The Who, US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ- 2/28
Seasons will pass you byI get upI get downI get upI get down, down, down – “Close to the Edge,” Yes
Truth be toldthis is the fifth time I’ve seen The Who over various years after announcing their breakup and subsequent farewell tour in 1982. I had heady older sisters as the ancient tale goes and I got into rock fairly early (as I noticed some of my illustrious jamband colleagues did, as wella prerequisite for literary pursuits or just early senile madness?) “Well, one should just go away without announcing anything, shouldn’t one?” I hear Keith Moon suggest. (Yes, but you had that weirdly prophetic message “NOT TO BE TAKEN AWAY” written on the chair you were sitting on in the photo on the cover of the final full band Who album, Who Are You.) “And return when you bloody well feel like it,” I hear Pete Townshend conclude. (Yes, but if you never go away, how can we miss you? I read on a passing bumper sticker.)
However, at this point, the question is begged as to why, actually, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshendhalf of the greater Who wholefeel a need to flog this extremely dead and glue-factoried horse? SureTownshend managed to pry himself away from polishing his past accomplishments by recording some new material for a Who album for the first time since 1982’s It’s Hard and the work is damned adequate but, I can’t quite help thinking that the man can’t let go. And DaltreyDaltrey certainly is in no position to help Towser’s release from his storied pasta past, where if you do your research, blossomed from 1965 through 1973, faded in the mid-70s (albeit with fantastically loud live shows) and had a brief comeback in 1978 before Moon passed away, which should have closed the chapter on the Who career. Unlike Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page who has been more than comfortable acknowledging that his back catalog is still relevant today and feels no need to enhance his legacy with new work, Townshend has played historical Yo-Yo with his Who catalogdipping up-and-down in oo activity depending upon his interest level and his former band members’ economic status.
Now we have 2007 and The Who is on the road with a new work but is this really THE FUCKING WHO? At least Page and Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant had the decency to reinvent their back catalog, write a new album that didn’t adhere to past brand restrictions and, for crissakes, NOT call it Led Zeppelin to get a few more knickers and panties in seats. (Although Page being Page, I think he’d call it the Mighty Blimp if he desired, casting another dark spell on Jones and Plant to obtain their involvement. Case in point: their cooperation with the miraculous gold mine that was 2003’s self-titled DVD and 1972 L.A. audio companion piece, How the West Was Won. As legacies go, there is no modern musician who is more in tune with his band’s majestic mystique than Jimmy Page with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in a distant tie for second.)
“The show?” One asks. “What about the show, dear grouchypuss jamband eccentric?”
Itahemrocked. For all their pathetic mixture of nostalgia and “oh, but we are still young cats” cantankery, Townshend and Daltrey can command a stage and deliver (with some rather large vocal reservationssee conclusion). With the obligatory opening number, “Can’t Explain,” the six piece band roared out of the dusty gates and spun a real mean hard rocker with appropriate old and new Who films playing on the backing screens. The sextet begat Daltrey on hoarse-and-spit vocals, Towser on power chords and vocals, brother Simon Townshend on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, the ever-reliable and 11 (?!) year Who veteran drummer, Zak Starkey, Ringo’s son and quite a formidable skin and cymbal basher with 31 (?!) year Who veteran keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick who goes back to the Who days when they played a Bill Graham’s Day on the Green show co-headlining two dates with the Grateful Dead.
“The Seeker” and “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” followed and that seemed to put an end to the very old Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy greatest hits segment of the program. Eventually, they entered new frontiers, and that is certainly a large leap over the other four times I saw the band which didn’t acknowledge anything remotely new. Having said all of that about flogging one’s career to fleece a comatose and lazy-earred public, the evening was a pleasant blend of old magic and a healthy offering of songs from their new album, Endless Wire. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the new work plus its fine translation to the stage is “Wire and Glass”Townshend’s first mini-opera since The Who Sell Out’s (a prophetic title considering the overt commercialism of this tour) “Rael,” which lead to Tommy and the end of the first great singles band-era’ version of the Who. Townshend’s classic concept album period followed but, unfortunately, that spawned many later works of self-indulgent navel-gazing. (And continues, as he asks for reader “comments” on his blog about his upcoming memoirs. Is there anything a rock fan doesn’t know about the man at this point? Why ask? Just publish the fucker.)
“Wire and Glass” and, surprisingly most of the other new material, worked quite well but, sadly, the biggest goosebump moment of the night occurred when the band slipped out of the engaging mini-opera and segued into a sublime sequence of Who classics: “Baba O’Riley,” trippy anime meets Matrix graphics on the backing film (and Towser: “I looked out at the aftermath of Isle of Wight and thought: “Teenage Wasteland!”); “Eminence Front,” from the Who’s final pre-farewell (#1) album, It’s Hard, which has held up very well after 25 years on the shelf, and featured Townshend at his rock rhythm guitar god best with hot, intense power chords being ripped out all over the stage as he slammed his guitar with a brutal force like it was ’77 and not ’07. As a rhythm guitarist, Townshend appears to have found his former angry phrasings and this coupled with his new songs and lyrical content may mean that the complex artist can still find fresh tunes in his murky bag of tricks. The less said about Roger Daltrey’s vocals, the better. The man has always been Townshend’s best interpreter of his lyrics but his voice has deteriorated so much over the last two decades that he probably shouldn’t be pushing his luck for too much longer. And yetif there are still well-financed old school boomers who are willing to shell out a C note to see their old gods than wellwho am I to stop the wheels of commerce? I just find it hard to open my moth-riddled wallet for old glories and twenty minutes of potential new insight into our modern times.