Review by Joel Naftelberg
Any successful years in the music business would be cause for most bands to celebrate.
But 50 plus years? Imagine that.
Aside from their British counterparts The Rolling Stones, The Who may be the only other band to not only remain popular after a half century, but relevant. And the fact that these bands still put on amazing performances is mind-blowingly impressive.
Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are accomplishing the ‘amazing’ during this extension of “the long good bye” & “The Who Hits 50!” tour, a sensory assault that redefines artists turning 70. The Who remain one of the most incredible live acts performing now or ever. And here they are at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City Saturday July 22 2017.
There is very little to gamble on here. It’s a pretty sure bet that when we go to see The Who perform in this chapter of their careers we’re going to get an energy filled demonstration and delivery of some of the best rock and roll ever created.
At Saturday’s sold-out stop in Atlantic City, the venerable Rock and Roll stars appropriately delivered a two-hour hit fest that showcased the band’s nearly unrivaled catalog of tunes going back to their club roots in 1964. While there is no denying the passage of time, the two men and their band played a remarkably strong 21-song set before a sold crowd of 10,000 in the main arena.
Daltrey, 73, has weathered throat ailments and a bout of viral meningitis in recent years that would have silenced the howl of lesser singers. And Townshend, 72, somehow still plays guitar with the intensity and fury of an angry teenager.
Beginning with "I Can't Explain" and closing two hours later with "Won't Get Fooled Again," The Who mined their ridiculously rich catalog for a crowd that had its share of young faces.
Townshend chided one audience member early in the set saying that neither he nor his kid were around when "I Can See for Miles" debuted in 1967.
The Who's original drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle have long since passed away, and Daltrey and Townshend noted their absence with frequent images of the pair on a giant backdrop screen.
Daltrey and Townshend relied on bassist Jon Button and drummer Zak Starkey to cover for the loss of Entwistle and Moon. Guitarist Simon Townshend and keyboardists Loren Gold, John Corey and Frank Simes rounded out The Who touring band. From my experience, having Jon Button on Bass is giving Pete the opportunity to free lance his playing a bit more than he was able to with Pino on stage. Pete is playing more lead, similar to the way he did on the 2000 Tour.
The show opened just as the band’s career did as Daltrey swung his microphone in a circle and Townshend windmilled his guitar for “I Can’t Explain,” a great opener that still sounds like a cross between The Beatles and The Kinks that helped the band get its initial attention.
The Who played early hits, including “My Generation,” a still-powerful rocker that was even better thanks to an extended version that included a strong and aggressive version of Naked Eye.
Daltrey – keeping his shirt on for this tour - is sounding quite good vocally. Although not able to hit the notes he once did, he managed to nail most of them, particularly sounding stellar on “The Seeker,” a song that rocks as hard now as it did in 1971; “Bargain,” a compelling love song in which Daltrey asked for help on the high parts from the willing crowd; and “Love Reign O’er Me,” which still elicits goosebumps.
The Who offered their smashes such as “Who Are You,” “Baba O’Riley” and the finale “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which also included Pete’s classic rock and roll stage slide… albeit a bit awkward on the landing - I remain grateful that he doesn’t hurt himself trying.
The set also included the stunning “Behind Blue Eyes,” one of the best songs Townshend has ever written; and a “Tommy” suite featuring “Pinball Wizard,” “Amazing Journey,” “Sparks,” and “See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You” that was nothing less that incredible.
Two of the very cool moments of the night were selections from the 1973 rock opera "Quadrophenia." Daltrey rattled the house with the powerful "Love, Reign O'er Me," while Townshend performed a mesmerizing solo acoustic version of "Drowned." We are blessed to hear Pete play acoustic guitar. He makes the music that comes through him & through the guitar seem as if it comes from the heavens. His talent is such a gift from the Gods and we are fortunate to still be able to hear him play.
With two successful rock operas and decades of hits to their credit, The Who faced the daunting task of trying to provide an overview of their career. So it's easy to nitpick what's missing or to look at any shortcomings. On the other hand there are very few opportunities to hear such dedicated pro’s share their craft as our boys have chosen to do. Pete made it clear at one point this evening that neither he nor Roger need the money from these shows. The band may need it The crew may need it. So why are they doing it? Could it be they’re doing it out of love and the desire to give - loving and giving to the old audiences and the new kids in the house. When viewed in that light these shows are more than just a concert - they become an experience… difficult to measure or explain.
The audience did seem quite happy with the choices and was on its feel for songs like "Who Are You," "See Me, Feel Me" and "Baba O'Riley."
