Saturday, March 12, 2016

Another Fine, Though Not Quite Quintessential, Who Show For Pete's--and Old Times'--Sake -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Who
w/ opening act Tal Wilkenfeld
United Center, Chicago
March 10, 2016

I have derived immeasurable enjoyment and enrichment from seeing great rock artists live in concert.

Ideally I will be able to do so for many years to come, but especially in now much preferring the seated environs of arenas, stadiums and theaters to SRO clubs, halls and festivals, I know of few new rock acts that can fill them like the well-established, long-cherished favorites I predominantly see.

And the truth is, most of those bands are now comprised of senior citizens.

Not that--as many reviews here have effused--the old-timers can't still rock, and often deliver excellent shows far beyond most youngsters of which I'm aware, but who knows for how long?

And the past few months have provided many grim, or simply clear, reminders that it can't be forever.

I'm glad that I made a point of seeing David Bowie, three times in fact, during the first half of 2004, as he never toured after that. One would assume Glenn Frey's death put the kibbosh on future Eagles tours. I never saw Mötorhead but probably should have. The death of Jefferson Airplane/Starship's Paul Kantner reminded that I never saw his bands. And between planning to write this review and sitting down to do so, news came of the death of Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, another legendary classic rock band I never saw live.

Emerson's death has been deemed a gun-inflicted suicide, seemingly as a result of depression exacerbated by a degenerative condition that threatened to curb his extraordinary keyboard skills and end his performing career. 

Back in January, I saw Black Sabbath for the first time, on a tour dubbed The End in part because guitarist Tony Iommi has been battling Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. They were phenomenal, though obviously nearing the finish line (albeit with another Chicago area show booked in September).

Last September, and then less than a month ago, I saw blissfully blistering concerts by AC/DC at Wrigley Field and the United Center, respectfully. But their current tour was just halted with word that singer Brian Johnson--who is 68 yet still quite energized as of the Feb. 17 UC show--was ordered to quit touring immediately or risk completely losing his hearing. The band, which had to replace two other members of their longtime lineup in the last few years, postponed 10 upcoming concerts while they try to find a touring replacement for Johnson, who has fronted AC/DC since 1980 (following the death of previous vocalist Bon Scott).

Another longtime favorite, Rush, who I've seen 9 times going back to 1984, just announced their retirement from the road after legendary drummer Neil Peart hung up his drumsticks due to chronic tendonitis and shoulder problems.

Even Crosby, Stills & Nash, who I've seen with and without Neil Young, now seems to be at least temporarily kaput with Graham Nash stating that David Crosby has treated him like shit and that "there will never be another record or show." Kinda makes me wish I'd gone with my frequent concert pal Paolo to see CSN last year.

Even before the recent rash of classic rock deaths and retirements, a sense that windows could soon begin closing is why--along with great genuine delight derived in the here and now--I made a point of going to see The Rolling Stones last year in both Milwaukee and Detroit, why I go to every Bruce Springsteen show in Chicago, Milwaukee and often other places far beyond and why I've seen Paul McCartney 10 times in locales as disparate as Tulsa, Oklahoma and Paris, France.

It's also why I keep going to see The Who, which despite being down to just Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey from their original legendary lineup, delivered a show I found to be phenomenal in May 2015, which I cited as my 3rd favorite concert of the year.

On their The Who Hits 50! tour, the band--with Pete and Roger long supplemented by Pete's brother Simon Townshend on guitar, Zak Starkey (Ringo's son) on drums, bassist Pino Palladino (who replaced John Entwistle after The Ox's 2002 death) and three other touring musicians--was also booked into the United Center on October 15 of last year.

I didn't have a ticket, but given how great The Who were in May, and that October 15 is my birthday, I probably would have tried to get one if the show hadn't been postponed due to Roger Daltrey coming down with a case of viral meningitis.

Pretty rough stuff for the now 72-year-old singer, who admitted that "there were a couple of days there when I didn’t think I was going to make it."

And all the more reason, beyond everything I chronicled above, why I felt compelled to attend the rescheduled gig Thursday at the United Center.

