When the Who booked an outdoor show at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park as part of their Moving On! tour, fans and band alike anticipated a great night of classic rock in fine spring weather. Ticketholders on the lawn encountered soggy seats, and everyone felt the chill of the 50-degree ambient temperature that was cooled further by a steady breeze. “I hope we can warm it up a bit for you,” said guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend as he welcomed fans from the stage. “They tell me tomorrow’s going to be 80 degrees!”
Chicago-area fans are a hardy bunch, so attendance was strong and spirits were high despite the chill. It wasn’t a show any Who devotee wanted to miss. The British rockers certainly weren’t the first veteran act to present their music with an orchestra, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a band with a repertoire as perfectly suited to the format.
The principal players have tested the waters on their own. Last summer, singer Roger Daltrey toured a symphonic version of seminal 1969 rock opera Tommy that visited Ravinia. Townshend brought his Classic Quadrophenia to the Rosemont Theatre in 2017, in support of Teen Cancer America. The Moving On! Tour, however, is the first such excursion under the Who banner.
The show leaned heavily upon those two influential rock operas, featuring abridged versions of Tommy and 1973’s Quadrophenia. The marriage of rock band and symphony on dramatic instrumental pieces like Tommy’s “Overture” and “Sparks” or Quadrophenia’s “The Rock” was so natural, it’s a wonder that the Who never attempted it in the past. Daltrey and Townshend let their enthusiasm show during “Amazing Journey.” Townshend tore at his guitar with furious windmill strokes. Daltrey slung his microphone in twirling arcs along its cable, eventually scoring a direct hit onto his drinks placed on a small table in front of Zak Starkey’s drum set.
Well-seasoned rockers like the frenetic “Pinball Wizard” didn’t require the extra orchestral majesty, but nor did they suffer. By contrast, the already-powerful crescendo of 1978’s “Who Are You” punched a hole in the sky with the heightened symphonic energy under Keith Levenson’s direction.
The band were clearly thrilled by the powerful accompaniment. Townshend stopped to thank the expansive 52-piece ensemble more than once. He praised the classically-trained players’ dedication and craft, stating that not one of the experienced rockers on stage could match skills against the symphonic musicians.
The guitarist led a lashing version of “Eminence Front” from 1982’s It’s Hard, allowing himself to channel the moment inspired by the symphony’s measured precision by trading agile Richard Thompson-styled guitar improvisations in place of some of his lyrics.
The barrel-chested Daltrey was in fine voice, hitting high notes with power and precision on full-throated rockers like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “The Real Me.” Daltrey dug deeper for the stirring “Imagine a Man,” relishing his emotive character-acting role on the rarity from 1975’s The Who by Numbers. Daltrey also brought the crowd into the act, hanging his microphone over the heads of the first rows and conducting a singalong during the choruses for “Join Together.”
Afterward, Daltrey took the opportunity to speak his mind, while zipping his puffy black jacket to the neck. “How do you do it?,” he asked, comically. “How do you live in this place? Hasn’t anybody told you? It’s f---ing May! It’s almost summer!”
Townshend came to audience’s defense. “Roger has somehow made it your fault,” he said, before joining with tongue-in-cheek. “You dirty, f---ing, thieving, filthy bastards – can’t even get the weather right!”
The symphonic segments bookended the show, with a more conventional rock set in the middle that leaned upon the conventional touring line-up of the Who. A rollicking version of “The Kids are Alright” and brash “The Seeker” gave Starkey focused attention and a chance to shine, although his show-stopping piece came later amid the symphonic thunder of “The Rock.” The middle set also provided Daltrey and Townshend with time alone on stage, as the two surviving original band members played a stripped-down but intense version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Townshend’s acoustic guitar accompanied the voices of Daltrey and the audience with Spanish guitar strumming and flamenco flourishes. The duo was joined by cello and violin for “Behind Blue Eyes.”
Before continuing, Townshend paused to talk about the Who’s new album-in-progress. “We’ve nearly finished it,” he said. He then proceeded to gripe about the cycle of recording, touring and recording. “What a f---ing life,” he said in mock exasperation. “And you know, the f---ing money’s rubbish!”