The Who stayed true to the original arrangement of most their classic tracks, save for "My Generation," which evolved into a lengthy jam with and a very satisfying version of Naked Eye.
A wonderful show and a beautiful evening indeed. I am very fortunate to be connected to The Who for many years & on many levels - personally & professionally. For any time I get to see them perform and to say hello or bid a fond farewell to my friends in the band and entourage I am extremely grateful.
Is this is the last time I see them play like this ? Perhaps, more than ever, the answer now may just be yes. After this night in Atlantic City I will close by saying I am satisfied. It - the trip to Atlantic City - was a good gamble. I feel like I hit it big at the tables.
Review by Seth Davidson
The Best I Recently Had.
Having seen the Who in five different decades, I'm not about to say last night's show at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City (the place where the Miss America pageant is held) was the "the best I ever had." It would be foolish to compare different eras of the band. But last night was easily the strongest show I've seen in the past several years. Admittedly, many of my Who-friends have seen far more shows during that period than I have; but the fire in the show last night, the excitement the audience felt, reminded me of shows from the 70s. (There, I said it).
It was special. All (well, almost all) the cool kids were there. I think I knew 2/3 of the folks in the front row. Unlike the DC show, where we were directly in front of Pete, last night my friend Christian and I were on the other side - in front of Simon.
Speaking of DC, I gave that show an "8" -- solid, professional - great venue, great sound, great seats, great band, great show. Last night in Atlantic City, in an ancient, 15,000 seat arena, the Who absolutely blew away the DC show. It was loud, it was rough and even sloppy at times, and it was utterly unpredictable. In other words, it was fantastic.
It started innocently enough -- as is more often the case than not, the band opened with I Can't Explain. The first change up was the insertion of Substitute before the Seeker. So already we were up one song over DC. The next part of the set was also in line with previous shows: Who Are You, Kids Are Alright, and I Can See For Miles. Strong solid performances, but no surprises. Between songs Pete and Roger were particularly chatty, with Pete and Roger going on about Trump, trumpeting and an elephant joke that was never told. Pete decided to forego the usual telling of a story to lead into Kids, simply saying it was a song for anyone under 73 years old.
Then things got crazy. After some nice words of tribute from Pete in memory of Chester Bennington of Linken Park, the band kicked into My Generation. It segued into Cry If You Want (as it had in DC) But instead of ending the song, Pete kept playing -- and for those of us who've been around long enough, we could name that tune in one note -- even if we didn't believe it: It sounded like Pete was shifting into Naked Eye, a holy grail song for many Who fans, played regularly in the 70s but not played in the US since 2008. I figured we'd get maybe 30 seconds of it. But it went on. And on. The band looked as surprised as the audience. It was sloppy, it was strange, it was glorious. At one point it sounded like Pete might segue into yet another song. It was five plus minutes of heaven.
From that point on, nothing was the same. The energy from the band and from the audience was off the charts. Behind Blue Eyes, Bargain (with Pete screwing up the lyrics!), Join Together, even You Better You Bet were above the norm. Then another surprise: Relay, followed by a taut, aggressive acoustic Drowned from Pete. (Neither played in DC). The Rock and Love Reign O'er Me were first rate as well. An excellent Eminence Front (again with Pete losing track of where he was in the lyrics), followed by a fierce Tommy section, punctuated with the loudest bass chords in Pinball Wizard I've heard since John Entwistle died (kudos to Jon Button!) and an extended "bird man" from Pete, microphone tossing from Roger and Moon-like drumming from Zak. The final two numbers - Baba O'Riley and Won't Get Fooled Again were strong as always. And even before WGFA began I sensed that Pete would try a power slide. And he did. Throwing his 72 year old body on his knees and sliding across the stage. Or sort of. Seems that Pete failed to note that the stage floor was textured. Friction, of course, won out, stopping the slide just before Pete clunked into a monitor. It too was glorious.
And then, after some gracious closing remarks from Pete and Roger (and Zak handing out four drumsticks to folks in the front row, complementing the bizarre moment earlier in the show when Pete, of all people, collected around a dozen drumsticks from Zak and tossed them one at a time into the crowd), it was over. The gang around 30 strong headed to the Irish Bar where we were still buzzing about the show and our shared experience at 2 AM.
So it was a great great great show. And I would be remiss if I didn't single out in particular Simon Townshend's guitar work. Being directly in front of him (and his very loud monitor) I gained a fuller appreciation of how important he is. His Gibson SG playing was wonderful -- I think Pete sometimes gets credit for playing that is actually Simon's. Plus, we had a few moments (including a thumb's up from Simon to me). It was as good as it gets. The best I've recently had.
