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Pete Townshend didn’t duck-walk on Monday night. He didn’t curse, or smash his guitar, or clock Abbie Hoffman in the back of the head. In fact, he didn’t do anything of which your mother wouldn’t approve.
Which isn’t to say that the Who in its current incarnation lacks vim, vigor, or even cheek…just that the guys who came to prominence as purveyors of auto-destructive art now seem more intent on self-preservation.
Townshend was the star of the evening—his voice gruff, his guitar crisp, his stage presence spry and occasionally airborne. He also made time for some typically inscrutable bons mots between songs:
On cannibalism: “Someone took the child. They’re gonna boil her in a pot and make soup out of her.”
On the election: “We hope you get what you want tomorrow. And we’re here to share in your misery.”
On disco: “Back then disco was huge. It was pretty great, but it was ubiquitous, and we thought rock n roll was gonna get swallowed up by it.”
“That didn’t happen,” he said after a beat, to predictably massive applause. (And the band launched into—what else?—”Disco Sister.”)
Elsewhere, “5:15” got a powerful workout, including some very horn-like guitar duets from Townsend and his brother Simon; “Love, Reign O’er Me” soared broodingly; and the extended jam in “My Generation” was beautifully propulsive. The only real disappointment was “Gettin’ In Tune,” a ditty on band-audience synchronicity and a favorite of mine. Monday’s rendition worked until what should have been the coolest bit: the Daltrey-Townshend harmony on “there’s a symphony that I hear in your heart / sends my head a-reeling.” Daltrey entered a good four bars early, sending the band into a minor tailspin (from which Townsend quickly rescued them). It was an awkward moment—if amply redeemed—and I was left nursing a weird sympathy for the lead singer.
Oh, and while we’re picking nits: the mix. Townshend’s guitar approach depends so much on chordal isolation (cf. turnaround in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”), which in turn requires a rhythmic space that the current six-piece lineup doesn’t preserve. Instead we get a wall of sound and a sporadically muddled version of the classic Who attack. Also: Palladino needs a treblier bass if he really wants to capture that Entwistle sound.
But, you know, whatever. These guys soldiered through over two hours of (yes) maximum R&B, hitting all the right spots in their catalog without seeming to sag too hard. For sexagenarians, that takes balls and blood sugar.
“I feel like I’ve been through ten rounds with Mike Tyson,” Daltrey said at the end. “But it’s been a pleasure.”
Below: setlist and a very special slideshow of photographs by Brian Reed.
- “Can’t Explain”
- “The Seeker”
- “Who Are You”
- “Behind Blue Eyes”
- “Real Good-Lookin’ Boy”
- “Disco Sister”
- “Baba O’Riley”
- “Gettin’ in Tune”
- “Eminence Front”
- “Love, Reign O’er Me”
- “Won’t Get Fooled Again”
- “My Generation”
- “Naked Eye”
- Tommy medley: “Pinball Wizard” -> “Amazing Journey” -> “Sparks” -> “See Me, Feel Me” -> “Listening to You”
- “Tea & Theatre”