Fearing that the audience were taking him seriously, Townshend came clean. “I don’t know how I get away with it,” he said. “You should be booing me!” Naturally, the crowd took the hint and gave Townshend a spirited booing. “Thank you,” said Townshend with a satisfied smirk.
Daltrey and Townshend finished the middle set with the intimate “Tea and Theatre,” a memorable and moving song from 2006’s Endless Wire.
The symphonic Quadrophenia segment followed with favorites including “5:15.” Townshend led “I’m One” and “Drowned” with his gruff vocal and nimble finger-picked acoustic guitar. Daltrey powered through “The Punk and the Godfather,” and gave a spine-tingling version of the magnificent “Love, Reign O’er Me” to conclude the Quadrophenia cuts.
“We really appreciate you giving us such a warm welcome on such a cold evening,” said Townshend. “It’s hard to keep your instruments in tune [in the cold], but I think we’ve managed pretty well.”
The show-stopper was “Baba O’Riley,” heightened by the dervish violin of concert master Katie Jacoby, who returned to Chicago after her Ravinia performance of Tommy with Daltrey last summer.
Area fans have a chance to experience the Moving On! tour without their parkas and ski caps in early September, when the Who stops for two nights at Alpine Valley Music Theatre.
This review appeared at illinoisentertainer.com.
In the Music Spotlight: The Who
Who likes symphonic music?
Last summer, Roger Daltrey visited Ravinia Festival with a band including contemporary Who sideman Simon Townshend to perform the groundbreaking 1969 rock opera “Tommy.” The group was accompanied by a full orchestra. The format was a surprisingly natural fit for songs like the captivating “See Me, Feel Me,” frenetic "Pinball Wizard," and rebellious “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
A live album called “The Who’s Tommy Orchestral” is set for a mid-June release. “Adding all of the orchestration to enhance the root of the rock band is a magical experience, and ‘Tommy’ is the ideal music for the two together,” Daltrey told the Sun-Times in 2018. “After seeing a lot of grand operas, I think ‘Tommy’ is one of the best operas ever written.”
In 2017, Who songwriter and guitarist Pete Townshend focused on a different rock opera, bringing “Classic Quadrophenia” to the Rosemont Theatre in support of Teen Cancer America. Townshend’s 2015 album of the same name featured songs including “The Real Me” and “The Rock” performed by England’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The cast in Chicago included UK tenor Alfie Boe, rocker Billy Idol and Who disciple Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.
Based on such recent, critically-praised activity, you’d think that Townshend and Daltrey would be unified in their desire to combine their solo experiences to bring magnificent strings and brass to concerts under the Who banner. The pair are attempting just that with their Moving On! tour, performing with a 52-piece orchestra. The set list features Reader’s Digest overviews of “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia,” while also digging deep for singles including “Eminence Front” and fan favorite rarities like “Imagine a Man” from 1975’s “The Who by Numbers.”
The ambitious concept hasn’t been without turmoil, however. On the “Moving On!” tour’s opening night in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Townshend made a snarky statement from the stage. “I just think this is a sh-- idea Roger [Daltrey] had,” he said.
There was ample sarcasm at play, of course. The provocative guitarist was expressing comic frustration at having to reign his instincts for rock abandon in order to accommodate the measured precision of symphonic accompaniment. The outspoken Townshend has notoriously blown hot and cold about his band throughout his career. Chances are, he’ll soon call the show Daltrey’s stroke of genius. Regardless, Townshend’s bombastic compositions would have suited orchestration on any tour since “Tommy’s” debut. Judging by ticket sales, Who fans think the concept is a winner.
The tour is not expected to include new material, but the Who have been hard at work recording the band’s first new album since 2006’s “Endless Wire” (from which Daltrey and Townshend have been performing the intimate “Tea and Theatre” as a duo). Townshend has promised that the album’s sound will connect with Who fans, while still taking a few sonic risks. Townshend is not particularly known as a political writer, but one of the new Who tracks called “Twice Refugees” has been revealed as commentary on the Syrian refugee crisis.
This story originally ran in the Chicago Sun Times.