Review by Ed Murphy
Is there anything better than a surprise? A Christmas present you weren't expecting... A surprise party in your honor surrounded by loved ones... Your favorite team, pulling the stunning underdog victory. Or how about hearing your favorite song, by your favorite band, on what most likely was the final concert in your town? Such was my luck Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall. In my 40th year of Who fanaticism, Pete and Roger gave myself and a packed house the greatest parting gift possible: a 2 hour and 15 minute musical tour de force. And, in what can only be described as an unexpected delight, the band deviated from the usual setlist of recent shows.
From the beginning, it was clear that this was not going to be just another Who show. The Who opened with the one, two punch of I Can't Explain and Substitute. The latter being played by the band for only the second time this calender year (the only other time was TCT show in March). As the band blasted through the set, the arena sang along to the likes of Who Are You and The Kids Are Alright.
But it was the seventh song of the night, when the show truly reached new heights. In a moving introduction to My Generation, Pete dedicated the song to Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. The Who then tore into a ferocious version of the 52 year old song. The jamming at the end turned into the familiar snippet of Cry if You Want. As Pete was improvising through the chords during the finish, it seemed like he was temporarily lost, eliciting a confused look from Roger. Whether it was intentional or through some ingrained muscle memory, Pete started picking thru the familiar chord structures that was the core of the My Generation jam in the band's glory years... Dsus2, Cadd9, G6/B, and F6... Roger picked up on Pete's playing and started singing the familiar words to the Who chestnut, Naked Eye. The band joined in, and for the first time in three years, an improvised, loose version of the former encore standard delighted the crowd.
As the band rocked through the songs that span six decades, it was simply one incredible performance after another. The packed arena and sweltering July heat made it feel like The Who were prize fighters, defying time as they pounded through versions of Bargain Join Together, and Eminence Front. Relay and a gorgeous accoustic Drowned completed the surprises on the setlist. Pete's unequalled strumming and underrated vocals punctuating the latter.
Roger was absolutely on note all night. It was probably his best vocal performance I've heard in the last four tours. As they played the Tommy set, it appeared the oppressive heat and longer than normal set had taken its toll. See Me, Feel me was good, but the seventy plus age of our heroes was slightly evident. However, in typical Who fashion, Roger and Pete dug down deep, and spurred by the delirious crowd, absolutely nailed the final two Who's Next staples, Baba O'Riley and Won't Get Fooled Agsin.
An amazing, stunning, magical show. Easily one of the greatest shows I've seen in well over a dozen Who concerts. I've never really felt like it was the last time I'd see my favorite band (except for 1982). But something in the way the boys played and talked... It just feels like last night was the ending of an Amazing Journey. And if that's so, Pete and Roger put an emphatic exclamation point on my forty year love affair with The Who. Long Live Rock.
Review by Gina B.
The Who performed an intimate, exhilarating set of 24 songs at the historic Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, Saturday night. The band was personable and tight under Frank Simes, from Simon Townshend’s rhythm guitar, John Corey’s moving orchestral piano solo, Loren Gold’s keyboard and mouth organ into “Baba O’Riley” and certainly front and center it was Roger singing and reaching original notes with Pete windmilling and scratching the guitar strings. Jon Button’s bass could be felt in the floor and stands, along with Zak Starkey’s drumming which could be felt by the seagulls flying overhead the iconic Boardwalk outside.
Albeit before the show began Roger pleaded for no smoking “any type of cigarette, because of allergies” I counted four plumes of the funny stuff coming from the middle of the floor. The first one appeared as soon as the lights went down, and the last was swirling out of “Baba O’Riley” and into “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” When it came time for the audience to participate singing...it seemed everyone on the floor by that last song were made woozy perhaps from a contact high because they were certainly out of time. Roger offered the mic to the audience, coaxing them to sing (as if to say, sing! sing!), and then he could only grin.
Dedicating “My Generation” to Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, Pete talked about his son enjoying listening to Linkin Park and the real loss of his presence to music. Pete was personable with the crowd, too. Stating about the song that “when I wrote it back in 1964, I never imagined THIS” for which he meant the distances the majority of the 10,500+ audience had traveled to see the Who perform, “This lot here,” he continued, pointing down in the front row, “came all the way from Poland!”. And the lot of about four or five jumped and waved their arms, nodding their heads and indicating what all Who fans understand: no distance is too great for seeing the band of bands.
