August 16, 2000
Review by Shawn Perry
Some 30 years ago, the strength and magic behind The Who was their raw and primal approach to making music. This was never more apparent then when this group of angry, wild misfits took the stage. I witnessed this myself, when I saw them at Anaheim Stadium in 1970. I saw it again six years later at the same venue. I truly believed that The Who were probably the most powerful, energized live rock and roll band in the world. But somehow, after the tragic loss of Keith Moon, the spark that ignited and blasted The Who into the stratosphere -- filled with mayhem and chaos -- was history.
Of course, I've seen The Who and/or a facsimile thereof, on every tour since. I saw them make a remarkable comeback in 1980 with Kenny Jones. They played about five or six shows at the Los Angeles Sports Arena and the Fabulous Forum. Then in 1982, they decided to call it a day, and announced their "Farewell" Tour. Their first farewell tour. They played at the L.A. Coliseum with the Clash. I suspect such a gesture indicated they were passing the torch to the next generation. Then again, maybe The Who were just trying to bring in the youngsters. I can't remember too much about the show because I was sitting about a mile away. Nevertheless, the band was pretty much going through the motions at this point, and it was painfully clear they were finished. Or so I thought.
Brief one-offs like Live Aid didn't seem to stir up any sincere interest in The Who's return. Solo albums from Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle certainly didn't provoke any further enthusiasm. So the inevitable happened: this relatively inactive band decided to mount a 25th anniversary and embellish their sound with a little help from a mob of side musicians. And yes, I was there to witness this spectacle -- a virtual Broadway production of The Who at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego in August of 1989. I can't say the show was completely horrendous, but I wasn't really seeing the same band. Drummer Simon Phillips -- a top-of-the-line and disciplined, jazz-heavy timekeeper whom I've seen with Jeff Beck and Toto -- was simply too precise to emulate the maniacal style of the late Keith Moon. Meanwhile, Townshend strummed an acoustic guitar throughout the entire show and looked pleasantly uninspired. After watching the pay-per-view a few nights later from the Universal Amphitheater, I was beginning to lose my faith in The Who.
Just as I was about to forget who they were -- Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle showed up on HBO in 1996, playing songs from their ill-fated Quadrophenia album. They still had a lot of help -- two guitarists -- one of whom was Townshend's brother Simon trying his damnedest to be Pete - along with assorted horns, back-up singers, percussionists, jugglers, fire-eaters and Gary Glitter. This time the drummer's seat was filled by Zak Starkey, son of Beatle Ringo and a devoted disciple of Moon's. Legend has it that young Zak even received his first drum set from the Loon himself. If this guy didn't fit the bill, then no one ever would.
Once again, when The Who decided to take Quadrophenia on the road, I bought a ticket for their appearance at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim -- just a stone's throw from Anaheim Stadium. I was actually quite taken by the entire spectacle, and was especially pleased when the band finished off with a few rough and ready favorites featuring Townshend at full throttle, windmilling his way through each number with reckless abandon. I hadn't seen the man so wound up in 20 years.
More recently, I went to see The Who for the eighth time at the Verizon Amphitheater in Irvine, California. They're not packing 'em in for multiple night runs or massive stadiums anymore. Musically, however, The Who have come full circle. After all the distractions, the side trips and back-up players, the experimentation and conceptual pieces -- Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle have finally decided to be what they started out as -- a kick ass rock and roll band, pure and easy.
Without Moonie, there are those who'd just as soon seen this band dry up and float away. With that in mind, the members of The Who have plugged in and pulled out all the stops. From the driving force of "Can't Explain" and "Substitute" -- the show's opening numbers -- through rare gems like "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" and "I Don't Even Know Myself," Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle set about proving that they are just as vibrant and alive as they were at the peak of their career. It didn't hurt that Zak Starkey was mercifully pounding out the beat as if the spirit of Moonie had taken over his limbs. Longtime Who sideman John "Rabbit" Bundrick rounded out the lineup with his own stamp of solid and accentuated keyboard work.
With no real album to support -- unless you count the "live" BLUES TO THE BUSH CD -- The Who committed most of their set to staples and hits. Fortunately, their performances of each were far superior to what they've been shoveling out since 1976. The familiar synthesizer passage of "Baba O' Riley" rang true and loud. While Daltrey lacked some of the bite of his throaty bark, he still sounded strong within his diminutive range and was continuously twirling his microphone like a cowboy lassoing a bucking bronco. Meanwhile, Townshend held his own, attacking his guitar as if he were suddenly transformed back into time, taking the stage at Woodstock or the Isle of Wight. Entwistle was as unyielding as a bass player could ever hope to be. I was relieved to see him perform "My Wife" instead of "Boris The Spider." For anyone who has ever dreamed of seeing The Who -- especially Townshend - in their most unrefined state, this tour is the answer to all your prayers.
The pace never slowed down. The Who pinpointed each highlight of their 35-year run with screaming renditions of "Pinball Wizard," "The Real Me," "Who Are You," "Magic Bus," "5:15" and "Won't Get Fooled Again." Personally, I could have gone without another reading of "Behind Blue Eyes," a galvanizing, yet overplayed tune. The lone post-Moon tune, "You Better You Bet," was neither spectacular nor dreadful. My only comment is whether or not it was even necessary. Townshend's solo performance of "Drowned" was an interesting display, but rather predictable in its conveyance. Still, old Pete can bash out some intense acoustical work when he has to.
What do you do for an encore? For a band that used to avoid them completely, an additional half hour was a welcomed surprise. As if "The Kids are Alright" and "Let's See Action" weren't compelling enough, the group who once proclaimed they wanted to "die before I get old," went on to deliver a sizzling version of their angst ridden anthem, "My Generation." Although Townshend didn't smash his guitar at the conclusion (which he has been doing during a handful of shows on this tour), the energy level was certainly redlining its way into the heart of each and every member of the sold-out amphitheater.
As the rumor mill circulates that The Who will actually go in and make their first studio album since 1982's dismal IT'S HARD, somehow the idea of them ever bidding farewell seems absolutely ludicrous. The band I saw in Irvine was just getting cranked up. Which leads me to ponder the following: Who, or rather, what's next? I can hardly wait to find out.
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