisville was entertaining but it was my least favorite show this far in the 2016 tour. The set list was identical to the last two shows but the energy level seemed just a little off. Roger sang well, especially Love Reign. Immediately after it he spoke for a few minutes about how much that song means to him and how he appreciated all the "good vibes and messages" that people sent to him while he was sick last year. He has thanked fans at the end of each previous show but tonight he seemed more emotional about it and talked about it during, not at the end, of the show. Pete gave him a big hug when he finished speaking. Roger also seemed a little tired by the end of the show. Both Pete and Roger thanked the Louisville fans several times for sticking with them. This was one of the 3 that were postponed in May when Roger needed rest in the middle of the first leg and then of course again when fall 2015 moved to spring 2016. Pete was in good spirits and played with enthusiasm. The pictures include some good ones of Simon and Pino given my location. Next stop Philadelphia which will hopefully have the same level of excitement that it had last May.
Review by Shari Soultree
Who Is Ripe
I always like to take in at least two consecutive shows on any given Who tour because unlike any other live rock band throughout my history, they take the prize for keeping it exciting and different every night, even with little or no actual song changes in their set. This is a remarkable task with the size of their current entourage and the nuances and complexities within each composition. I largely credit Pete Townshend for this special gift of keeping each song within every performance alive, invigorating and interesting.
I began this particular Wholiday in Louisville, Kentucky, where I was itching to go solely for the purpose of meeting my baby niece. My elation could've been complete already yet, the familiar excited butterflies filled my being on show day! There's nothing like seeing Who friends from a span of over 20 years and sharing that collective buzz we know and understand!
As I took my place on the outside of and near Pete, I knew climax was still to come! Looking coy at first, keeping his grin even, Pete started shuffling easy, to and fro like a rockin cradle. Mocking Mick Jagger he declared what he was Not going to do, flailing wildly and then retracting his snare and commenting on his love for Mick and the Rolling Stones. There's not much comparison in my book. Tonight was to be no exception unfolding like a beautiful blossoming bouquet. Of course the tune that tested America's limit of freedom with Roger dropping the "F" bomb live on Jimmy Fallon less than a week before, Pete couldn't remain contained for long! He whirled his way towards the roaring swearing strutting lion and the heat was on! Still, as if tamed by the Matadour wielding his axe, Roger, the lion sang in a melodic romantic lullaby style that soothed every soul in the house. Not much leaping, more like a graceful sped up ballerina, Pete spun and spiraled, whilst Roger twirled ever so lightly. Rarely have I heard him perfect the lyrics to verse after verse as on this dreamy eve. After the scintillating Love Reign O'er Me, Roger expressed the thoughts right from my mind about how he's loved this song forever and especially now, it's taken on new meaning with him surviving his recent bout with Spinal Meningitis! He exclaimed the good vibes and letters were felt and really helped.
Sentimental describes this concert to a T. That fulfilling lifelong Sally Simpson longing to feel connected, receive musical sacrament from the two, yeah, it was one of those experiences where I recall why I'm there and have been seeing The Who since I was 15! Roger emphatically serenaded my friend whom I've donned, Rod, and I all throughout the show!
I was floating on cloud nine as he regaled us with double stanzas from Bargain and Join Together, two tunes definitive of my life! Personally cathartic, whimsical and playful, he spent a lot of time during You Better You Bet reminding us why we feel at our peak because we've gotit all down to a T and assuring us that when he says he Needs us we scream!
When I feel infused by the blue of both Pete and Roger's eyes, when they spiral right into my soul, that is the highest group elevation I can imagine! I still feel it after seeing them live for 35 of their 50 years!
Review by Suzanne Coker
Had some bad news just before leaving for this show; my uncle had died. Took it hard, which needs to be said because it affected my perception of the show. Trapped in that strange zone between death and funeral, nowhere to really go with all this except...well, to a Who show.
Helped to have a few minutes at the hotel before heading over to the show. Streets between hotel and venue full of ticket hawkers and concertgoers and the mood is very excited and festive. Total strangers smile and nod. Hit the venue lobby just in time to line up and say hello to Simon and Loren. Grab some water and head down to my seat just as Tal Wilkenfeld starts her set.
