I was reliably apathetic in seeing this current show (“Hi I’m David and I have had a Who problem since 1980”). I glibly remarked to Tim B and Sean nee Duke that I like my Who as a rock band that sounds like a symphony not a symphony that sounds like a rock band.
And boy was I wrong. I have so much respect for Pete and Roger. The 2016 Hits Tour played everything in a normal Top 40 way. This tour plays at least half of that tour in a totally different way. Imagine taking your living room furniture to the curb and buying all new, totally different furniture to get comfortable in. To their everlasting credit, they did songs differently and expected a different result. Artists and musicians.
The setlist was the same. The between song banter was not. Pete was appropriately snarky, arrogant, condescending and gracious with a sense of humor. Right, he was just being Pete.
The only 2 songs they played straight was Substitute and Who Are You. Just about everything else was different. Pete’s guitar playing on WGFA was jaw dropping in how different it was. Pete had a delay on 5:15 that nailed it. The variety of Eminence Front was stunning. Pete is such a good guitar player that he doesn’t have to shred to make you impressed.
Roger really sang well as sure there were a couple of spots but you don’t have to account for his age as he sang like he was in his forties.
The show for me was a mix of 1989 big band with some DST and 2000 Royal Albert Hall mixed in. The layered vocals by everybody were very well done. Billy Nichols deserves some credit here. Simon was good, Zak was busy again and Jon Button just does enough.
Hero Ground Zero sounds like a Hans Zimmer score so Pete has moved from the Stones to Mike Post to Hans Zimmer. There were times I thought I was watching a Bond film though.
Ultimately, The Who were about power and volume and catharsis as The Who had the psychotic breakdown so you would not have to. We dropped our Shit because the band’s energy burn it out of us.
Pete’s right –“Who gives a fuck”
Part two of the Hollywood Bowl trilogy was another highly enjoyable evening. Band played great. Pete and Roger in fine form.
I sat much closer, allowing me to observe onstage interactions. Nods and glances amongst musicians, the conductor, and tech folks. Curious looks to playlists.
When the orchestra came back from their break Pete introduced the next Quadrophenia section until Roger reminded him Ball And Chain was next.
During one mid-song guitar switch-out, Pete stood patiently while the tech took a long time to get the replacement.
When Pete tried to discuss what it’s like for one person in the crowd to shout “rock and roll!” he had trouble finishing his snarky premise because Roger talked over him. A bit of “old married couple”-itis.
These missteps and the casualness surrounding them are charming and authentic. It’s a key part of what a lot of us love about this band. The presence of the orchestra leaves little room for spontaneity so the show must be a reasonably well-oiled machine. I'm glad there's not too much oil.
Sunday's show at the Bowl was pretty magical. Things start off kind of formally with the "Overture" from TOMMY. The Bowl is made for orchestra, and the sound was phenomenal, with a perfect blend of the band and orchestra. Pete's guitar was up in the mix the whole night. When it got to the "Pinball Wizard" chords in "Overture," the audience reacted and Pete flashed this sly smile as if to say, "Yeah, I wrote that." He seemed in good spirts all night. TOMMY highlights for me included Pete and Simon on dueling acoustics coming out of the Overture. Simon perfectly replicates Pete's original wizardry from the album while Pete adds his percussive, syncopated flourishes. Just dazzling. The addition of the orchestra gave "We're Not Gonna Take It" added power and meaning. Roger sounded strong, sure, and half his age. The TOMMY segment was a brilliant start.
"Eminence Front" continues to grow into one of the highlights of any Who show. Pete has gotten so adventurous with the jazz guitar work on that song, and his vocals were fantastic, with surprising phrasing and pugnacious delivery. One of the absolute highlights for me was "Imagine a Man." I've tried not to watch too many videos from recent shows because I wanted to experience this one live. Roger sounded AMAZING. I've never heard such subtle, vulnerable vocals from him. And the orchestra scoring is exquisite on this one. Truly grateful that they took a chance on an unlikely addition to the set list for this tour. Bravo.
Funny moment in "Hero Ground Zero," when something wasn't right on Pete's guitar. It took a chorus or so for the tech to get a suitable replacement. So Pete found himself dancing a little stage left and singing back up vocals, standing at the mic with no guitar. A rare sight at a Who show! Pete assured us the new track "will sound better on the album," to much laughter.
The orchestra took their break after that, and they started the band-only set with "Substitute," in perhaps the strongest, most muscular version I've ever heard. One of the last verses had just guitar and bass (I think), and huge audience participation. Zak and Pete are both playing with such confidence and abandon, and it really showed on this classic single. "You Better You Bet" made the set list for this show. It's not one of my favorites live, I have to admit, but even that song was stronger and more powerful. The acoustic WGFA was fantastic. Pete's virtuoso strumming and picking, flying up and down the fretboard and thrashing those six strings, was mind-blowing to watch in person. And Roger was very inventive with the vocals, even doing some percussion with the mic on the floor. That song was another highlight of the night, for me! "Behind Blue Eyes" is given new life with the addition of cello and violin, adding some gorgeous yearning to the quieter start and some surprising edge to the louder sequence. So many great choices in the music all night long.
The orchestra came back after that and they started with "Ball and Chain," which is a great live song. Pete added some cool, jazzy and slightly dangerous touches. Then on to QUADROPHENIA. I don't know how they have the energy and stamina for this show. After playing for an hour and a half, they launched into QUAD with such uncompromising virility, it was a thrill to watch. "Real Me" was ferocious, with Zak and Jon Button leading the charge. Pete went on an extended solo in "5:15," and from my seat in the Pool I could see conductor Keith Levinson just watching in wonder as the orchestra took a pause and Pete went off. "The Rock" is one of my all-time favorite pieces of Who music, and it was magnificent tonight. I think I like it more without the video projections of world events. Last night the music had to stand alone to trigger emotion and reaction, and it was more than up to the task, especially with the addition of the soaring orchestra scoring. Again, Pete and Zak were ferocious. Watching their interplay, Zak keeping a laser focus on Pete and anticipating a million little choices, was so exciting. They are locked in! LROM was exquisite, starting with Loren Gold's gorgeous, improvised opening. I don't know where Roger finds the power every night to deliver this one at the end of the show, but he is a wonder at 75. Just amazing.
The "Baba" closer is perfect, and Katy Jacoby's violin ending adds so much. Pete was very playful with her on the extended ending and seemed to be really enjoying himself. I wonder if being surrounded by masterful musicians every night has given him some additional inspiration.
When they announced this tour, I really was thinking this would probably be the last chance to see them live. But this show is so strong, so powerful, and so NEW, that it feels like anything but an end. Bravo to Pete and Roger for taking a huge risk, climbing a new mountain, and planting their flag with such unqualified success. So inspiring.