October 6, 2016
Santa Barbara Bowl
Santa Barbara, CA
Review by Shawn Perry
I may have missed the memory of a lifetime by blowing off Desert Trip, but that doesn’t mean I had to miss the Who. Believe me, when it was first announced, I felt the tug to travel to the Indio Polo Grounds where they put on Coachella and commune in the dusty and windy heat with my classic rock brethren, seeing six of the biggest and baddest in one epic swoop. Time, expense and logistics kept me away. So the day before it began, I drove north to the intimate sanctuary of the Santa Barbara Bowl where the Who played before their Desert Trip slot on Sunday.
It made all the sense in the world to go to Santa Barbara. The Who was the first band I’d ever seen in concert, way back in the 70s with the original lineup, and I hadn’t missed a tour since. Actually, I missed The Who Hits 50! Tour, which rolled through Southern California last May. It was promoted as their final tour (yeah, we’ve heard that before), and if I didn’t go to see them at Desert Trip, there was little chance I'd see them at all. But alas, they squeezed in a stop at Santa Barbara on the Thursday before Desert Trip, perhaps as a warm-up, and I got a ticket. This would, presumably, be the last time for the Who and I.
I hope not because they were fabulous, exceeding all my expectations. Of course, in a venue like the Santa Barbara Bowl, snuggled on a hillside in a clean residential area, it's not too difficult to shine. I took a seat next to other reporters with notepads in the preferred section for an excellent view and perfect placement for sound. Opener Tal Wilkenfeld kicked things off at 6:30.
I'd seen Wilkenfeld, who hails from Australia, play bass with Jeff Beck's band, and was looking forward to seeing what she could do on her own. She ambled inconspicuously onto the stage, as her backing band — drummer Tamir Barzilay, guitarist Owen Barry and keybaordist Lisa Harriton — joined her. Together they fell into a batch songs from WIlkenfeld's solo album Corner Painter as spectators continued to pour in and claim their spots.
Wilkenfeld’s set was tentative in spots, as her jazzy, new age music struggled to find an ear. It wasn’t until she and her band got into a heavier groove that the audience reacted. I was intrigued, and could definitely see how much better it would be to see Wilkenfeld in a club. On a large stage, pushed to the edge in the shadow of the Who’s grandeur and eminent presence, it almost seems as if any opening act is a calculated gratuity at best.
The venue darkened and the Who came on around 7:45 as a message on the backdrop announced — ‘Keep Calm, Here Come The Who’. And with that, Pete Townshend strapped on his Eric Clapton Signature Torino Red Stratocaster and blasted right into “Can’t Explain,” a catchall opener. From the get-go, the band looked relaxed, hungry and prepared to give Santa Barbara a night to remember. Townshend was especially convivial and candid, reminding those in front how old the Who is, and sharing tales of debauchery with Joe Walsh during his last visit to Santa Barbara.
Townshend, Roger Daltrey and their six-piece band — drummer Zak Starkey, bassist Pino Palladino, guitarist Simon Townshend, keyboardist Loren Gold, keyboardist John Corey and musical director Frank Simes — were ripe with energy and swagger at virtually every turn. I finally embraced Palladino’s smooth bass break on “My Generation.” Hearing “Bargain” from Who’s Next provided ample evidence that the follow-up album to the epic Tommy has more than enough stout legs beyond the mandatory “hits” built into the set.
Generous helpings from both Quadrophenia and Tommy provided heavier fodder to the shorter songs. As images of mods, pinballs and messiahs dazzled the eyeballs, the Who got down to business, especially during the rock operas’ instrumental passages, “The Rock” and “Sparks.” For his part, Roger Daltrey, who experienced voice issues years ago, rose to the occasion on “Love Reign O’er Me” and “Listening To You.” He sang the epic choruses with all the gusto and power of singers a quarter of his age.
Neither Townshend nor Daltrey, in their numerous asides to the audience, breathed a word about Desert Trip, as if to say that tonight’s show was not just a precursor to the big event, but a unique concert all its own. After wind-milling his way through the night’s finale of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” Townshend told everyone he had fun and introduced the band.
Daltrey, who took a tumble during “You Better You Bet” and bounced back with vigor and redemption, expressed a simple, “May you be healthy, happy and rocky.” They played the same set three nights later at Desert Trip. If I make it to Pomona this week for one of Neil Young’s shows, it will almost be like going to Desert Trip without the pageantry and obligation. Seeing two of the six is a lifetime of memories right there.