Saturday, December 01, 2012

Why Should I Care? Because The Who Still Do -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Who
w/ Vintage Trouble
Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL
November 29, 2012

Yes, I lied.

Upon seeing the announcement of The Who’s latest concert tour, featuring their playing Quadrophenia in full, I said on Facebook something to the effect of not needing to see them again, fearing that they would now be running on fumes as a live act.

I held fast to this belief all the way up until getting a presale password a few days later. Able to find a seat at the lowest price point, I couldn’t resist buying a ticket for Thursday’s show at the Allstate Arena, where The Who sellout prompted a second gig on Friday.

And no, it is not 1967 or 1969 or 1971 or any other watershed year in the Who’s storied past, when all four original members were still alive and creating some of rock’s greatest, most intelligent and impassioned music.

And yes, what was once the loudest band in the world now has 8 additional musicians onstage to supplement surviving members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey.

And no, Roger can no longer “still sing a razor line, every time” and Pete is not the hyperkinetic leaping, thrashing and smashing guitarist he was before turning gray (though he did pull out a few windmills).

But yes, The Who still rock. And I’m quite happy I went.

Photo Credit: Scott Strazzante / Chicago Tribune
Though I never saw the Who in their true heyday—a few friends attended their “Farewell Tour” in 1982 (four years after Moon’s death) at the same venue, but I didn’t—Thursday was my 8th Who show since 1989, and while I’ve liked all of them, this one was just as good as any I recall.

My biggest concern going in was Daltrey’s voice, which seemed to have deteriorated substantially when I saw the Who in 2006 and 2007, and when they played the Super Bowl in 2010. Roger is now 68 and still ripped physically, but he just can’t sing quite like he used to, when he was one of the best vocalists in rock history. But though he wasn’t his glorious old self, he was better than I expected and he’s learned to compensate well for the notes he can’t hit. Thus, his vocals were neither a distraction nor a significant detraction.

Plus, as Quadrophenia is a rock opera, Townshend sings more on it than on most other Who albums, and he sounded pretty good in giving Daltrey a number of respites. Pete’s brother Simon Townshend—part of the Who’s touring band along with bassist Pino Palladino, drummer Zak Starkey, a couple keyboardists and a horn section—also contributed some vocals.

Although the Who did a Quadrophenia tour in 1996-97, even featuring guests like Billy Idol and the now disgraced Gary Glitter on the first leg, the choice to do it again—rather than a full greatest hits show or Tommy or Who’s Next in full—proved to be rather satisfying.

At some point I think Townshend was trying to develop a Quadrophenia musical—akin to Tommy, which in preceding both Rent and Mamma Mia helped to revolutionize Broadway by bringing rock ’n roll and classic songbooks to the musical form—but the performance at Allstate was that of a cohesive song cycle, not a detailed dramatic narrative.

In fact, unlike ’96-’97 when the accompanying visuals portrayed the album’s storyline—made into a 1979 movie—of an angst-ridden, scooter-riding 1965 Mod named Jimmy, the videos now largely portray the legacy of the Who itself. Especially moving was an extended video that played behind Townshend on Quadrophenia’s penultimate song, "The Rock," weaving together imagery from throughout the band’s career—including the deaths of Moon and Entwistle—with that of world events. It was a really good reminder of the Who’s amazing journey and their impact on music and beyond.

If you didn’t know the story of Quadrophenia coming in—let alone the specifics—you likely had no better grasp at the end, though it’s essentially about an aimless and emotionally-addled youth (the title loosely reflects 4-way schizophrenia) who’s looking for a sense of belonging and purpose. But with musical and lyrical motifs reoccurring throughout (“is it me for a moment,” “love reign o’er me” “why should I care”), you didn’t need Cliff’s Notes to appreciate Townshend’s tour de force.

The band got a rousing ovation at the end of the album’s performance, after which Daltrey and Townshend spoke for the first time all night, with Pete explaining that there’s really no place to break during Quadrophenia.

Though both Pete and Roger were amiably chatty while introducing their bandmates onstage, they then steamrolled through five greatest hits that while all amazing songs played well—“Who Are You,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again—represented the only part of the show that felt a bit like “Who by numbers.”

For while the full playing of Quadrophenia didn’t allow much in the way of spontaneity, Townshend in particular seemed so energized that any inkling that this tour is mainly about raking in the dough felt erroneous. Even if there are only two Who left and even if they’ve played all these songs many times before, Pete and Roger still appear to love performing their great music for fans who love to hear it. There’s nothing I can really fault about their apparent intent or integrity.

But though the encore songs are likely those that most Who fans most want to hear—and I’m not kvetching about the selection—I’d suggest making the hits portion of the night a bit less rote by rotating in a mid ‘60s gem or two (“I Can’t Explain,” “Substitute,” “Happy Jack,” “My Generation,” “I Can See For Miles,” etc.).

Though it’s not a hit, the night ended appropriately with “Tea and Theatre,” a song from 2006’s Endless Wire album. All the other musicians had left the stage, leaving just Pete and Roger—and the audience with a powerful reminder that two is still much better than none.

Maybe on technical merit, it wasn’t quite a Quadrophenomal performance, but it was close enough for rock and roll of the truly classic variety. And coming on the heels of my meeting Townshend at a book signing on Monday night, it was a thrilling reiteration that though The Who are no longer kids, they’re still quite alright.

Opening the show was a rock 'n soul band from LA called Vintage Trouble. They were rather impressive, especially singer Ty Taylor, who reminded of James Brown and Otis Redding while not quite being at their level. But The Who's audience rightfully seemed to appreciate Vintage Trouble, and I wouldn't mind hearing a bit more from them.

Here's a clip of "Pinball Wizard" from Thursday night that I found on YouTube:

1 comment:

Philip Dela Cruz-Joyce said...

Nice one. Just to let you know, there is a Quadrophenia musical. I saw it in Glasgow, Scotland, a few years back. Can't actually recall when, but I know I wasn't dreaming :-)