They both looked GREAT. Roger was in black jeans, black shoes, a nice, black T, with a little bit darker than cornflower blue overshirt. Looked great. Pete was also in black jeans, with a zip up black shirt jacket of some sort, in the place of a shirt, covered by a white cotten/linen sports jacket, and the red pocket square. As always that jacket was frequently in the way, so I kind of hated it, but he LOOKED good, and it was freaking cold. He needed that layer!
Shitty, cold weather for an outdoor show. Not bitter cold, but too damn cold for late May. And not super windy, but some wind chill, just for fun. Ironically, today (the next day) it's supposed to hit freakin' 80°! What a difference that would have made.
Kind of a rough night. Not bad, but he was really cold, all night long, putting his black, down Patagonia jacket on and off throughout the night. At some times, he sounded great. At other times, he struggled. Also, he had a really rough sound night. He was taking his ear monitors in and out all night long. Again, it's not that he wasn't really good. It was just not a great night.
Same as Roger, but different. He also struggled with his vocals and the weather. There were flashes of guitar greatness and great enthusiasm.
It was a really up and down show. I don't want to sound negative. It was not a bad show. Not at all, but it was intermittently ragged. Intermittently really strong and powerful.
Misc Music Comments
I don't particularly miss Acid Queen. I like it well enough, but I don't feel its loss.
Some friends were commenting afterwards how much they like having the full We're Not Gonna Take It. I don't feel as strongly as some others, but I like it.
Pete introduced Who Are You, saying it's how they open the show when they are not doing the Tommy thing. I HOPE NOT. I HATE when they open with WAY instead of I Can't Explain. But I DID like the idea of swapping Baba and WAY for this current show. I think that would really work well.
No lighting on Roger during Eminence Front. I did not like that. Pete kinda skipped some singing, giving us some extra guitar.
Not the best Imagine a Man, in that weather, or I would have live streamed it, but I do so love it.
The band set was utterly predictable, with Kids / Seeker / WGFA / BBE / T&T. Personally, I like Kids. And the crowd was into the Seeker. WGFA is going over really well in this form and is a great crowd singalong When it was just the two of them doing it at the beginning of the '96 Quad tour, it was infuriating. But now that it's down to "two of us..." it's working for me. Behind Blue Eyes really shines with the violin and cello. And it seems that Pete has finally eased his opposition to the a capella vocal bit from Roger's band that I LOVE on (when my first clenches...). Yay.
Quad was great, as always. They've shifted from Drowned being a full band + orch version (which I was really digging), to solo acoustic Pete. Not that I don't like the later, but for me, it's a disappointing change. I was really digging both the band AND the orchestra.
I still wish Pete would stop doing his shout-y, gravel-y voice in I'm One. I miss his sweet voice.
I noticed the orchestra a bit more tonight. I have this gift / bindspot with The Who, where all I really focus on is vocals, guitar, bass, and drums. To me, everything else is "background." That's why I was never particularly bothered by the bigger band configurations. Same with the current show. And also, I LIKE the layers brought out by the orchestrations. It's like a sophisticated red wine or whiskey.
Note: No video montage during The Rock this night.
During Baba, Roger did his IV drug schtick with the mic, with an added twist. You saw his energy and expressions and body collapse in an opiate haze, after shooting up. Realistic and disturbing.
Not once but TWICE, Pete totally went off on Live Nation. I'm not sure why, what's been going on for him on the topic, but as I may have said before, I never had any particular love for AEG - until this tour. AEG was MUCH BETTER to deal with, in virtually every way. (With one exception. It's AWESOME that LN actually sends out the tickets, vs, AEG's Will Call nightmare.)
Pete made some weird Nazi reference combined with a Hitler salute. I know he was trying to be humourous - but he wasn't.
He talked at some length about the new album - about Simon having a song on it, about it being released in the fourth quarter of this year, etc. With every comment, Roger's off mic, with us, expressing some version of "News to me. I don't think so. What the fuck are you talking about." Ah, those guys.
Pete's been remembering to give a nice shout out every night about Roger's orchestral Tommy release.
I don't really remember Roger saying all of that much, on mic, other than about the weather. He was engaging with me and with others, quite a lot throughout the show, but most of the time, I have no idea just what he was actually saying.
Solid good show, but from what I'm told, did not hold a candle to the two that preceded it, in Nashville and in Noblesville.