Review by Tim Ballou
The end stage concert capacity at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville is 18,500 (per Wikipedia). On this particular Monday most of those seats were filled with people experiencing an outstanding Who concert. And a fair number of those people were young kids out pretty late for a school night. They call it Music City so maybe that’s just part of the kids’ public education in this neck of the woods.
The arena is across the street from the historic Ryman Auditorium and walking distance to the river and lots of great food and live music. A most excellent pre-show environment for a Who show. However, my severe allergy to “twang” keeps me from lingering too long in some of these places. Conversely, my intense admiration for barbecue pork and fried catfish compels me to stay too long in others.
Besides children, the arena was occupied with people like me and my fellow Who-lovin’ friend – longtime fans concerned about Roger’s recovery from the swollen vocal chords that triggered the postponement of the three previous shows, including the coveted 5/9 Louisville show in my native Kentucky where we had procured VIP seats. Not knowing what kind of future lies ahead for Roger’s 71 year-old throat, we decided to take no chances on whether Louisville would actually be rescheduled and make a whirlwind road trip to Nashville. (We are still ready, willing, and hopeful for Louisville!)
The band took the stage and Pete, before one note had been played, futzed with his iPad a bit and said he forgot his ffff-ing password. They launched in to I Can’t Explain. The crowd roared. It probably went unnoticed by most, but we could tell Roger was still struggling to belt out his best. He seemed hesitant and unusually solemn. At times, it was hard to discern his voice at all, leading us to believe he may have been intentionally lowered in the sound mix. Meanwhile, on the right side of the stage Pete was chatty and relaxed as usual.
Roger gained confidence as the night went on, and he was often in fine form. He nailed the WGFA scream (assuming he was not lip-synching). The Tommy sequence was flawless in what may be my completely biased opinion. Experiencing the “listening to you” chorus with thousands of people is about as good as The Who live gets as far as I’m concerned.
Pete talked about Keith finding some Super Glue somewhere near Nashville back in the day and that resulted in him gluing furniture to the ceiling in hotel rooms. “It’s still there,” Roger said in one of his very few non-singing utterances all evening. Pete talked about playing songs in the key of Nashville. “Squeeze Box” was a given for the Nashville set list and I loved it (even though it’s not typically on my playlist) – especially the Who By Numbers animation. While singing “I’m One” Pete announced he was now going to sing the “British version” and sang in an exaggerated English accent.
No fan review is complete without set list grumbling. So here goes. My friend Vick Griffin noted in his Raleigh review that “A Quick One” seems out of place in this set list. As much as I hate to admit that Vick is right – I must admit that Vick is right. It was the only time all evening I got just a little antsy. And the civilian Who fans were noticeably distracted. The Rock and Roll Circus version of this song has been in heavy rotation in my life for decades. It’s not the song. It’s the context. I think this one would’ve played better in an intimate setting. For a show like this maybe it would work if they’d done something like the Eagles have been doing where the guys wander out, sit on stools and casually get the show going. The appetizer before the meat and potatoes. But the current show is really all meat and potatoes, so “A Quick One” seems like it’s being served at the wrong time and place. Ok. Set list grumbling is over. We all know it doesn’t matter what we say about it anyway.
Before playing Quick One Pete said it was written in 1966 and made the announcement that if anyone in the building was born before 1966 they should not be here. He then made some kind of crack about himself, lowered his sunglasses and gave us a look, declaring himself an exception to the rule. He told everyone they could see the original version of the song on Youtube – which sort of rhymes with Super Glue. He also said someone from Youtube was at the show tonight.
In a city like Nashville with all the residential music royalty there were probably a number of notable attendees. We spotted a drummer a few rows below us named Sandy Gennaro. He’s in the Pat Travers band and his website indicates he’s played with Joan Jett as well. Speaking of JJ – I had no strong opinion either way about her music but thought her set was great.
I can’t remember the last time I had seen a bunch of gentle-faced old Shriners in those traditional Fez hats with dangling tassels but I know it was NOT at a Who concert. They were actually all over the arena and all hawking The Who Hits 50 CDs for $20 each. Some proceeds going to charity. A little surreal.
Roger had the biggest smile of the night after WGFA. Maybe feeling relieved he had made it through the show. He thanked all those in attendance, saying it was a two-way street. “If it weren’t for you we’d just be another band playing in a bar around here,” he said. And then he gave his standard be healthy, be lucky closing.
Review by Pat Stanton
The good news is the show went on last night. Not my favorite concert but it was good to see them back on stage. Pete was wonderful, chatting about Nashville and in a great mood and played on fire. Roger sounded good but was distracted by his headphones again. He really belted out the scream at the end of WGFA which was a bit frightening and not necessary. Same set list as the last show. Substitute and Lily seem to be gone but Kids and Bargain are a fixture. Chicago should be a great show.
