Who the @#%! are you?
Townshend and Daltrey deliver exhilarating concert
If nothing else, last Thursday’s Fourth of July concert at AutoWest Amphitheatre demonstrated exactly how much Who you can lose and still have The Who. Somehow, surviving original members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey led their backing musicians through a “greatest hits” set that on occasion bordered on both the desperate and the divine.
It was only two weeks ago, on the eve of the band’s kickoff concert for its first U.S. tour in two years, that bassist John Entwistle was found dead in his Las Vegas hotel room of an apparent heart attack. Entwistle’s loud yet intricate bass playing was considered an indispensable component of the group’s sound; it was he who first demonstrated that the electric bass guitar—a relatively young instrument by musical standards—had a voice all its own, and that more could be accomplished with the instrument than merely setting up a straight 4/4 or 6/8 “dance rhythm.”
The only member of The Who possessed of classical music training—he played both trumpet and French horn in the Middlesex Youth Orchestra as a boy and often created music charts later for the overdubbed horn parts on Who albums, Entwistle demonstrated that the electric bass guitar could produce melodic lines of complex beauty. It is difficult to imagine The Who sounding anything like it did without him.
Last Thursday, Townshend and Daltrey neatly demonstrated that there is a lot more to The Who than mere members.
Jumping into “I Can’t Explain,” the group’s first hit nearly 40 years ago, both dressed in black, Daltrey and Townshend lunged at the song, imbuing the lyrics with an anguish that has been missing for some time.
I feel hot and cold
Way down in my soul …
I know what it means but—
I can’t explain ….
Townshend wasted no time in fiercely windmilling his hand across the strings of his bright red Stratocaster, pushing his guitar solos to the point of abandon. Even drummer Zak Starkey, son of Ringo Starr, seemed to be filled with the vigor of desperation, his snare fills cracking sharply on the song’s breaks. Pickup bassist and session musician Pino Palladino kept close to the chord progressions, mainly supplying a bottom to the sound. However, he was to have a few great moments later in the evening.
The irony of following with “Substitute” was difficult to ignore, yet it was Townshend who supplied the solo usually performed by Entwistle during the song’s instrumental break. The band followed this immediately with a terrific “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere,” with Townshend coaxing some great feedback from his amps and Starkey flailing away fantastically at his drums, conjuring his predecessor the late Keith Moon.
The group didn’t deviate from the set of songs it performed earlier in the week at the Hollywood Bowl. Rounding out the sound was the band’s frequent keyboard accompanist John “Rabbit” Bundrick and Townshend’s brother Simon Townshend (looking a bit like REM’s Michael Stipe with his shaved head and sunglasses) on acoustic guitar and backing vocals. “Who Are You” and “Another Tricky Day” followed, the latter prefaced by Townshend’s comments about the AutoWest venue: “They took a perfectly good field and created a dirt pile out of it,” he quipped. “But it’s good, it’s good.”
Daltrey sang well generally, his voice straining occasionally when challenged with the higher notes of the melodies. Still, the 57-year-old singer managed a powerful performance on “Bargain,” from Who’s Next. In fact, when Townshend slashed into his madly careening solo, it was difficult to imagine this rendition of the song representing anything so ludicrous as an SUV (the tune was used in recent TV car ads). A kinetic “Baba O’Riley” followed, Townshend mentioning beforehand the song’s inspiration—avant-garde composer and synthesizer pioneer Terry O’Riley. And for the record, Daltrey’s harmonica solo at the song’s coda was not on tape, as some have claimed: The singer hit too many bum notes on the instrument initially for it to have been faked!
Other highlights included “Sea and Sand” from the group’s mid-'70s rock opera Quadrophenia, a palpably and cathartically angry “My Generation,” featuring a cheer-inducing bass solo from Palladino, a strong “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and a great encore comprised of tunes from the 1969 rock opera Tommy, the best of which was a fantastic rendition of the instrumental “Sparks.”
Amid much criticism regarding Townshend and Daltrey’s decision to go ahead with the tour and speculation about whether the group could truly be the same without as integral a member as Entwistle, last Thursday the group proved fairly conclusively that as long as there is the determination, the drive and the sheer desire to do so, The Who can continue indefinitely. Perhaps the British are right in referring to the band affectionately as “the football team.” Just because a team replaces its beloved but departed members, it doesn’t mean the game is over.
Opening the concert was popular alternative band Counting Crows. Their set was appropriately brief.