Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Kids, of 70, are More Than Alright: Celebrating Anew as The Who Rock Rosemont -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Who
w/ opening act Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Allstate Arena
May 13, 2015

Back in October 1982, early in my freshman year of high school, The Who played the Rosemont Horizon--now known as Allstate Arena--on what was dubbed their "Farewell Tour."

This was back when Pete Townshend had a full head of brown hair, jumped around like a whirling dervish and didn't knowingly suffer from a constant ringing in his ears (a.k.a. tinnitus).

When Roger Daltrey "could still sing a razor line, every time" and presumably--unlike Wednesday night--wasn't asking pot smokers to kill their buzz because he was allergic to the smoke.

And although it was 4 years after original drummer Keith Moon died, it was 20 years before bassist John Entwistle would pass in a Las Vegas hotel room with hookers and blow.

Theoretically, that tour was the end of the real Who--one of rock's greatest bands, which had a phenomenal run since 1964--and was calling it quits "before I get old."

But as I hadn't yet turned 14, and couldn't get tickets, I didn't go. My best friend Jordan did, and I remember it being a huge deal, as the Who were one of the most revered groups among those I knew--it obviously didn't hurt that they sang about "teenage wasteland," or that they were known as the "World's Loudest Band" for playing at 127db or something crazy like that.

The Who had another concert at the Horizon that December, and I remember being just a few callers away from winning tickets in a radio giveaway.

Like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, I figured I had missed out on The Who, being born just a few years too late.

But while 1982 might have marked the end of the true Who--which many would argue had come with Moon's death in '78--"Farewell" didn't really mean forever.

After the Who reunited in 1985 for LiveAid, they would seemingly eventually realize that there was nothing better--or at least more lucrative, in terms of both money and adulation--they could do than be Who they had been.

I first saw the Who in 1989 at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin (thanks to my mom coming to the rescue when a friend got ill). Then again, at other venues, in 1996, 1997, 2000, 2002--just 2 weeks after Entwistle's death--2006, 2007 and 2012.

Most of the time they were really good, or at least good enough for me. With 6 musicians--including Townshend's guitarist brother Simon and drummer Zak Starkey, son of Ringo--now rounding out the sound around Townshend and Daltrey, as long as Pete's guitar playing was energized and Roger's voice was strong, it was always a joy to hear the songs from the Who's glorious catalog.

Such was also the case Wednesday night at the Allstate Arena, formerly the Rosemont Horizon...

...33-1/3 years after I thought I had missed the Who forever.

As The Who Hits 50! tour rolled into town, perhaps a year past true accuracy, what could have simply been a sentimental celebration was truly a kick ass rock concert showcasing one of the best acts in history.

Yes, at 71, Daltrey's voice is far from the brilliant instrument it once was, and in an anti-rock star move, he asked those "smoking Mother Nature" to please extinguish their joints, but like when I saw The Who in late-2012, I found his singing surprisingly good (having found it faltering on earlier tours).

And sure, as he'll turn 70 on May 19, Townshend recently told Uncut magazine: "The shows? I don’t like them. I don’t find them fulfilling. But I’m brilliant at it. I find it incredibly easy. I drift through it."

Which might not be what those paying $154 for prime seats want to hear--though Allstate's cheaper seats were the ones much more sparsely filled, indicating the Who playing Rosemont isn't quite the story it was in 1982.

But if Pete doesn't care, and Roger's roughing it out, and Keith & John are sorely missed, and The Who Orchestra seems a bit at odds with the roar the foursome once made, and it isn't 1982, or 1971, or 1967, you know what kids?

The Who are still alright. And even--compared to most bands today if quite not their old selves--fantastic.

The show started promptly at 7:30 with a terrific opening set from Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.

Now in her mid-50s, Jett is herself a rock 'n roll pioneer, having been in the all-female Runaways while still in her teens. Her set included two songs from that group--"Cherry Bomb," "You Drive Me Wild"--and originals or covers she made famous while fronting the Blackhearts.

These included "Bad Reputation," "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)," "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," "Crimson and Clover" and "I Hate Myself for Loving You."

I enjoyed that she did "Light of Day," which Bruce Springsteen wrote for her 1987 movie of the same name with Michael J. Fox, and would have enjoyed Jett's newest tune, "Make It Back," if the oft-repeated lyric "I hope this train don't fall off the track" didn't make me squeamish a day after the tragic train derailment in Pennsylvania.

But in full, Jett's 40-minute set was quite fun, and the Who took the stage at 8:45pm, opening with "I Can't Explain."

Though their setlists aren't varying much from show to show--see Wednesday's here--The Who have put together an impressive survey of their remarkable catalog.

Having seen Quadrophenia played in full in 2012--and also 1996 & 1997--with just a few greatest hits at the end, it was a pleasure and a great complement to hear the Who mine their full (well, 1964-1982) past with songs like "The Seeker," "Squeeze Box," "Join Together" and "A Quick One (While He's Away)," Townshend's first stab at writing a rock opera.

With Daltrey sounding strong--at times perhaps even too strong--in present tense the Who amply illustrated the brilliance of their past.

Not only were we reminded that Townshend pioneered the rock opera--with bits of Tommy and Quadrophenia including a guest appearance by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder on "The Real Me"--but that as in the case of "The Kids are Alright," "My Generation" and "I Can See For Miles" he penned '60s pop classics as good as anyone before taking leaps forward.

My favorite Who album, Who's Next, was represented by great takes on "Bargain," "Behind Blue Eyes" and the magnificent show-closing tandem of "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again."

Beyond just playing a bunch of songs I loved, this Who concert served to reiterate that this was truly one of the top handful of bands rock has ever seen (and I couldn't help but think about 1966-69 London when the Who, Stones, Beatles, Kinks, Cream, Jimi Hendrix and others were pushing each other to continually break new ground).

I'm not suggesting that this was close to being among the greatest concerts I've ever seen, and it undoubtedly won't wind up being my favorite of 2015.

But over the past couple weeks, I loved--and bestowed @@@@@ or @@@@1/2 on--shows by Manic Street Preachers, The Replacements, the Jesus & Mary Chain and The Waterboys, and I enjoyed The Who well beyond any of those.

I'll always be dubious, but it's been suggested that this might be the last large-scale Who tour. But they're already booked to play Chicago at least once more, on October 15 at the United Center.

Especially as that's my birthday, I might have to be present. For the Who have been a gift that keeps on giving.

Long live rock, and long live the Who.

"Join Together" with the band...

1 comment:

Ken said...

Seth, thanks for the review. Although I missed this one, I still remember those glory days when Hendrix, Cream, Beatles, the Who, etc. WERE pushing each other to test the limits. Darn it! I should have gone, for Pete's sake!!