By Mike Machian
Who’s left? After the recent death of founding member John Entwistle, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, that’s who. The bassist was found dead in a hotel room on June 27 in Las Vegas the day before the kick-off of the latest tour. Singer Daltrey left the decision on whether to carry on to guitarist/principal songwriter Townshend. Eventually citing “a duty to go on, to ourselves, ticket buyers, staff, promoters, big and little people,” Townshend said in a statement released via his site at www.petetownshend.com he would continue the tour. Filling in Entwistle’s place on bass was session musician Pino Palladino, who has played on some of Townshend’s solo records.
This isn’t the only time The Who has had to carry on after the death of a member. In 1978, following the prescription drug overdose of legendary drummer Keith Moon, The Who decided to carry on with Kenny Jones. The resulting albums lacked the power and sincerity to many die-hard fans. Within a few short years, Townshend disbanded The Who.
For better or worse, that wasn’t the end of The Who. The following two decades saw many reunion and anniversary tours, with this year’s to be the latest. With the sudden death of Entwistle, many thought this would be the time for The Who to wrap it up for good. When it was announced the tour would carry on almost immediately, many were upset.
This tour was to be different because Townshend had promised to debut a couple of new songs and when it was over enter into the studio to have a go at another Who album. Unfortunately, those plans involved going to Entwistle’s home studio to record the songs. Although Townshend has not come out and said anything about the future of The Who, most assume they will not attempt another album.
Early reviews of the shows were posted on Townshend’s site, doubling as The Who’s official site. Many say this is the best the band has sounded since the early days. The Who has always been known as a phenomenal live band but Townshend and Daltrey are now approaching 60.
The Aug. 24 show in Tinley Park, Ill., was opened by another aging rock icon, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. He is currently touring in support of his solo album *Dreamland, which sounds like mellow Led Zeppelin. Unlike Daltrey, Plant still has the long golden hair he was known for in the ’70s. But Plant certainly looks all of his 54 years.
While he didn’t look so young, he certainly did sound it. Plant’s voice has almost all the magnificent range it did in the Zep days. Although the crowd response was warm, the only time they showed Plant a whole lotta love was during the few obligatory Zeppelin covers that were thrown in.
While waiting for The Who to take the stage, a short promo film shot just before the tour was to originally start was shown. The audience applauded whenever Entwistle appeared on one of the two big screens on either side of the stage. A short time later, The Who took the stage with current lineup of John “Rabbit” Bundrick on keyboards, Zak Starkey (son of Ringo Starr) and Townshend’s younger brother Simon also on guitar.
Because The Who has not released an album in 20 years, the set list has changed little in that time. A few of the differences this time around have been the inclusion of more obscure songs like “Relay,” “Another Tricky Day” and “Eminence Front.” “Eminence Front” is a particularly strange inclusion because it is a synthesizer-driven song from The Who’s last studio album, *It’s Hard, that bares little resemblance to a typical Who song. It is also a questionable inclusion because Townshend has admitted the song is about cocaine use, which is something that was found to have contributed to Entwistle’s heart attack. On stage there was barely a mention of his death but before the encore there was a photomontage of Entwistle on the screens.
The band played very competently until hitting “Baba O’ Riley” from 1971’s *Who’s Next? Then the band just exploded with energy and the crowd followed suit. With Townshend doing his trademark windmill attack on his guitar and Daltrey swinging his mic all over the stage, you soon forgot how old the Who was supposed to be or what year it was. The rest of the two-hour-plus show more or less kept up that manic energy. The pace was slowed down when “The Kids Are Alright,” was played. The original version clocked in at just over three minutes, but live the song stretched to nearly 10 minutes. The extended version features Townshend and Daltrey singing very personally about their childhood and their own children.
The show seemed to go on without a hitch until “Love Reign O’er Me,” the climax to 1973’s *Quadrophenia. In the middle, Daltrey forgot the words and when it was over he demanded they try it again. The reason for this might lie in the fact that each show from this leg of the tour is being released on CD with all the profits going to charity.
The encore of the show was four songs from 1969’s *Tommy. When it was done, Townshend and Daltrey came out again, without the rest of the band, for a long standing ovation.
Although many are angry because The Who continue to play without releasing a new album while losing members, they seem forget that playing live is what The Who does best. Although getting older, the band can still do it better than people half their age. Long live rock.
Insert for CD — The Who’s first album, *The Who Sings My Generation, was the last album to see a remastered re-release. This edition is a two-disc set that includes early singles left off the first record as well as many rare tracks. Some of the songs included are previously unreleased gems like an instrumental version of “My Generation” and an a cappella version of “Anytime You Want Me.”