And it was the show of shows with songs spanning 1964’s My Generation to songs from Quadrophenia, Tommy, Who’s Next, to 1981’s You Better You Bet. The band performed throughout. No intermission, no encore. A number of drum sticks were tossed into the audience, Roger swirled the mic carefully as a stunt man, Pete presented the bird pose, a scissor leap, he extended reverb on “Relay,” and he even went in for a slide. It was the Who in top form, giving us a show never to be duplicated, and we were lucky.
Review by Suzanne Coker
So the journey to get there was a hassle, and the return trip even more so, but that's beside the point here. What matters is this: the show was transcendent.
Okay, maybe it's because it's my one show for this tour, and as Roger said at the end of the night, at this point there's no telling if we'll all be back this way again. (I'm paraphrasing; he was a little more specific and talking about himself, Pete, and the band.) It was one of those carpe diem and make it last nights.
But seriously, this was intense. Also ragged and a little crazy in spots, and because of/despite that, absolutely perfect. Lots of serious song intros by Pete, while Roger without saying a word completely and hilariously...well I believe the correct phrase would be took the piss. (Hope I'm using that right.) Also some sort of elephant joke. Then some age jokes by Pete just to balance things out. Also comments about appreciating what some of us go through to travel to shows, given that apparently some of us live in the woods... I've been told there was an attempted knee slide, but can't claim to have witnessed it--my attention must have been elsewhere. More about that in a minute. Beautiful moments between the guys, the rest of the band, and the audience all night long, too many to count or recount. Crowd energy off the charts, which came out especially in the sing-alongs. Just before one song--think it was either Relay or Join Together--I turned around just to get a gage of the crowd and it was impressive. Sometimes I like to be among, but sometimes I like that feeling of being almost tossed between the crowd and the band, and this was one of those nights.
Song by song notes:
I Can't Explain--just the sheer sense of homecoming, of how glad I was to be there and how far it felt like I'd come to get there and how I wasn't the only one feeling that way. Later in the show, introducing one of the Who's Next songs, Pete said "those who've studied the band, who've been to Who University, will already know this..." and I realized there was indeed a feeling of a class reunion about the night.
Substitute--Something about the way Roger sang it, especially the line "my coke for gin," the way he definitely made it sound like small-c coke--not the brand name if you know what I mean, gave this one a new twist. Maybe just me, but I was hearing some interesting undertones.
The Seeker--This always makes me think of a conversation with a younger coworker several years ago, who didn't care for the music that much but was impressed by the lyrics, said he never realized anyone else felt that way. Also "ain't this a smile" tends to bring out my sarcastically goofy side, and given how much of that was going on onstage, there just started to be a lot of it flying around somehow. Part of what made the night great, although the song itself isn't really like that.
Who Are You--This is where the sing-alongs started kicking into gear. Some nights I feel the question in this song, sometimes I feel the horror of that waking in a doorway, and sometimes I feel the third verse, the one about the place where love falls from the trees. This time it was all three.
The Kids Are Alright--Again, it was the way Roger sang it...just a degree of tenderness here I hadn't heard before. Much more focused on the alrightness than the leaving behind, bringing out the self-doubt of that "I know if I go things will be a lot better for her." Not a trace of either goofiness or sarcasm--truly touching, beautiful in an understated way. Bravo.
I Can See For Miles--Yeah, I was singing along. A lot.
My Generation/Cry if You Want/and...well, let's just deal with first things first. Pete's intro dipped into the age jokes to good effect, and led to a wonderfully savage version of it. Haven't seen Roger growl it like that in a while, and Pete was just off the rails--though not as much as he would be later...
Anyway, so they go into Cry If You Want, which I love because it's a good song in its own right, because combining it with My Generation is just such a smart move and enhances both songs so well, and yeah, because it brings back memories of 2008 when it first started hitting home what I'd stumbled on in going to see these guys. Fine. But then...Roger seems to sort of lose track of the words. So Pete, well, he...
STARTS INTO NAKED EYE!
Because obviously the way to save a song that's getting a bit derailed is to go into one that hasn't been played in, like, ten years and can't have been rehearsed.
Which actually does completely save the situation even while being a very shambolic version--because at this point, I promise you, no one is thinking much about Cry If You Want anymore. They're thinking either "what the fuck is this?" or "holy shit! It's Naked Eye!" or maybe some combination. The screen behind them gets all out of sync and no one cares. It's a mess and a wonderful, glorious trainwreck and made a whole lot of people's night and I loved it, not only because it was a rarity but because it was a surprise, an obviously and wickedly spontaneous veering off from the setlist.
Holy Shit. It was Naked Eye.
