Review by Seth Davidson
A review. A retrospective. A memoir.
I first saw the Who live over 40 years ago and have seen them in each of five decades and in two different centuries. Sound overly dramatic? Well that's what happens when a band becomes part of your being. I've seen the Who with every conceivable line-up, in giant stadiums, in venues as small as the House of Blues in Chicago and Kentish Township in the UK. I've been fortunate enough to see them from an up close and personal vantage point on numerous occasions, sometimes by luck, sometimes with a little (or lot of) help from my friends. The friends I've met and made following this band are from all over the world and from a variety of walks of life -- all joined together by one band. MyWIfeDiane says I'm a "Pete Guy", but the truth is I'm a Who Guy.
This Who Hits 50 tour has been a long time coming for me. When tickets went on sale in October 2014 (that's right, 2014), MyWifeDiane was in the midst of chemo. But we figured she'd be recovered by November 2015 when the DC show was scheduled to occur. It was going to be my only show. I went all out and for a moment dead center front row seats were in my grasp. But a Ticketmaster screwup cost me those seats and even though I ended up with front row seats over on the side, I felt a bit disappointed.
Of course, as it turned out (it always does), I had more than one show in my future. First, friends offered me a great seat for Phllly, at the time scheduled to be the tour closer. And in the spring, events fell into place that allowed me to see the band from a great seat at Forest Hills, hanging with my longtime New York fan friends and my original college Who buddy Rod.
So yesterday's much delayed show was special for multiple reasons. The delay, by the way, made it possible for Diane, now fully recovered, to attend, something that probably wouldn't have happened had it gone on as planned in November. And of course there was the very real sense that this will be the last live show by the band I attend. Not that I haven't felt that I've been to my last show before. Indeed, it was a running joke in an annual holiday letter Diane and I used to send out to include a reference to how many times I'd seen the Who for the last time the previous year.
On to the show. By now, you probably have heard how the soundcheck was something of a mess. We knew that various members of the band were fighting colds in Philly and that Pete had lost his voice earlier in the week at the Milwaukee show. So it wasn't a complete surprise that he skipped the soundcheck. (Alan Rogan did his best to stand in for Pete and the presence of a member of the crew wearing a Pete face mask was worth a smile). It was more of a surprise that Roger was late due to traffic, although that also shouldn't have been unexpected -- Diane and i left home (with one of those friends made through the Who, the Waspman aka Joe Pagnam, joining us) for what should've been a 20 minute drive to my office (3 blocks from the arena) but it turned out to be 40 minutes. Still, we were there in plenty of time and, having run into Glenn and Adrienne and their friend Mark, we stopped off for a pre show cocktail. Then we walked over to the arena and were thrilled to see Cynthia Wilson. along with Satan (aka Terry M) himself. Fun hanging out waiting for the show. And since I didn't feel the need to see the opening act again, Diane and I took advantage of a guest pass and found a nice place to hang waiting for the show to start, with the added bonus of running into and getting a picture with keyboardist Loren Gold.
By now you want to hear about the show. I don't know what to say that hasn't been said. If this was my final show it was as good a way to end an incredible run as could be. From the start, it felt special. There were so many friends and neighbors in attendance. Too many to mention, actually. It was my "home court". And my seats were better than I expected -- right in front of Pete, front row.
The sound was better than Philly, in my opinion. In Philly the sound started out great but at some point it got turned up to a distorted level that was quite unpleasant to my Who-worn ears. But DC was clear and strong all night long. The setlist was the same as Philly at the start: Who Are You, The Seeker, TKAA. It was before Kids that it became clear how sick Pete was. He tried to speak and it was basically sounded like a frog being hit with a hammer. I shouted out "Tom Waits Hat, Tom Waits voice" but I don't think he heard. But TKAA sparkled and Pete's guitar playing was outstanding. ICSFM and MG followed, electrifying the crowd. The shift into Quad with Real Me didn't derail the show at all, nor did Pictures of Lily, a song that I was happy to have as a replacement for I Can't Explain (which was the band's opening number for so many years).
A good Behind Blue Eyes was followed by an even better Bargain, with Pete fired up and Roger entreating the crowd to sing out the "Best I Ever Had". Feisty versions of Join Together and You Better You Bet followed.