Damn, she's good. Deliberately hadn't researched her much, have no idea how young she really is, but the word “prodigy” doesn't seem at all misplaced. Writing and stage persona sort of like if Beth Orton and Stevie Nicks had a really beautiful child together. A couple of songs brought tears back up, all the griefs at once but now in a good way, a way that reminds me this is what it's like to be alive, and how glad I am for that. Always.
Seat is good, sightlines excellent, neighbors both familiar and new all very congenial; set change passes in conversation, and then...well, here we go.
Who Are You—Very weird feeling, to start the show with this. I like the song, but keep wanting it to be Can't Explain. My guess is at this point, there's no sense in tradition for tradition's sake, and starting with the most general-consumption song sets a tone: this really is a greatest hits show, don't expect anything else. Me, I'm not worried about rarities vs. hits or whether they're pandering to the masses or pleasing the fans; I like all levels of the catalog and am just happy to have a chance to see them do their thing.
Pete mentions at some point that all of these songs are old. “And we try to bring them back to life, but I'm afraid some of them are dead.” Maybe that's why the change? Roger responds: “They're old'uns but good'uns.” Hell yeah.
The Seeker—Roger goes for the high note on “high” and nails it. Another tone-setting moment; he doesn't shy away from any challenge tonight, and more than rises to each occasion. This is the best I've ever heard him live, and that's saying a lot. Nothing held back—and, he seems to have his legs back under him. That swagger is back. Throughout the night, he struts, does some strength moves, and most of all, works the crowd. A lot. Wonderful to see, especially his obvious enjoyment in it.
The Kids Are Alright—I remember a solo show in Kansas where Roger dedicated this to the fans, specifically the ones who show up for show after show after show; the memory combines with the sweetness of his delivery tonight to touch me very deeply. After the show a friend commented that Roger's being more “ballady” lately; I'm just as glad to hear him sing instead of scream. The screams still come across, but all the lyrics and melody in between are getting more attention, and it's great to hear.
I Can See for Miles—Speaking of attention...okay, so there are a few other people on stage, and by this point I can relax enough about Roger to pay some attention elsewhere. Pete just tearing it up, all through the night, and Pino having an especially good evening, too.
My Generation—They don't do Cry If You Want, and I'm just as glad. Not sure I'd make it through the rest of the show if I went through that particular emotional door. Good solid version, crowd really beginning to wake up, although as Pete mentions at one point, “you're very quiet here in Kentucky.” Just stoic, I guess.
The Real Me—Pete introduces with a few words about Quadophenia, ending with the observation that it was, actually, “kind of epic.”
Pictures of Lily—Pete's intro is a classic winding road with bright payoff at the end. Starts off talking about how he's not used to tuning guitars anymore. That you know what, there should be an app for this. That if there were, he'd forget his password—but it would be easy to remember, because it would be his birthday—but once he remembered and got the app up and running, he could just hold the guitar up to his phone and the app would tune it for him. Because, why not? You can do all sorts of things with apps, order a pizza, or a wife, all sorts of things...which is sort of what this song's about.
Then Roger sings it as a completely deadpan joke. Don't think I've ever enjoyed it this much.
Behind Blue Eyes—the first of a couple of seriously emotional moments for me, at the line “tell me some bad news.”
Bargain—especially intense following that moment. If I recall it correctly, Pete introduced by talking very briefly about Lifehouse and some of the spiritual underpinnings, but I could be wrong.
Join Together—And we did. Outside of Jazzfest, this was the most intense crowdmerge I've felt yet on this song. Roger commented after about the quality of the audience's singing; also about how there's something about song, about singing in general...I got the feeling he meant something spiritual, but there just wasn't time in the moment to explore the thought.
Then he went into a riff about football! How in the UK, they sing at games. And maybe that's what's wrong with the NFL—no singing. Everybody just sitting back eating popcorn. If we sang at games, maybe it would improve the football. That, and the fact that in their style of football, girls can play...Can't speak to that, unless you want to get into “football” vs “soccer,” but it did make me want to tell him to take in a game at Bryant-Denny sometime.
You Better You Bet—I've heard some questions about why this stays in the setlist; beyond its status as a hit, there's a gleam in Roger's eye when he sings it that makes me wonder if he doesn't just enjoy being able to sing this straightforwardly about sex. And it's got a playful edge, the way he sings it, becomes about the absurdity of that side of life. Lily is one thing, but this is about a whole complex yet bawdy relationship, and when you look at it that way, lots of fun. Unlike some critics I've read, I don't think the line about the knife is a literal threat; I think it's metaphorical and means something about the way love can hurt when it's mishandled, when it's ignored, deliberately or dishonestly not returned. Hmmm.
