THE WHO: MOVING ON
Some days I can write a short story, and certainly a blog 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 Katie Jacoby 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 Who’s own 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!