Review by Seth Davidson
NOTHING EVER GOES AS PLANNED
Here by the sea and sand, nothing ever goes as planned. The Who didn’t sing that line from Quadrophenia last night at Jones Beach. But those words are an apt description of the evening. It was, one might say, an interesting evening.
As many have already heard, the band had sound problems. Well, for those of us who have followed the Who for decades, sound problems are pretty normal. And sometimes, particularly in the olden days, would fire up the band, particularly Pete, to put on extraordinary performances.
I wish I could say that last night’s technical difficulties resulted in an extraordinary performance, but to be honest, it seemed to annoy the band more than inspire them.
Let’s start with what didn’t go right. After opening strong with the orchestra-supported set of Tommy selections, Pete started complaining that the sound was not right on stage – that what had sounded great during the sound check didn’t sound right to him. I was front and center for that portion of the show and while the band sounded louder to me than recent shows, it wasn’t particularly distorted and Pete never articulated what the issue was.
But as Imagine a Man wound down, the stage microphones seemingly went dead. Roger and then Pete tried to talk to the audience but they couldn’t be heard. After a brief interval, the problem seemingly was fixed and the band went into Hero Ground Zero (more about that later). After they finished, there was the usual brief break while the orchestra left. And then it happened again—the microphones went kaput. Once upon a time, such an event probably would have triggered expressions of rage from Pete and maybe Roger – flying f-bombs, guitars and mics aimed at the sound crew. But last night, while clearly pissed off, Pete kept his exasperation in check and somewhat calmly led the band off stage. I imagine that calm façade evaporated as soon as he got off the stage. Anyway, I don’t know exactly how long the band was gone – someone suggested it was around 15 minutes, which seems entirely plausible.
Finally the power was restored to the stage, but things continued to be a bit out of sorts. After Pete apologized rather profusely for the problems, and joked that this is what happens when you build a rock venue in the middle of the sea, and that maybe it was just as well that the audience couldn’t hear him, the “band set” kicked off with The Kids Are Alright….with a false start when Pete and Roger began the song at different times and in different keys. And later, during the Quad portion of the second orchestra set, Pete had several false starts on I’m One, apparently because of discomfort in his right hand. Finally at one point I noticed Pete asking for the bass to be turned up. (Being a long time Who fan makes one adept at reading lips).
What went right. Notwithstanding the issues summarized above, there was plenty to like about the show. As mentioned the opening Tommy set was strong, as was Eminence Front. Some in the crowd sat during Imagine a Man and the first of the two new songs – Hero Ground Zero. This was the first time I’d heard HGZ live and I enjoyed it. So did Pete, who seemed particularly bouncy during the song – singing along even when he wasn’t near a microphone.
In addition to TKAA (performed for the first time on this leg of the tour), the band set included the usual suspects: I Can See For Miles, You Better You Bet, the acoustic Won’t Get Fooled Again, with Pete soloing more than I remember from the show I saw in May, and Behind Blue Eyes with violin and cello accompaniment. There was a brief a capella interlude in BBE that was particularly nice. The orchestra then returned for the closing set, which kicked off with Ball and Chain, was followed by the Quad set, and ended with Baba. The Rock was particularly lovely tonight. I get the sense that there are a lot of folks in the audience who don’t realize that it is Simon taking the lead on a good portion of that number. And, happily, Roger’s voice has recovered and he gave us a strong rendition of Lover Reign O’er Me.
A word about the other new song, Ball and Chain. I was not knocked out by it when I heard the studio version last week. It has an intriguing opening, but I don’t particularly like Roger’s “old blues man growling voice” and I felt Pete’s guitar work was too far down in the mix for the song to sound “Who-ish.” But I liked it a lot more live—Pete’s guitar work gave it more character than the studio version. Additional note: In his introduction he talked about how much the band enjoyed playing Mexico City in 2016 (lots of young women in the audience screaming at them) but also about how the show felt like an “end” for the band. Until Roger went out with an orchestra... opening the door for the current tour.
Odds and sods. A few other notes. Pete was wearing the blue boiler with a Meher Baba pin (on the suit not on his guitar strap); he was wearing a cap that made him look a bit like Rick Neilsen of Cheap Trick. It had a long bill and covered his face, frustrating those of us taking pictures! And he had a necklace that he kept fidgeting with before finally taking it off towards the end of the show. Roger was in his usual casual pants and t-shirt. Zak was wearing some Zak-like colorful jacket at the start – looked almost Halloweenish. Jon Button and Loren provided their usual solid work. Loren’s piano intro into LROM is lovely. And the fact that 5:15 is in the set list tells you that the band has a lot of confidence in him. Band intros included Pete talking again about the new album and suggesting that there would be additional songs released before the album release date. He also made a point of reminding folks that one of the album’s songs was written by Simon.
So that’s it. An interesting evening at a venue that seems to always produce interesting shows. Pete ended his 1993 Psychoderelict tour with a show at Jones Beach that those of us lucky enough to attend still discuss in almost reverent tones. The Who played JB in 2000 (guitar smash), 2002 (Robert Plant opening), and 2006 (Endless Wire). Pete always talks about how much he loves playing at Jones Beach, but after last night… maybe a bit less than before.