Behind Blue Eyes--I was still dealing with the previous song and needed a little time to catch up, but still noticed what an intense version this was The vocal harmonies make me think of Roger's solo tours and Frank's work arranging things there; of course this is The Who version in all its glory, but still.
Bargain--Pete introduces by saying it's about "trying to find some sort of Higher Power--at least something more important than some fucking girl. Or boy!" Appreciated the point, and that last little addition to it. Could have some interesting theological/philosophical debates about that, but not during a show write-up.
Join Together--Oh, that crowd energy. And Loren with that weird little mouth-organy thingie. What the hell is that, and is he really playing it? At this point I don't care, I'm just getting happily bounced around by all the huge choppy waves of energy and emotion.
You Better You Bet--Let's just say the raunchy humor of this one really comes out front and center. Roger has a very good laugh at one point, almost too good!
Relay—Pete’s intro comparing the song's concept with stuff going on today, smartphones and all that. You'd think it might bring down the energy, but not with this crowd.
Drowned--Okay, so I'll admit it. When Roger's on stage, I have trouble focusing on Pete. I listen to him, but I don't tend to watch him, because he's not the front man. Front man's job is to make everyone look at him, and Roger is very, very good at that job. He's also a hell of a singer, which is a slightly different thing; not all front men are singers, and vice versa, but The Who is lucky to have the quintessential guy who excels at both. That said, sometimes I feel almost guilty that I don't spend more time looking at Pete.
But at this point, Roger leaves the stage, everyone else just sort of stands around, and we get a look at Pete Unchained. And unplugged. And absolutely fucking gorgeously intense and raging and yes he can sing but what he really, really can do is play a damn acoustic guitar. Flamenco bits and god only knows what else and I am absolutely riveted and loving every second of it.
Which then leads to The Rock.
Now, I've got a history with this one, and some pretty strong associations with a very intense point in my life. And I've seen the video backdrop and felt its effects. And I'm still reeling from that version of Drowned, what it means when Pete sings it, what he's asking to drown in, and this time around it all sort of gangs up on me and I'm really feelin' it, you know what I mean? I'm THERE. And I don't care about hiding or containing it and I don't even want to join in the clap-along because I'm pounding out that drumbeat on the rail in front of me so hard I have trouble using my hands later on that night, and have visible bruises today. I'm pounding that thing out to save my life, just like I used to listen to it, and it ain't nostalgia, honey, and it ain't catharsis, it is revelation. All that stuff on the screen. And all that personal stuff we each have but can't ever really talk about or show, but it does the same thing, and more, on a strictly personal level as a war or disaster does on a world-level. This is what you do with it. This is how you survive it. Turn it into anger. Then use the anger to make something else. It's not just the drowning that saves you. It's also the burning.
And then, Roger comes back on stage. And I ride all of it straight into Love Reign O'er Me, and no, every note might not have been accurate, but it was absolutely perfect, because the emotion was perfect, balanced and intense and focused to a burning point. Something was getting channeled here, all right, and I turned my bruised hands up to receive it. Not only that, but Roger took us on a tour of his range at the end, more controlled than I've ever heard him do it, from just about ultrasonic down to a ground-rumbling profundo almost more felt than heard—you’d have to bury Johnny Cash's voice under a truckload or two of gravel to get that sound
So then Eminence Front, and I put on my best one, and it's a cool down.
Normally the Tommy section is a highlight for me, but tonight the Quadrophenia songs took over. The exception was See Me Feel Me/Listening to You--again, the perfect emotion: that eerie vulnerability at first, then strength, then crystal-clear recognition of others, of the audience, of The Other in general.
Then barnstorming, roof-raising versions of Baba O'Riley and Won't Get Fooled Again. I had just about enough energy left to do a small, relatively restrained "Sufi dance" and that was pretty much it.
Band introductions fun, drumsticks thrown by Zak--and earlier in the show, by...Pete???! and some very heartfelt comments by Roger about the uncertainty of being back this way again. Also the sincere exchange of appreciation between Roger and Pete; Roger saying what we're really here for is the music, and Pete saying that he writes all the time, but doesn't always do anything with what he's written, but if he does, he hopes it will be sung by Roger. That mutual appreciation shows up throughout the night, though sometimes it still has a bit of edge and humor, as during the brief moment when one of Roger's mic swings almost went into Pete's guitar...oops! Quick looks exchanged that conveyed "it happens" and the show went on.
So, so glad I peeled away for this one. Also glad to be home; travel not only reminds me of a larger world and the joys of participating in it, the contrast also makes me appreciate the value of small daily joys and routines.
And PS—I could get to like this guy Jon Button. :)