In Concert: The Who Hits 50(+1)

Last year The Who launched a world tour in honor of the band’s 50th anniversary. The show was supposed to land in St. Louis in May. My wife, wonderful woman that she is, bought a pair of tickets for the concert for my birthday.

Roger got sick and the show was postponed to a later date. I don’t remember when the later date was because when it rolled around the concert was canceled again. The Pete-and-Roger show finally made it to town last night, roughly a year later.

imgresNow it’s no secret I love The Who but let’s be honest: We’re really down to Half-a-Who now. Sure, Pete and Roger have always been the main drivers, but Keith and John were important too — and Moonie’s been dead for decades. What’s left of the “My Generation” gang are now in their 70s. Can they still rock? I mean, I loved The Monkees concert last year but those boys really need to retire.

The show was set to begin at 7:30 p.m. with opening act Tal Wilkenfield. Sigh. It’s the 21st Century, why must we still put up with opening acts? She was fine, but (a) I didn’t pay to see her; (b) The Who have a strong enough catalog they can front a show without an opening act; and (c) I’m old, the band’s old, most everyone in the audience was as old or older than we were — we want to get to bed at a decent hour.

(To make matters worse, if the band had showed up last year as scheduled, the opening act would’ve been Joan Jett. If I have to put up with an opening act, at least let it be someone I’ve heard of who has a strong collection of songs of her own.)

We put on our Union Jack T-shirts that we picked up in London years ago (mine is faded and, yes, a little snug) and headed to the Scottrade Center. After parking a mile away in a frighteningly isolated corner of the Union Station parking lot and going through the metal detectors (really? metal detectors at a Who show? You’re more likely to die at a Who concert by being trampled to death than shot.) we got into the hall as Tal took the stage. Good timing, except that it’s hard to find your seat when the lights go down.

Tal did her 45 minutes and it was decent but I won’t be rushing out to buy her new
CD. During the break we went out to check the merchandise but I have my Who mug so I don’t need anymore memorabilia. Back in the hall they were showing photos on the big screen behind the stage with Who trivia and ran an interesting bit on the band’s history of shows in St. Louis.

Pete, Roger and company took the stage around 8:45 and ripped through an entertaining 21-song set that nicely covered the band’s 51 year career. I was very impressed with the setlist (see here, if you care: If I had to pare The Who’s music down to 21 songs it probably would be pretty close to what we got last night. OK, I might’ve swapped out “Pictures of Lily” for something else, but not sure what.

When you’re dealing with a band you’ve seen multiple times, there’s always the issue of how do you keep things fresh when playing songs the audience has heard over and over. For this show the band used old photos and video blended with new animation to illustrate the music on the giant screen behind the band. It was often mesmerizing and frequently trippy. I thought it really added to the show. Especially when you’re sitting far enough away from the band that the musicians on stage look like Ant-Man and Yellowjacket.

jointogether01jointogether02jointogether03Visuals for “Come Together” by animator Ben Ib

As to the musicians — Zak Starkey, son of Ringo and Who drummer since 1994, continues to prove himself as the musical heir to Keith Moon. Pino Palladino makes a decent, if not as flashy, substitute for John Entwistle on bass. They were joined by Pete’s brother Simon on guitar and Loren Gold, John Corey and Frank Simes on keyboards/miscellaneous.

Now to the main players: Pete Townshend’s guitar playing has not diminished with age. He still plays and windmills with as much enthusiasm and skill as ever. His voice, well, he can’t hit the high notes like he used to. He blamed a recent bout of the flu for his croaking the way through his two solos, but I suspect age has played a part in it.

That put all the vocal pressure on Roger Daltrey. I was worried about this, since Roger’s illnesses were what pushed the show back to begin with. But Roger really stepped up. He sounded great and carried the vocals for most of the show. There was even more pressure on Roger now with John gone and Pete unable to sing like he once did. But he screamed and sang as well as ever. He doesn’t spin his mike cord as much as he used to, but he did have it flailing about in the set’s later songs.

I also liked how, when the show was over it was over. No standing around and applauding for 10 minutes waiting for the pre-determined encore. That’s so tiresome and fake. They played their show, introduced the band, thanked everyone for coming, and left the stage.

I doubt The Who will be back this way again and that’s fine. It was a great show to wrap up a great run.

Rock is dead, they say? Long live rock.




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