In 1980, Annie Leibovitz took what became a famous photo of Pete Townshend and it was printed in Rolling Stone. I immediately cut the photo out of the magazine, framed it, and hung it in my bedroom. Only three rock stars have ever graced my bedroom walls – another photo from Rolling Stone of Keith Richards and his skull ring, Bruce Springsteen from another rock magazine advertising the release of Darkness on the Edge of Town (I think it was the album cover without any wording), and Pete.
Believe or not, I have never seen The Who perform live. It’s a big piece of my concert-going life that was missing, so when I saw they were playing Madison Square Garden for their Moving On! tour, and even though the Garden is one of my least favorite venues, I decided I had to go. Even if I was only seeing half of The Who. But since the half is Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, that is pretty damn good.
Somehow the news of the Garden renovation had missed me. Getting in, going past security, and finding my section was so easy. Then I saw the brand-new seats, which have been there since the renovation finished in 2013 but still look new. There were screens placed all over the venue for easy viewing in addition to the screens on either side of the stage. People in the first row of my section also had individual screens in front of them. The blue seats still exist but are a small stunted section behind the stage (tickets were not sold for behind the stage). While we were waiting the screens were showing photos and posters from The Who’s past.
Opening act was a brave Leslie Mendelson, who is a young singer-songwriter, and she appeared on stage with just her acoustic guitar with Steve McEwan, who also played acoustic guitar and sang back-up. There were the two of them singing sweet songs – even the rockers do not rock out much when you are on an acoustic guitar – in front of audience waiting for The Who. The arena was about half-full and all I could see was a sea of smartphones while most people texted or checked their social media while she performed. I did like one song – “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice” – and she covered “Blue Bayou,” which is a duet with Bob Weir on her new album.
During her set, two very drunk guys sat next to me. They were about my age and they took me back to my teenage days at the Garden when guys would show up shit-faced and then not remember the concert the next day. The one next to me kept yelling throughout the concert, poking me in the side with his elbow, and took up about half my chair with his manspreading and just general obliviousness of how much room he was taking up. Plus, he kept burping and you could smell the alcohol coming out of his pores. Later he lit up a joint but I politely declined when offered. I made a conscious decision that I was not going to let him ruin my experience.
Orchestra members started coming on stage. Strings downstage in either corner, brass and woodwinds upstage in either corner, and percussion all along the back upstage. The band entered and got into their places. Then a spotlight on Pete and Roger entering with their arms around each other and they stood and accepted our applause and then each of them got in place. They are using a local orchestra for each city. The rest of the band is Simon Townshend (guitar), Loren Gold (keys), Jon Button (bass), Zak Starkey (drums), Billy Nicholls (vocals), and Katie Jacoby (violin).
There was a curtain backdrop and lights around the stage that changed color. There were also some thin stick lights throughout the stage that also changed color or pulsed.
They started with the “Overture” from Tommy and then some songs from the beginning of the opera. Pete told the audience, “No shouting! It’s a fucking opera!” When they launched into “Pinball Wizard” and then “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” I thought some of the audience were going to lose their minds. Roger was twirling the mic around and letting the cable wrap and unwrap around him and Pete did his windmills and I was getting chills watching both. They were not doing jumps on stage but in their mid-70s, they still rock out like guys in their mid-20s.
I was amazed at how great everything sounded. Not only the band but the orchestra. No more of that muddy sound that I was so accustomed to at the Garden.
Then the band played some of their greatest hits like “Who Are You?” and “Join Together” along with the orchestra, which really filled out the songs. The orchestra left the stage. Roger said it was union rules. Pete told us that they rehearse for three hours before the show so it’s not as if they only perform a little bit during their two-hour show.
The Golden Oldies section started with “Substitute.” Pete asked Roger if he had seen the Stan and Ollie movie. Roger said he had and Pete started miming Stan Laurel. Roger said if anyone could do Keith Moon justice it would be the person who wrote the Stan and Ollie movie. Pete’s imitation of Laurel did look a lot like Keith Moon. They did “I Can See for Miles” and then the rest of the band left the stage while Pete and Roger did an acoustic version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” (I read later that they are mixing up songs for this section during the tour and this is the first time this tour that they did “I Can See for Miles.”) The band came back for “Behind Blue Eyes” and then left again for “Tea & Theatre,” which Pete introduced as a song that they used to close their shows with. He said that when you write all your songs on a guitar, you get bored, so he invented a new tuning for this song. He demonstrated. No response. “You don’t care, do you?”
The orchestra and the band came back and they did songs from Quadrophenia like “The Punk and the Godfather” and “5:15.” When Pete had to sing “I’m One,” he was strumming the guitar, got to the mic, and then yelled, “Fuck! Let’s start again!” He told us, “I could never remember words. This isn’t old age. How does it start?” The audience and Roger had to give him “Every year is the same” a few times before he got it. They also did a long instrumental. Unlike the instrumentals during Tommy where he banged together some tambourines, Roger left the stage for a bit. He came back for “Love, Reign O’er Me,” which he absolutely killed. Then he scolded some of the audience. People were smoking pot and he could smell it and it screws with his voice. He’s allergic to marijuana and it affects his singing. “Fuck you!”
They ended the night with “Baba O’Riley.” After introducing the orchestra and the band, Roger and Pete introduced each other, with each saying the other was the best. Pete said that despite the pot, Roger still sounded great.
For his intro, Zak (Ringo’s son) stood up on his chair and showed off his emoji(?) pajamas, playing the role of the crazy drummer.
This is the setlist from Setlist.fm. They will be playing Jones Beach in September and I suggest you get a ticket.
PS: I meant to say that those three rock stars graced my young adult bedroom wall. The photos of the Beatles from their White Album graced my childhood bedroom wall.
By Carene Lydia Lopez