I'm One—Pete sings it straight, not doing that sort of self-mocking growl, and I am so glad. Beautifully done. More catharsis.
The Rock—Roger introduces by talking first about Pete's lyrics and how lucky he feels to have been the first, mostly, to sing them. But also, the music: “Overtures, Undertures, Under-the-bed-atures...” How the structure is classical, without ever losing sight of the rock...I couldn't agree more.
Then Pete dedicates it to Keith Emerson.
So, who needs an orchestra when you've got this band? They kill it, and it's off to Catharsis City for me. Because of the videos, the effect isn't just personal; this is grief, and survival, on a much larger scale.
Another emotional moment brought on by some hurricane footage on the backing video that I think is new. There are palm trees, so it probably isn't Sandy; it's not obviously New Orleans, either, which makes me think it might even be the Mississippi Coast, which sometimes got overlooked after Katrina. Or it could be another hurricane, somewhere in Florida. Whatever the exact location, it hits home.
Damn. And thanks.
Love Reign O'er Me—After the Chicago show, a fan with the screen name Hans commented “I have not heard Roger's voice this good, this clear in 30 years. I don't know what he is doing but tonight he really pushed it on several songs.The range was there; No growls, no hoarseness no affectations to get through the song. Just pure Roger.” I couldn't say it any better myself, and nowhere so true as on this song. Indescribable.
The best version I've heard so far on this tour, one of the best ever. Tender and sad and angry and joyful, fire and thunder, and yes, rain. Almost unbearably clear—but also rockin' and cathartic.
No tricks, but a bit of playfulness: at the end, he hit that high note clear and pure and strong. Then started to drop, then grinned, went back up just as controlled and accurate—then did the descent, in complete control all the way. Show off.
Beautiful comment from Roger afterwards about how singing this, this song, to him, is what music is really about: “and he wrote it!” gesturing at Pete.
Eminence Front—kind of a blur after all that.
Amazing Journey/Sparks—Catharsis upon catharsis. The anger of “too many never come home.” Sparks downright transcendental. And somewhere in here Roger started slinging the mic around. Couple of near-misses with Pete, which made for an odd mix of fear, embarrassment, humor, and forgiveness. All part of it.
Pinball Wizard—another sort of blur. Having a hard time landing after the previous song.
See Me Feel Me/Listening to You—usually this is the big crowdmerge moment, but Join Together actually eclipsed it tonight. The Tommy set got me thinking, though, about spirituality and song. Love Reign O'er Me is sort of an apotheosis of that, and it's woven all through Lifehouse/Who's Next, but the seeds are there in Tommy. Along with all the abuse and horror, there's this primal, shining, but also very feral and fierce sort of dawning awareness. Which has always been the big appeal of it, for me.
Baba O'Riley—Begins with Pete mocking his own “Sufi dance” from the Kids Are Alright film version. I kept remembering the version Roger's band did on the cruise a couple years ago, with Mike Kaminski on violin. Something a little messed up at the beginning of the harmonica part, and Roger seems pissed off about it, but the crowd doesn't care.
Won't Get Fooled Again—Roger commented a while back that this was the one he's probably most tired of singing; not so much The Scream, but something about the rhythm, presumably of the lyrics. Maybe what my slam poet friends would call the flow. Listening with that in mind, I can kind of see it, but can also see him trying to find a new way in to it. Not quite there yet tonight, but trying. It's a bit distracting for me when he sings over the synthesizer break; usually I love it when he does those vocal fills, but in this one place it sort of undermines the eeriness that's IMO essential to the song.
Pete sets this one alight, finishing up with some very flashy/tricky thing with both hands way up on the neck of the guitar. I'm too ignorant of that side of things to really know what it was all about, but it sounded great, obviously he was into it, and gorgeous.
Overall, one hell of a show. They gave Louisville the night it's been waiting for! At one point early one, they apologized for being late...
Good, happy, generous crowd, and lots of brotherly love onstage. At one point, Pete's comments worked around to a joking line about “we all hate singers!” then immediately an apology and hug, obviously sincere. Pretty much like that all night.
Show ends with a rousing chorus of “Be Lucky—in Kentucky!”