I’m not going to write this as a critic – there are plenty of pundits out there, I’m sure, who will write reviews of Tuesday night’s Who concert to slam Pete and Roger for playing these songs at the ripe old age of 70. But – so fucking what? I’m 50 and this was my (belated) birthday present to myself. If this is the last time Townshend and Daltrey are going out under the moniker of “The Who” – and it’s the band’s 50th anniversary as well – then I’m going to see them once more.
See, The Who are far more than a band to me. Make no mistake; this is not the musings of a fan or a wordsmith – I have loved this band for most of my life. Where The Beatles will always have my heart and Big Star will always have my soul, The Who have always had my mind and my imagination. It is directly because of them, their music and of Pete Townshend, that my life took the trajectory it did when I was 14 years old and decided to pick up a guitar, learn how to play it and then sit down to write songs. No bullshit – no funny business – I owe them everything. So this is also my loving thank you – to see them for a final ride and shout.
So many bands get old before they’ve even had a chance to become classic; most bands become stale pretty quickly. The Who are one of the very few bands I can listen to, revisit, watch and even see live – long after others are long-forgotten. For me, the music of The Who is timeless – and seeing them live – and frankly, it doesn’t matter what era it was – is what a truly powerful live concert experience is all about.
Having the added bonus/treat of having V.I.P. tickets just set the tone for a glorious and memorable night. After check-in, we were led to the floor to watch the band do their soundcheck; Townshend was running late and Daltrey was gracious as he joked how “I think Pete was on his yacht” (he wasn’t – he was just stuck in traffic). Just as they were going to warm up with “Who Are You”, in strolled Townshend, made his funny apologies to the crowd and the band (featuring the brilliant Simon Townshend on 2nd guitar and Zack Starkey on drums) did, indeed, kick into a pretty rousing “Who Are You”; they gave us “Eminence Front” and “I’m One” – then it was off to the VIP lounge, which is a full-service and very spacious bar at the Barclays Center. Endless food, beverages and sweets (all quite good and enjoyable) and then it was time for us (my dearest friend in the world accompanied me) to be led to our floor seats – 8 rows from the stage.
Joan Jett and the current incarnation of The Blackhearts were on; she still is as warm and wonderful a performer as she’s ever been; she has such a great stage presence and natural affection toward the audience that I actually wanted more from her after their brief set – and indeed, an overdue congratulations to her for being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame; she deserves the acknowledgment and accolades.
By 8:45, the lights went down and the thunderous applause was drowned out only by the roaring opening chords of “I Can’t Explain”, then charging right into a powerhouse “The Seeker”. The thing that I was most intrigued about was what I’d heard as the tour was beginning – that The Who were going to dust off songs that they hadn’t done since as far back as the ’60’s. Which is why, even at this late stage, I’d want to see/hear this. And they did NOT disappoint. After a rousing “Who Are You”, Townshend started to tell the story of the next song – which is a cornerstone of my life, as it was the very first song I ever learned to play – and sing – on. That familiar “D” chord rang out and it was an emotional (for me) “The Kids Are Alright” followed immediately by Townshend’s masterpiece, the eternally glorious “I Can See For Miles”.
I’ll grant you, I’ve seen enough Who shows over the years that there are some songs I can do without – but there were also moments of ethereal beauty – like Daltrey hitting the scream at the end of the majestic “Love Reign O’er Me”. Or the fact that they brought into the set the groundbreaking 1966 classic “A Quick One While He’s Away’ – the first recorded rock “mini-opera” (and a song we – The Punch Line – had the balls to do). Even a 1975 “forgotten” piece like “Slip Kid” was a highlight for me – and hey, it wouldn’t be a Who show without “Baba O’Riley” or the climactic “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.
A straight-through set; no encores, but a fair amount of emotion and thanks from the stage went out to the audience and vice-versa. And throughout their history, The Who have always been a part of New York music; for a cavernous arena (which actually sounded great), it became an intimate love fest. And I truly love The Who – always have, always will.
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ set list:
Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)
You Drive Me Wild
Light of Day
Love Is Pain
The French Song
I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll
Crimson & Clover
I Hate Myself for Loving You
The Who’s set list:
I Can’t Explain
Who Are You
The Kids Are Alright
I Can See for Miles
Behind Blue Eyes
You Better, You Bet
Love, Reign O’er Me
A Quick One While He’s Away
See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You
Won’t Get Fooled Again