The Who Re-Viewed Part 4

WHO’S WHO IN 2006?

I’ve seen The Who often enough over 30 years to have registered many different incarnations, but not so often as for those incarnations to blur. The last time I checked in was at Madison Square Garden, in the weeks after John Entwistle’s death (read review here), and what remained of the group was understandably unsettled. Pino Palladino had not figured whether he could emulate Entwistle and so had settled for imitating him; Pete Townshend was still confused at the circumstances of it all, and Roger Daltrey, as ever, was attempting to hold The Who together by playing the overly consummate professional. There were no new songs and, though I would pay (almost) any price just to see Pete Townshend play guitar, the Old Hits routine was becoming, well, distinctly Old Hat.

At the Harbor Yard Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut on November 28, there was not only a sense of renewed purpose to the front duo, but an aura of peace about them, too. Pete Townshend, surely buoyed by the artistic and critical success of Endless Wire, was evidently happy to be onstage, his conversation free of cynicism, though his good cheer did not prevent some typically furious guitar playing. Roger Daltrey croaked his way through the early high notes, but grew steadily stronger vocally as the show persisted. (His voice, unfortunately, has continued to cause problems: he was forced to vacate the stage in St. Paul on December 8, explaining that he’d been suffering from bronchitis.)

These Two were very much stage front. Behind them, Pino Palladino has, wisely, stopped trying to replicate John Entwistle. (Gone from the set is ‘5.15’ along with Thunderfingers’ own compositions, and ‘My Generation’ no longer showcases the famous Entwistle solo.) His bass playing is, of course, solid, intricate, and artistically perfect, but it’s not trying to improvise or intervene and it’s all the better for it. On secondary guitar and vocals, Simon Townshend plays the loyal younger brother as you or I would surely love to believe we’d be were Pete our elder sibling. And on keyboards, stage tech Brian Kehew has stepped in to fill the mighty big shoes of John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, who has returned to the UK to be by the side of his ailing wife.

The Who, Philadelphia, Sep 2006.

…And then there’s Zak Starkey. After watching Zak once more revive the spirit of Keith Moon in Bridgeport, I was left thinking just how much better Endless Wire could have been for the inclusion of (more of) his drumming. His relative non-inclusion is a typically Townshendesque saga: having told Starkey that he wasn’t yet ready to record with him, and after the drummer took a touring job with Oasis, Townshend decided that he was not only now ready to record, but in fact could not wait for Zak to get off the road to do so. On the sleevenotes to Endless Wire, Townshend explains his need to “make this record on my own, in my own way, to the bitter end – only delivering it to the Who’s touring band when I was certain it was properly realized.”

This is understandable, though whether it made for a record remains debatable, for not Townshend’s own drumming, nor his programming, nor the drumming of Peter Huntington comes close to enlivening the performances the way they could and should have been had Starkey been involved. In addition, Townshend’s above comment appeared to confirm Zak’s status as but a hired hand, and after a recent interview in a Boston newspaper where he initimated that Starkey had been disloyal for touring with Oasis, there was, according to Townshend’s online diary, a backstage summit.

“Zak has nothing to apologise for,” Townshend writes in that diary, himself by way of apology. “He was available to work in early 2005, but I wasn’t ready for him.” And, as if changing his tune from the above quoted sleeve notes, he adds that “I (have) welcomed Zak into the Who as a permanent member,” though, perhaps burned by the experience, Starkey refused. “This is something he doesn’t feel he needs or wants,” writes Pete.

I guess it wouldn’t be the Who without the public arguments, but it would be a much better Who with Zak in the studio.

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