Review by Suzanne Coker
Soundcheck is already in progress as we're escorted in, Roger on harmonica. Overall, it seemed more of a work zone for the band than a bonus mini-concert for those with VIP passes. They did quick spot-checks of parts of songs, Who Are You, Eminence Front, I Can See for Miles. I'm One was the only song played through. Because of this, there wasn't as much applause and interaction; not sure if that was due to confusion or respect, whether it was disappointing for those on stage or just allowed them to concentrate.
They did seem very focused, and all very supportive of Roger, who sounded strong but seemed to be more testing his voice than stretching it out; not so much holding back or saving it, just seeing how much might be there. Joan Jett was sitting about three rows from the stage, and at one point walked up to say something to Roger. They checked the vocal harmonies, went back and tried the harmonica again; Roger had some concerns about how it sounded, how it was fine as long as he was solo, but something went wrong when the band joined in...finally resolved with a comment that it was probably more an issue of what he was hearing onstage, not of what the audience would hear.
Food at the VIP party was, to my taste decent enough, but not nearly as good as Atlanta; couldn't decide exactly what it was meant to be, cauliflower tater tots and grilled-cheese tomato sandwiches, beef Wellington bites and miniature burgers. Nourishing but confusing.
Set list was basically the same as for Jazzfest, with the welcome addition of A Quick One. I must confess, the setlist was one of the least things on my mind; this show was all about Roger and the paramount question of how well he might be.
There was one sort of terrifying moment during The Seeker, but it passed, and he got past it. Later during Join Together he had some problems, but it looked more like the ear monitors than his voice. And on another song, maybe Amazing Journey, he came in late/forgot lyrics, but again, didn't seem to be voice-related. It often felt as if Roger were just pushing the hell out of himself, but he got it done, and solid. The whole show felt like walking a tightrope, nowhere more so than during Love Reign O'er Me; the sheer guts and intensity of it carried the song, and the night. God, the courage of the man.
Overall, a much more focused and intense show than Atlanta, which in hindsight involved a lot of playfulness. Not that there wasn't great banter here, mostly from Pete, who sort of outdid himself in that area, starting with “What's my password? Hang on, I've got an email...” as he checked the setlist. A sequence about songs in “the key of Nashville.” A story about buying a mandolin, taking it back to the room to play and “the city sort of chiming in. It was kind of creepy.” A Keith story involving "sooooooooper glooooooo" and later reference to "yoooooooo toooooooob." Little comment about "now that Roger's dressed" (in his guitar, not the ear monitors this time) and Roger's reply that he'd "had a long lay-in today." A possible Psychoderelict reference, something self-deprecatory from Pete about how he "can't do it anymore" which led through the territory of, well, at least not with anyone else, but still very well with myself, and then to the priceless: "it's amazing the relationship I have with myself!" Squeeze Box as a Polish polka, "well, all the New York policemen seem to love it." Roger got a few good ones in, too, especially when talking about the VIP share going to charities, not just TCA but some of Pete's causes, described as: "Pete does a lot of drugs and alcohol (slightly wicked pause.) And he's good at it!"
Since there weren't any screens at Jazzfest, and they didn't play it in Atlanta, I hadn't seen the visuals for Squeeze Box. I'd actually like to see them again (possibly on yooooo tooooob) where there's fewer distractions and I can fully appreciate the frivolity. They're By Numbers cover, John-style animated cartoons, and the little bit I catch has Pete actually falling through the stage when he comes in for a landing--then Roger pops up out of the hole with a big grin and a saw in his hand.
Speaking of visuals, I love the way they use the Rock and Roll Circus graphics for A Quick One. There's something about YOU ARE FORGIVEN, spelled out there in big bold letters as they play, making it more than just a line in a song, the plain and all inclusive declaration turning it into a policy, a mission, something beyond even motto or slogan. And, it turns out Ivor is the Johnny Cash part of this one. Love the evil gleam Roger gets when he sings it.
Overall it was much more a feeling show than a thinking one. Sparks benefitting from the intensity, brutally, fiercely gorgeous. I'm One also ferocious in the last part, nice contrast between the sort of plaintive beginning and what became a raging end. Pete doing a lot to make the show, not in competition with Roger as it seems on some nights, but very much in support of him, as was everyone else, all night. Beautiful to see and made a great show; one friend compared it favorably with Raleigh. Can't say, myself, having only attended half of that comparison, but I know it left me wrung out and exalted.
Aftershow mostly consisted of wandering up and down Lower Broad looking for the right balance of food, music, and drinks in a place still open after 11:00. This part of town is sort of like if Bourbon Street were run by hillbillies, and it seems weird that any of the joints would be closed, ever, but it brings us back to the reality that this is, after all, a Monday night. Still lots of loud, wild life on the street, though, and not looking to wind down any time soon; somewhere in the world, it's always Who O'clock.