Granted, the Who's first "Farewell Tour" came in 1982 when I was a high school freshman--my best friend went but I couldn't get a ticket, though have now seen them 10 times in 10 different years since 1989--but as the current tour began Daltrey called it "the beginning of the long goodbye" and stated, "We can't go on touring forever."

So though I wouldn't bet large sums on it, for one reason or another this felt like it could well be my last opportunity to see one of my ten favorite rock artists of all-time, of which only four remain extant (plus McCartney, and to a lesser extent Ringo, still representing The Beatles, and Robert Plant regularly performing some Led Zeppelin classics).

And I'm glad I went, even if--not too damningly, especially as Daltrey is just a few shows into touring after his serious illness--I didn't find The Who quite as resoundingly awesome as I did last May, nor on par with brilliant shows this year by Bruce Springsteen (2), Black Sabbath and AC/DC.

Certainly, especially as this is a greatest hits tour rather than an outing in support of a new album, every song The Who performed was truly a fantastic one. (See The Who's Chicago setlist on

Roger's voice sounded in tune but understandably not all that strong--while noting that I've generally found him to be singing better over the past 5 years than during the 10 before that--so even with the band not matching their past thunder and some iconic musical measures coming off a bit soft and/or sloppy, brilliant songs like "The Kids Are Alright," "I Can See For Miles," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Join Together," "Pinball Wizard," "Baba O'Riley," "Won't Get Fooled Again" and several others were still a joy to hear. (As you can see here, Daltrey nails the scream on the closing "Won't Get Fooled Again," though Pete seems to forget that there's still another verse.)

It was also nice to see Townshend animated and talkative while generally playing strong guitar and handling his vocal parts well, and to learn that "Bargain" is his favorite song on Who's Next. Though as he saluted Chicago for having a "fucking great basketball team!" he might wish to update his stage patter to note the United Center's other primary resident, the current and three-times-in-six-years Stanley Cup champions.

Obviously, Pete Townshend being oblivious to the Blackhawks is no big deal or detraction, and per post-show conversations, many fans in attendance--including Paolo, though we weren't sitting together--likely loved the concert unequivocally.

Again, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, am not saying anything was particularly bad and cannot cogently convey why the show just felt a bit lesser than hoped, but the whole thing seemed a tad too Who by numbers-ish for my tastes.

I am only figuratively referencing band's 1975 Who by Numbers album--especially as the great "Squeeze Box" was sadly dropped from the setlist after being included last year; same for Townsend's earlier first stab at rock opera, "A Quick One (While He's Away)"--but the performance, and even just the overall vibe of the evening, for me rarely went beyond the inherent quality of the included material.

In other words, it wasn't an all-time band at its all-time best, but then many have posited that The Who essentially ended with the death of original drummer Keith Moon in 1978.

I can appreciate that opinion--particularly as it now takes eight musicians to replicate the power of the original four--but if Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey are onstage performing the legendary songs the former wrote and the latter sang, they can damn well call themselves The Who as far as I'm concerned.

And albeit with nothing played on Thursday dating from post-1982, there were numerous moments--most notably on "I Can See For Miles," "Behind Blue Eyes," "You Better You Bet" and Tommy's "Amazing Journey"--when they came close enough to sounding as good as ever.

Cutting Daltrey, and all onstage, some slack just for motoring through two enjoyable hours only a couple weeks into resuming their work after an unexpected hiatus, even on a night a touch shy of sensational The Who aptly served to remind why they are one of the greatest bands in the history of rock 'n roll.

And why I will always be a fan, even after it's no longer acutely possible to see them live.

Whenever that may be.

Opening the show was bassist/singer Tal Wilkenfeld and her band. They played a nice 45-minute set of material with which I wasn't familiar, but seemingly most of it hasn't yet been released anyway.

While Wilkenfeld is noted as something of a bass virtuoso--she's best-known to me for playing alongside Jeff Beck--she seemed content, perhaps too much so, to let her songs and singing be the primary focal point. The opening set didn't bring the delight Joan Jett & the Blackhearts did in opening for The Who at Allstate Arena in May 2015, but was appreciable nonetheless.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Not to mention that Ginger Baker had to quit touring immediately due to a grave heart condition. Unfortunately, an era is fading fast.