And then "it" happened. One of the most amazing moments in my Who-concert going history. Pete decided he was going to give I'm One a go. It was a ridiculous decision given what his voice sounded like when he spoke. He croaked out the opening lyrics and tried to turn it into a Tom Waits/Bob Dylan talking blues song. But the crowd wasn't disappointed. It was energized. All around me, people started singing with Pete, helping him through the song. He was visibly moved by the crowd reaction (even as he joked mid song that it sounded like a fucking old man's song). When he finished, the crowd was chanting Pete Pete Pete. And they meant it.
From that point, the show was lifted another notch. The version of the Rock blew away the one from Philly, imo. And Roger nailed Love Reign O'er Me. Oftentimes I think the way he ends the song these days deprives it of some of its power, and while he did go for the deep bass note ending, it did a much better job of hitting it than at the other two shows I saw on the tour. That teed up the next memorable moment: Given the state of Pete's voice, Eminence Front was out of the question. But instead of shortening the show, the band replaced EF with Slip Kid, one of those songs that die-hard fans quest after. I had heard it at Forest Hills, but didn't expect to hear it in DC.
The energy generated by Slip Kid transferred immediately into the Tommy section, with Pete sledgehammering his guitar mercilessly. Roger even did the spitting water in the air thing (maybe that was earlier, who knows). And we got a bird man pose. The final two classics Baba and WGFA closed it out, with an extended ending to WGFA featuring Pete and Pino trading licks and then Pete windmilling and then windmilling some more.
Then it was over. Roger thanked DC, mentioning how the band had been playing here for 49 years. Pete, having discovered that the only way he could really talk anymore was with a falsetto, was all smiles as he thanked us. By the way, the DC crowd deserved the band's appreciation. DC crowds are notorious for being passive, for sitting, for not being "into" it. But this was the best DC crowd I've seen in a long while.
Final notes on the rest of the band. As I noticed in Philly, Pino's bass has been turned up a lot louder than it was back when he first was recruited to step into the unfillable shoes left by John Entwistle. Zak Starkey, who has been drumming for the band longer than either Keith Moon or Kenney Jones, is a force unto himself. And the backing support from Simon Townshend, Jon Corey, Frank Simes, and especially Loren Gold, is never intrusive and always on the mark.
I have a long-running "thing" with a fellow fan Trishee about "crying" at Who shows. Well, it's truly been an amazing journey, and I'm not too proud to admit that my eyes welled up when those lyrics were sung last night.
Review by Pat Stanton
The concert in Washington was very entertaining. It appeared to be close to a sell out and the fans were very lively and into the show. Lots of sing along for the entire show.
Pete is still ill and he told the audience that he had lost his voice completely the day before. He did not attend sound check at all to conserve his energy and voice. He still sang/spoke I'm One and the audience really helped him out singing loudly along with him. He seemed genuinely happy and touched by the response. He received a very loud ovation for even attempting it.
Not surprising, the band did not perform Pete's second song, Eminence Front. After a quick conversation between Roger and Pete, Roger announced that it would not be fair to Pete to have him sing another song as it could damage his vocal cords and that they would attempt a song that they had rehearsed. So we heard a rousing rendition of Slip Kid with almost 100% accurate lyrics. It was great to hear a variation to the set list.
As you would expect, Roger carried the speaking load for the night, with Pete saying very little and what he did say was barely audible. He did sing along on the songs as he normally does or at least he mouthed the words.
In spite of his illness, Pete was fabulous on guitar. It was almost as if he was compensating for his inability to sing with an even more intense musical performance.
Roger was Roger, smiling and laughing with the fans and that singing with extra gusto. The arena was warm and he really drenched himself in his Love Reign bit when he rains on himself by spitting water into the air towards the end of the song. It was masterfully sung as always.
There was a small boy in the front that bounced up and down all night. Roger rewarded him and another young teen in the front with his tambourines from Sparks.
Lots of joint shots as I was between Roger and Pete last night. Hopefully Pete will continue to recover but it is a quick turnaround with a show on Saturday in St. Louis. After that, there is only one more show in Denver next Tuesday on this leg so he and the rest of the band will be able to rest and heal after that for 3+ weeks.
Set list same as other shows except for the last minute substitution of Slip Kid for Eminence Front.