This is our classical music.
This was Pete’s show. Not that Roger was not great, not that the vocals were superfluous, it’s just that Pete SHINED!
You know Pete, complaining about his tinnitus, saying he’s got to play behind plexiglass, has to strum an acoustic…THAT’S HISTORY!
The show began with Liam Gallagher, in a poncho on a blisteringly hot night. You can see why his brother hates him, it’s the same thing that makes Liam a rock star, his ATTITUDE! He’s gonna live his life, he’s gonna do what he wants to do, he even spit on the stage, but he needs Noel to make it work, his version of “Wonderwall” was anemic, but if Liam and Noel were in a stadium in England you would have felt it, Oasis are superstars there, but not here.
But the Who pioneered those antics. Moon did whatever he wanted with a grin instead of a sneer. And if you interfered with Townshend…he famously kicked Abbie Hoffman off the Woodstock stage, famously punted a police officer off the boards at the Fillmore East, Pete was busy doing his thing, it was secondary to the fire burning next door, you see Pete was wrapped up in the music.
And he was last night.
Pete came out in blue coveralls, akin to the white ones he used to wear back in the day, like on the cover of “Who Comes First?” You see Pete Townshend came to WORK!
This is so different from today’s acts. Eager to tie up with a clothing company, to design their own attire, trying to chase the tech billionaires.
But they’ll never get there, there’s just not enough money in the tunes. The playing, the audience adulation, that should be enough.
And they turn up the bass in the new music, to the point where your body might shake, but that’s completely different from what the Who are trading in, which is POWER!
Now most acts play with orchestras to fill in the occasional string parts. But last night, the orchestra was an integral part of the show, which began with the “Overture” from “Tommy.”
In the last few decades “Quadrophenia” has superseded “Tommy” in the public consciousness, but it was “Tommy” that was the original breakthrough. The rock opera. With one semi-hit single. Which really didn’t peak until the hoi polloi saw Roger Daltrey implore them to SEE ME, FEEL ME, TOUCH ME, HEAL ME in the Woodstock movie.
Yup, the Who were always pushing the limits. And unlike the hair bands, there were no ballads, no soft songs made to appeal to those who might be afraid, they were not casting a big net, either you entered the door, agreed to get caught, or you didn’t.
I did. First, by “I Can See For Miles,” which they even played last night, I heard it on the Bromley jukebox, I had to buy the single.
But before that, when the orchestra was still in play, they took us on an amazing journey, through music we knew by heart, but was never featured on AM radio. It was too dangerous for Top Forty, it wasn’t made for Top Forty.
Except the one song that came out a few months before the “Tommy” double album. You know the one. That started with an acoustic guitar, and then…an electric EXPLODED IN THE OTHER EAR!
“Ever since I was a young boy
I played the silver ball”
Pinball machines are for museums, but they were part of our youth, as was this track, it’s embedded in our brains, but the amazing thing last night was Pete strummed the intro on an acoustic, furiously, to get that exact same sound, it was a triumph!
People talk about Page. Beck. Clapton. Hendrix.
Hendrix is dead. Clapton is sick of playing God, he’s emphasizing his blues side. Beck still wails, but his material is not that memorable. Page’s is, but without Robert, he’s lost. But Townshend?
Yup, he’s never mentioned in that elite club. But last night…
He switched Stratocasters. You could see him moving his fingers up and down the neck. Sometimes playing sans pick. Using the whammy bar. Running his pick down by the bridge. He was eking out all of the sounds Leo Fender baked into his axe, AND MANY MORE!
Yup, we’ve been so focused on the songs, we forgot about the playing. It started with a guitar. We boomers know. We all bought electrics after the Beatles broke. We wanted in on what they had, all the acts from England, they were one with their instruments, the music was all that mattered, and in its wake came money and women. That’s right, rock made you grow up as you were touring the world, exposed to everything for the first time, with means, not as a JV player, but a member of the varsity, in fact you owned the game.
And after the “Tommy” portion of the program, Pete took the mic and said they were gonna rock harder. And after “Who Are You” came…
A rambling soliloquy from Pete. He was telling a story. Saying “CSI” was not his first TV sync, that, in fact, it started with “Miami Vice,” back in the old days. He said they were gonna play a song…
Well, he was in the swamp, and he wandered off to an outlying building and then he said…this was a song about what happens to you when you take too much cocaine!
“Behind an eminence front
An eminence front, it’s a put on”
Once again, it was the power of the delivery. Not only the band, but the whole orchestra hitting those notes, sending waves of power into the Bowl. Didn’t matter that these songs were not brand new, didn’t feature an 808 or a rap, it was positively present, not only because of the aforesaid power of the musicians, but Pete’s DELIVERY! It seems he sat at home long enough, in truth he was a musician, he had to go out and ply the boards.
And it’s not like it’s not about the money. Deep into the show he said they were gonna come back next year, and then he caught himself and said they weren’t, that they’d taken all the money out of the market. That cracked me up, that’s insider talk, and with three shows at the Bowl with high prices, they probably did!
