Photo by Lauren J. Hammer
The Who concert on Sunday was a typical first show on a tour - great at times with a few technical glitches thrown in but still a wonderful show.
Roger sounded fabulous as you can tell from the videos that I posted (or view on my YouTube channel Chipdog67) but he had issues with his hearing all night. At one point Pete laughingly suggested it was just old age. Whatever it was, it distracted him all night. He skipped the last verse in WAY and didn't do any of the typical pointing to the fans at the end of that song because he was distracted and annoyed.
Pete looked very lean and fit in his blue t-shirt. I guess the summer sailing was good for him. Roger always looks good but he looked like the time off did him some good also.
The set list included the regular Tommy songs in the first set and a couple of Quad songs after the orchestra break in the middle. They added 2 new songs. Hero Ground Zero to close the first set (dropping the fan favorite Join Together) and Big Cigars to open the second orchestra set.
The middle band only set changed a little, with the Seeker added and YBYB and Substitute still there. Miles was missing as was Kids Are Alright and Tea and Theatre from early in the spring tour. Acoustic WGFA and Behind Blues Eyes remained, of course. Interesting that Zac participates throughout the entire BBE song rather than enter mid song.
Apparently a number of the fans sat down when they announced that a new song was being introduced. Pete took exception to this, initially saying that he would stop the show if people did that again, then laughingly saying we could do anything we wanted as we already paid for our tickets. Maybe the new songs that they chose has something to do with the fans sitting down.
Pete lost his voice in the first set, barely vocalizing Eminence Front. Roger was still pissed off about messing up on WAY immediately prior to Eminence so he didn't even sing the chorus as he normally does. He should have just sung the song outright. Fortunately, the throat lozenge that Pete used worked so his I'm One and Drowned were much stronger. He did forget the "I've got a Gibson ..." verse that he sings with Simon, but Si and the audience got him back on track. I also really miss Roger's harmonica on Drowned but he is already off stage at that point (for Drowned and The Rock).
Pete dedicated Hero Ground Zero to the gentleman who helped him with Broadway Tommy who just passed away from complications after a fall.
Roger got it all together for a magnificent Love Reign. Loren's intro of it was unique and very entertaining.
Pete apologized for the band not being at it's best but promised it will get better. He reiterated their love of performing in NY as it was the first place they performed in the US and they have always enjoyed coming back. He told us that if things go as planned they will be touring in 2020 with some of the new album so they won't have to just do greatest hits anymore. Fingers crossed that some of the other tracks are better than the 2 they are performing. He had previously indicated a UK tour so this was the first indication that there will also be a US tour.
Leslie Mendleson opened the night. She normally opens for them in NY as she is originally from Long Island. Too bad she isn't travelling with them, especially in October when Liam Gallagher is the opener, as she was very entertaining.
What a difference four months can make. I was “be lucky” enough to have been front row center for the MSG show on May 13th and again for September 1st at MSG. I had previously noted that I felt the orchestra took a huge piece of the bands punch out of the May show. So wasn’t expecting it to be different this time. WRONG.
The band came out punching from the start and the orchestra didn’t have the same presence. In May I felt it overwhelmed the rocking edge of The Who a bit like the 89 Who on ice tour. Clearly the band was louder and most evident during the band only set. Substitute and Seeker rocked hard. T&T was out of the setlist, so was Join Together. YBYB was back.
Pete commented that they weren’t warmed up yet and was apologetic. I saw it differently. I thought Pete was on fire, as was the band. But not without the typical exceptions. Once again, Pete forgot the lyrics to I’m One with Simon prompting him. Roger was laughing hysterically and interacting with us up front. But Roger had his senior moment during Who Are You, missing the last verse.
Pete, swap I’m One out for Blue, Red and Grey or Sheraton Gibson. Maybe a teleprompter would be helpful? We also got the USA premiere of Hero Ground Zero, and Guantanamo aka Waiting For My Big Cigar. Both new tunes rocked and I'm looking forward to the new album.
The show also seemed a bit longer which is always good. Next stop Beantown for me.
Some days I can write a book chapter, or a short story, and certainly a Facebook post, before breakfast. Other days the words just won't come out in the order right. Today, attempting to formulate a coherent and interesting review of The Who's show at Madison Square Garden last Sunday, it is the latter.
