THE WHO - THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL - OCTOBER 13, 2019
I am currently in the midst of the home stretch of my year of living musically, as I am seeing my final three shows of the year in a ten day span. Last Sunday night I saw nouveau classic rockers Greta Van Fleet try and resuscitate the moribund rock genre, and this past Sunday night I trekked out to the Hollywood Bowl to catch the legendary rock act, The Who. My year long music odyssey will, barring any last minute concert opportunities, come to a close on Tuesday night with a walk down memory lane with The Waterboys.
The Who have been around for longer than I’ve been alive, and for the majority of my life I was indifferent to them. I never considered myself a fan and saw the band as sort of on the second level of elite classic rock bands….somewhere behind The Beatles and Stones but ahead of Queen.
When I came of age and became aware of their music, The Who were still major players but Keith Moon was dead, and they were turning out radio friendly, but seemingly vapid albums, especially compared to their earlier ground-breaking work (Tommy, Quadrophenia, Who’s Next). To be clear, I didn’t hate the band or its music, it is just when I started paying attention to them their music really wasn’t worth paying much attention to.
Then was around the time in 1979 when The Who made news due to a stampede at one of their concerts in Cincinnati that resulted in 11 people being killed. I was just a kid but this story was huge news and I think unconsciously created a negative association with the band. One thing I do remember clearly about the whole thing was a gloriously absurd “serious” episode of the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati that dealt with The Who tragedy in a painfully 1970’s sort of way.
With this sort of ambivalent attitude toward The Who from an early age it should come as no surprise that I have never seen them live. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I really got into the band and started listening to their earlier, more seminal works. I had heard about the rock opera Tommy for decades but had never actually sat down and listened to the whole thing…and when I finally did I got what all the hype was about. The same was true of Quadrophenia, their much maligned other rock opera, which I absolutely love. And of course, I always thought Who’s Next was a great album, and upon reexamining it concluded it was even greater than I remembered.
It was in this frame of mind that I bought Who tickets for their Sunday night show at The Hollywood Bowl, a venue I had never been to before. The Sunday show is the middle of three shows the band is playing at the Bowl in October, and I got pretty decent tickets for a reasonable price…reasonable for big market concert tickets that is.
Half of the original The Who members are dead, with iconic crazy man drummer Keith Moon dying in 1978 and genius bass player John Entwhistle passing away in 2002. The remaining original members are lead singer Roger Daltry and lead guitarist and all-around creative master force and maestro Pete Townshend.
Having never been to the Hollywood Bowl, I asked around about advice on getting there and parking and all that and the resounding response I got was to not drive there. So my date, Lady Pumpernickle Dusseldorf and I bought park and ride tickets and took a special bus to the venue. I don’t know how much time the bus saved on the trip to the Bowl, but it certainly reduced the hassle and stress of the commute and I highly recommend it.
On the bus trip and on our entering the venue, one thing became very clear regarding Who fans…they are overwhelmingly geriatric. The masses of decrepit elderly, limping and foot dragging Who fans struggling to make their way into the show looked like an invasion of the walking dead.
The Hollywood Bowl is a gorgeous venue and the sight lines and acoustics are fantastic. Our seats were in Section K, which is a little less than mid way from the stage to the back of the seating. The one issue with the Hollywood Bowl is that the seating is comprised of long benches, so that means some disruptions whenever someone not near the end of the bench has to go to the bathroom…and with a large collection of geriatric rock fans with leaky bladders, that means a lot of bathroom breaks.
The opening act was Liam Gallagher, formerly of the 1990’s Britpop band Oasis. The show was scheduled to start at 7 pm and, like old people at a buffet, Gallagher hit the stage promptly at 6:59 and was greeted with a smattering of acknowledgment.
Gallagher played a series of new material, or material new to me, with a bad attitude and even worse pitch, to a decidedly disinterested crowd. The more irritated Gallagher became the more disinterested the masses got, with each feeding off the other.
Liam Gallagher was the picture of petulance and entitlement on Sunday night as he bitched and moaned that no one was getting aroused about his flaccid performance. The reality is that the audience of fossils Gallagher was trying to excite had no clue who he was since they were in their 40’s and 50’s when his band was moderately successful in the mid-90’s. These dinosaurs would rather have been watching the watermelon smashing comedian Gallagher, rather than the off-pitch former Oasis front man Gallagher.
And speaking of Oasis, they are a band that are a total mystery to me. When their big album What’s the Story (Morning Glory) hit the states, my reaction to the hype around it was…what the fuck? I felt like a rock and roll Rip Van Winkle that woke up after a twenty year nap to discover this milquetoast Britpop band was, out of nowhere, all the rage. Their previous album, Definitely Maybe, which had the allure of being “mysterious and cool” because it was British, was actually monotonous and shitty. Their mega-hit follow up was supposed to be a cornerstone of the Britpop movement, but it was more a vanguard of a shit-pop movement, as it was a bland stew of arena anthem rock wrapped in the pose of independent, edgy coolness. It struck me that Oasis, and the entire Britpop phenomenon, were a manufactured reaction to the organic explosion of American grunge rock. Oasis and their Britpop contemporaries were trying to cash in on the desire to be a part of a “new wave”, similar to grunge but a poor, disingenuous and entirely manufactured facsimile. The problem with Britpop being the next-big-thing or alternative/replacement to grunge though is that Britpop was generic crap, and was only appealing to those who were either late to the grunge bandwagon and/or were desperate to stay on the cutting edge of cool and alternative pop culture.