And “Imagine A Man” from “Who By Numbers” was a complete surprise, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I would have preferred to hear “How Many Friends” from that album, Roger’s heartfelt tour-de-force.
Then Pete sent the orchestra away. It was just them.
That’s when they played “I Can See For Miles.” And “Substitute.” Roger had us singing along with “You Better You Bet.” But then came the piece-de-resistance. Pete sent the rest of the band away, now it was only the two of them. Pete on an acoustic guitar, then again, they don’t have any wimpy numbers.
“We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet”
That’s right, they did “Won’t Get Fooled Again” totally ACOUSTIC! With Roger belting the lyrics and Pete strumming that guitar like he might destroy it. But those days are through, except for the windmills. Oh yeah, they were brought out. That’s the power of an electric guitar and amp, you can make a glorious noise!
It seems we’ve been fooled again. They stole everything with meaning. Music became about the penumbra, the tunes sounded the same, melody went out the window, oftentimes you couldn’t even sing along. The movies were now cartoons, not deep explorations of angst, like “Quadrophenia,” the best rock movie ever made. We got great TV and smartphones, but deep in our hearts we yearn for what once was, when the sound was everything, when you went to the show not to shoot selfies but to bask in the sound, when you knew all the axes and the amplifiers and…
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” is over eight minutes long in its studio incarnation, but Roger and Pete did not shorten it for public consumption, they weren’t worried about burning out the audience, bathroom breaks, they seemed to almost be doing it for themselves, deep in a trance, deep in the moment. This was not a dash for cash, the band played for two hours and fifteen minutes, they gave it their all, goddamn the other twenty two hours in the day!
No one really knows what it’s like to be the bad man, the sad man behind blue eyes. Although these days, we know what it’s like to be hated, at least I do. Used to be musicians were adulated, now they’re castigated.
We had hours only lonely, where we lay on our beds and listened to this music.
“Behind Blue Eyes” demonstrated that the Who couldn’t be classified. It wasn’t just mindless headbanging, as a matter of fact, the lyrics were insightful, and like in this number, delivered sweetly, at least until…
We laugh and act like a fool. That’s what happiness is, letting go.
And then came the “Quadrophenia” part of the show.
But this time there were real strings, not synths.
“Can you see the real me?”
Most definitely not. We were locked up inside, afraid to reveal our truth, back in the era of singularity, before it all became groupthink. Our only release was these records, turns out the players felt what we felt, and it set us free.
Now if you bought “Deep End (Live),” and I most certainly did, I could not break free from Pete and the Who, I was in for the duration, you know the best song on the LP…
“Every year is the same
And I feel it again
I’m a loser, no chance to win
Leaves start fallin’
Comedown is callin’
Loneliness starts sinking in”
It’s that time of year, the one when “Quadrophenia” first came out, when the leaves are gone from the trees, when everybody is buckled down and you feel left out. And what’s next? The dreaded holidays!
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one”
Forget the self-help books, forget the gurus, the business geniuses telling you what to do, if you want to truly be inspired crank a record up to 11, that’s why all the athletes wear headphones before the contest.
So we took a ride on the 5:15, we let love reign over us, and we thought it was done. I mean, that’s how you end the show, right? It’s after 10:30, this is the last number on the double album. BUT NO!
There was denouement. No music. The assembled multitude was basking in the applause. You can sense when a show is done.
I’ve never even watched an episode of “CSI.” But I have seen the intro, which pulses with the sounds of…
“Out here in the fields
I fight for my meals”
We thought back, we remembered, we were brought back to what once was and for this evening still was, we were in TEENAGE WASTELAND!
This was back when you still had free time, before teens were scheduled, spending their summers in some foreign country burnishing their resume for college applications. We could take a break and…
Listen to our records.
Now, this was not a young crowd. Everybody looked old and lumpy. Some were in their concert finery, but at this point we know we’re done, or close to it.
And so does Pete Townshend.
Daltrey looks at least fifteen years younger. He’s still the lead singer. But Pete looks every one of his seventy four years. What hair he’s got is grey. You wonder how much longer he can do this. And then you see him perform last night and you realize FOREVER! Seventy is not the new sixty, that’s what those who are afraid of aging tell themselves. The truth is you are closer to death. And you can’t jump and run, but you can still play the guitar and listen to the music.
It’s not that this Who show was far superior to what came before, it’s not that you have to run out and buy a ticket to say farewell. No, the Who are not retiring, for all I know they’ll die on stage. They’re still performing with the same vigor, it’s positively an inspiration.
It was pure and easy. We all know success when we find our own dream. That was the promise of the sixties, that we could be who we wanted to be, ourselves, that we didn’t have to go to Wall Street, we didn’t have to sell out. But most of us did. But…Pete Townshend did not. We heard the words when he played that guitar.
“There once was a note…listen
There once was a note…LISTEN!”