Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Who Are You?

I went with my 14-year-old son to The Who concert in Indianapolis Tuesday night. On the drive over we got behind a white stretch limo. The limo was heading towards the arena in which The Who was playing, and my son and I speculated that the car’s occupants were indeed the legendary English rockers. We’ll never know, of course, but I can fantasize, right?

I wasn’t quite sure what to except from the concert. I’d seen a short video clip of the reconfigured band playing a small hall in England in late 2006. The footage was great and showed guitarist/songwriter/mastermind Pete Townsend wind-milling away and Roger Daltrey enthusiastically belting out songs. But would the group bring it’s “A” game to Indianapolis? Would the physical strain of touring dampen their enthusiasm and take the sharpness off their performance? I mean, these guys aren’t youngsters; both Pete and Roger are in their early sixties. Would this show live up to the group’s legendary past and high audience expectations?

The answer, of course, is a resounding “OH YES!” The Who rocked the hell out of the Conseco Fieldhouse Tuesday night.

The show opened with the crisp guitar chords of “I Can’t Explain” (1964), and rocked through “The Seeker” (1971) and “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” (1965).

Between old classics, the band tossed in new songs from “Wire and Glass,” the first new Who recording in 25 years.

The new material was very good, but suffered a bit in comparison to the older songs. I mean, how do you compete with “We’re not Gonna Take It” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”?

Townsend ruled the night and rocked harder than seemed possible, especially on songs thirty and forty years old. No rote playing here. No going through the motions, slogging through the hits. Pete attacked his guitar with passion and urgency, showing a freshness and conviction that would put musicians a third his age to shame. To put it a little indelicately, Pete made that guitar his bitch.

Singer Roger Daltrey is a true soldier of rock ‘n’ roll, his voice battle worn and raw, but ultimately beautiful…every rasp and growl a hard-won badge of honor in an amazing career spanning four decades.

The rest of the band was in fine form as well, with excellent support by keyboard player John "Rabbit" Bundrick, guitarist Simon Townshend (Pete's younger brother), bassist Pino Palladino, and drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo’s son and a fine successor to the inimitable Keith Moon).

The show’s intensity kept building until it exploded with a near atomic version of “Baba O’Reilly,” truly the highlight of the night. After a standing ovation, an obviously appreciative Townsend thanked the audience and remarked that the song had become a sort of soundtrack to a lot of people’s lives, and it meant a great deal to the band that the song meant so much to the fans.

Pete’s words were quite touching and showed that Townsend understands that the songs ultimately belong not just to the artist but to the audience as well. Tuesday night’s music – and, in fact, The Who’s entire catalog – belong to the fans who treasure the songs and keep them alive.

During an extended version of the classic “My Generation” (interspersed with 1982’s “Cry If You Want”), images of young people from the 1950s through today flickered on the video screen behind the band, transforming a song about youthful rebellion into a universal anthem: “My Generation” is your generation and every generation. The children of the 60s make way for the children of the 80s, and so on.

The line “hope I die before I get old” takes on new meaning 42 years after Townsend first wrote it. It seems less about physical aging and more about maintaining a youthful outlook by staying passionate about life. If this is the case, Tuesday night’s show proved that it’s going to be a long time before Pete Townsend gets old.


larry said...

I saw The Who in Chicago Monday night. Awesome show! Zak Starkey drums like a madman!

stan said...

the rock and roll is very good fo rwatching and hearing yes?

what is bands name? why is people callin git who?

David said...

Thank you for your well written review of the concert. I'm taking my 9-year old to see them in D.C. tonight and I've been following reviews of the recent shows to know what to expect. Sounds like we won't be disappointed!

After recently watching "The Kids Are Alright" it's hard to believe we actually get to see these guys for real after all these years. It's living history, and history still being made.