I wanted to write about how refreshing it was to see these 70-something two core Who members play not just with a familiar band, but with a full orchestra for the vast majority of the show, for the first time, and how it brought something genuinely new and vibrant, emotive and epic, to a set list that has often shown as many signs of old age as Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey.
I wanted to write about how lovely it is that, in the sunset of their lives, Pete and Roger have set about making new music again, and what a treat it was to be at the American debut for a song that might be called "Big Cigars," but may yet also go by the name of "Guantanamo." Does it sound as good as the "classics"? Well, that's a high bar, but for decades I just wanted Pete to write and release new material, like a Bruce Springsteen, or a Neil Young, rather than approaching everything as a Grand Idea. Better late than never.
I wanted to write how refreshing it was to see Won't Get Fooled Again brought down to basics: just Pete, on acoustic, and Roger. That's all. No great ARP tapes, no crashing power chords, no flown-in vocal screams. I have long maintained that the mark of a great song - be it hip-hop, techno, indie or punk - is that it can be played on acoustic guitar and still be a great song. Won't Get Fooled Again is a great song.
I wanted to write about how relieved I was not to be subjected to My Generation and Magic Bus, songs that have their place in the pantheon of rock classics but long ago outlived their onstage vitality.
I wanted to write about how much I still love The WHo's fallibility. How Roger struggled with his ear monitor and missed a verse of Who Are You. How Pete then got equal, forgetting the third verse of I'm One, sending the orchestra into an unexpected ad lib, before calling across the stage at brother Simon to provide him with a cue. "I've got a Gibson," sung Simon at which Pete picked it up. Of all the lines to forget...
I wanted to write about how Pete Townshend can still windmill his way through a song, even in his 70s. But how, this being the opening night ofa new leg of a long tour, he forgot to cut his fingernails tight, ripping one open on 5:15 in the process. This would have been painful at best of times; as he was about to pick up an acoustic and finger pick his way through Drowned, the timing could not have been much worse. Like an inveterate warrior, he soldiered through.
I wanted to write about how much I still enjoy Pete's irreverent between-song banter, his constant use of the f-word to punctuate a story, his teasing of the audience about sitting down through new songs, but also his genuine compassion regarding the death the previous day of a long-term collaborator, and his sincere apologies when he said "I wish we could have been better tonight." I wanted to say that I apperciate any band that can be unpredictable in their delivery - and that Peter's lead guitar work seemed particularly brittle and vitriolic, in a good way, as a result of the sound and vocal problems.
I wanted to note that The WHo really are not getting any younger, and that lost voices and forgotten verses will only become more common from here on in. Growing old has its drawbacks.
I wanted to note that after all these years, I finally had 5th row seats, and that they really do make a difference, especially when you're treating your 14-year old to his 4th Who show. I also wanted to note that in some ways it made no difference at all: there was a person behind me insisted on providing a running commentaruy on the entire history of The Who to the Indian gentleman standing next to him, (whose patience was that of athe proverbial Saint) and the person in front of me spent most of the show with his arms in the air taking photographs and film, necessitating that I view the big screen despite the fact that it was further away from me than the musicians.
I wanted to note that if I've ever heard the Who play Imagine A Man in concert before, then I must have forgotten all about it. With a catalogue this extensive, there's no reason NOT to dig in the vaults, but I appreciate it all the same.
I wanted to thank the orchestra for doing their part; they seemed honored and enamored, as they should have been. I'd also like to encourage first violinist to eat something now and then!
I wanted to write about the expense of the modern rock concert, and that it is almost unjustifiable. But I paused to consider the cost of the orchestra, and that monies went to the Who's preferred charities, and that these were hardly the cheap seats, and well, you never know when you'll have the opportunity arise agin, do you?
I wanted to say all of this, and I kept trying to find a clever way to say it, but after several failed drafts, I just opened Facebook and said what I wanted to say the way I should probably have said it all along.
And then I was going to say that, because I can't find the words, you can just read the Backstage Blog, which gives a pretty thorough account of the whole first night nerves.
Oh, and I should probably say Thanks. To all concerned. And please remember to play "Listening To You...' at my funeral, even if it's a century old by then!
Tony Fletcher is the author of the excellent biography "Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon". This review was originally posted on his iJamming website.