The Ox & The Loon
April 24, 2014
House of Blues
Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Ron Lyon
The original Who was a four-headed monster — its brute strength and execution virtually unchallenged; impossible to duplicate for all its muscle, musicality and mayhem. When I first saw them in 1970 at Anaheim Stadium, I was too young to appreciate those kinds of qualities — I was too blown away and stunned by just being there. Listening back to shows from that year, I probably didn’t realize that I had witnessed one of rock’s most powerful and earth-shaking four-piece units to ever roam the earth.
When I saw them again in 1976, that raw energy gave way to a more restrained presentation even though the band still commandeered the stage like few others I had seen up until that time. Perhaps what registers most loudly in my head is that they didn’t return for an encore.
Keith Moon died two years later and the Who carried on, but they weren’t the same band. That became even more pronounced in 2002 when John Entwistle passed away in Las Vegas. Ignoring suggestions to rename the group “The Two,” Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey kept touring as the Who and made a new album in 2006. Entertaining, nostalgic and classic are how I would describe the Who of today. Without The Ox and The Loon slathering it up in the engine room, the monster I saw in 1970 is more like a purring lion with a refined roar and a pride to feed.
It took Brian Tichy and Joe Sutton, creators of the star-studded Bonzo Bash shows, to bring the Who’s rhythm section back to life, so to speak. For the past four years, they’ve managed to bring together rock’s finest drummers to celebrate the music of John Bonham and Led Zeppelin. The Randy Rhoads Remembered tribute the pair put on during NAMM 2014 was equally impressive. With an emphasis on world-class musicianship, flash and heavy thunder, the Beatles, Stones and Pink Floyd are unlikely candidates for the Tichy/Sutton treatment; the Who, however, is a different animal altogether.
Next to John Bonham, Keith Moon is one the most influential drummers in rock. His off-stage antics are another matter entirely, undoubtedly fueling the legend. Casual fans tend to remember the lunacy first, then tighten their collective grips at the sight of the man drumming. And when it comes to bass, of course, John Entwistle is pretty much in a class all his own Together with Moon, the Who’s thunderous bottom-end was an integral to the band’s sound as Townshend’s guitar histrionics and Daltrey’s harrowing vocals.
The challenge facing Tichy and his all-star cast of drummers, bass players, guitar players and singers was slotting in the obvious with the not-so-obvious, all the while making it look like none of it was forced or contrived. Drummers were tasked with playing an eight-piece Natal kit, a pop-art replica of Keith Moon’s Premier set, in its original configuration, right down to the misplaced hi-hat, gonzo cymbals and transparent floor tom filled with water and goldfish. A John Entwistle bass sat perched up high upon a wall of bass cabinets. It was occasionally brought down and played, but it mostly just stayed in one place, overlooking the proceedings — much like Entwistle himself.
“Can’t Explain” opened things up with Tichy on drums, Rowan Robertson and Brent Woods on guitars, Phil Chen on bass, Stephen LeBlanc on keyboards and Heaven & Earth’s Joe Retta out in front, firing away on the vocals. The same combination followed up with “Join Together.” It’s a shame Retta wasn't included on more songs because he was probably the most familiar with the material (no cheats sheets in sight) and one of the strongest singers, agreeable to Daltrey’s style of delivery, of the night. He proved this beyond all doubts when he returned for a surprising “Bargain.”
Former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo and bassist Pancho Tomaselli locked in like long lost brothers on both “Bargain” and “Summertime Blues.” Afterward, Lombardo told the audience he wasn’t all that familiar with Keith Moon’s style (not surprising as many of tonight’s drummers hail from the John Bonham school of drumming), but after tonight it was a style he had grown to appreciate and may possibly integrate into his own playing.
The first epic of the night was the “See Me, Feel Me” and “Listening To You” medley from Tommy. Veronica Bellino handled the drums while James LoMenzo played the bass. Tichy and Woods manned the guitars and LeBlanc, as he would for most of the night, was again on the keyboards. Oni Logan of Lynch Mob delivered a powerful vocal, perhaps next to Retta, one of the best of the night.
Motörhead main man Lemmy Kilmister came out briefly to accept the John Entwistle Legend Award from the Who bassist’s longtime confidant and manager Cy Langston. Drummer Kenny Aronoff was the recipient of the night’s Keith Moon Legend Award. He joined Foreigner’s go-to utility man Thom Gimbel, filling in on the lead vocals tonight, for “I Can See For Miles” (an adequate cover) and “Who Are You” (a difficult song for any band, even the Who, to pull off live).
Drummer Mike Portnoy, hatless in a Keith Moon gas station attendant jumpsuit, and bassist Billy Sheehan anchored “Overture” from Tommy, offering up the Moon and Entwistle rhythm machine as a multi-dimensional undertow to one of Townshend’s most judicious compositions. They stuck around, along with Robertson on guitar, for “Amazing Journey” with Chas West on vocals, and “Sparks,” basically an instrumental reprise of “Overture.” Portnoy acknowledged Moon as his primary influence, which makes perfect sense when you consider his performance with Sheehan may have been one of the highlights of the night.
Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins, Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo and King‘s X dUg Pinnick packed a lethal double-shot of “The Real Me,” another Moon and Entwistle tour de force, and “Long Live Rock,” supported by LoMenzo and Tichy on background vocals. “Young Man Blues” and “Baba O’Riley” brought Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith to the stage, with Tichy on guitar and Whitesnake bassist Michael Devin on lead vocals — an odd choice considering singers like Retta and Logan were standing by. Nevertheless, the energy on stage (especially with Smith behind the kit and Tichy’s leaping windmills) was enough to overcome any minor shortcomings.
One of the night’s most anticipated moments was when original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley, drummer Matt Starr and bassist Chris Wyse came up for “Pictures Of Lily” and “The Seeker.” It was the first public appearance by Frehley since he’d been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with his former KISS mates. While it wasn't exactly one of the night’s brightest performances, Starr’s vocals and drumming kept pace with both songs’ pop sensibilities.
“Love Reign O’er Me” featured another strong vocal from West, making way for the intentionally long “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which brought each and every player into the spotlight, climaxing with Chen smashing his bass and everyone taking it out on the Natal drum set, in its first and apparently only appearance at The Ox and The Loon show. Like early Who shows, the equipment at subsequent celebrations may be subject to extensive abuse and damage. As with most everything Tichy and Sutton promote, it was a fitting tribute done in the name of authenticity.