At the end of the day, Oasis’ real skill was not music, God knows, but rather in drawing attention to themselves through self-serving boasts about non-existent talent and staging headline feuds between Liam and his band mate brother Noel, the founding members of the oft-bickering band.
In this way Oasis and the Gallagher brothers are really performance artists and not rock musicians. Liam kept the performance up on Sunday night by being a middle-aged enfant-terrible thoughout his lackluster performance. He chastised the crowd when he introduced one song by saying, “here’s another one you don’t know”. And when he played the one hit from Oasis the audience by chance might know, Wonderwall, but they didn’t sing along, he chastised them further by spewing out “I guess you don’t know the words”. No Liam, people don’t know the words to your derivative Britpop drivel, and they don’t give a shit about you being a bad boy or whatever you think you are. You are a poseur and a clown who deserves a swift boot to the teeth. Now go fuck off, ya feckin twat.
Gallagher played a crisp 25 minute set that felt like 225 minutes. But then he left and we waited for The Who to arrive. The crowd swelled but we were blessed with two empty seats next to us so we never felt pinched in and we were right next to the aisle so we didn’t have to worry about being trapped by the masses.
The Who hit the stage at 8:04 pm, and were greeted with robust cheers. The band, which consisted of old staples Daltry and Townshend, also included Townshend’s younger brother Simon (guitar, vocals), Zak Starkey - Ringo’s son, on drums, Loren Gold (keyboards, vocals) and Jon Button (bass, vocals). The Who were also accompanied by an orchestra which was highlighted by sexy first violinist Katy Jacoby.
The band started the show with an abridged version of Tommy, their iconic rock opera. The show began with a rich orchestrated version of the opera’s Overture, then blasted off with 1921, Amazing Journey, Sparks, Pinball Wizard and finally We’re Not Gonna Take It all in quick succession without the band or the audience stopping to catch their breath.
At this juncture the band shifted gears from Tommy material and belted out Who Are You, a song which I never liked as a kid and which has further been eroded by becoming the theme to the CSI franchise. I actively dislike this song, but to give you an indication of how good The Who are live, I thought it was spectacular on Sunday night.
Who Are You was followed by an exquisitely cool version of the much under rated 80’s song Eminence Front and then Imagine a Man off of The Who by Numbers. To end this first section of the show the band played a song off of their new album which is due out in December. The song, titled Hero Ground Zero, was not very good, and the audience used it as an opportunity to relieve their aching bladders en masse.
The Who are a fascinating band as they have virtually been a greatest hits band for the last 35 years, as they’ve only put out one new album, 2006’s Endless Wire, since 1982. The new album, of which I will be receiving two “free” copies on account of having bought concert tickets, will be interesting to assess. As evidenced by the band’s stellar musicianship and performance on Sunday night, The Who can still play…the question remains though as to whether they can still create at an elite level. Hero Ground Zero was not a promising sign, but the second song off the new record that they played later in the evening, Ball and Chain, showed much more promise.
The band broke the show into thirds, with the first section accompanied by the orchestra and dominated by Tommy material. The second section was sans orchestra and showcased the songs Substitute, I Can See For Miles, a surprisingly scorching You Better You Bet and a powerful Won’t Get Fooled Again that featured just Daltry and Townshend on acoustic guitar. Won’t Get Fooled Again was utterly spectacular and was a testament to Townshend’s thriving guitar prowess.
The third section, which once again featured orchestral accompaniment, brought the night to a close with such gargantuan rock songs as 5:15, The Rock, Love Reign O’er Me and finished with the classic rock anthem Baba O-Reilly. The show was a brisk 2 hours and 10 minutes, all under a glorious full moon.
My impressions of The Who are that they have rightfully earned their spot on the Mount Rushmore of rock. Townshend and Daltry still put on a tremendous and energetic show for the ages. These guys are absolute masters of their craft and proved it on Sunday night.
Daltry has always been a power singer, belting out songs with a rarely matched dynamic vocal muscularity. Daltry is not the most nuanced singer in the world and has a limited vocal range, which is why Townshend is often recruited to handle the more delicate vocals, but to Daltry’s great credit he has always known who he is and never strayed too far from his strong points. At 75, it is truly remarkable that Daltry still sings with such a volcanic vocal vigor. Yes, his voice is weakened a bit from his 1960’s and 1970’s heyday, but not nearly enough for the songs or his performance to suffer. Daltry may not move like he used to, but he certainly commands the microphone and The Who catalogue with powerful aplomb.
Pete Townshend was, at one point in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the most ambitious guitarist and songwriter in rock music. His rock operas Tommy, Quadrophenia and Lifehouse - which morphed into the album Who’s Next when the Lifehouse idea fell through, were some of the most original and ambitious albums of that era. Interestingly enough, I think that Townshend’s ambition and arm wheeling showmanship often overshadowed his pure guitar virtuosity. Townshend is a supreme guitar player, and if Sunday night is any indication, he is still near the top of his game. Townshend still cranks his arm with magnetic abandon and occasionally musters some fancy footwork, but his showmanship has now taken a backseat to his virtuoso musicianship, and it is impressive to behold.
The backing band, particularly Zak Starkey on drums, are phenomenal. According to Townshend, Starkey was the only student Keith Moon ever had, no doubt having a dad who was the Beatles drummer helped convince Moon to take on this endeavor. Starkey’s Moon apprenticeship shows as he plays the drums with a controlled abandon and volatility very similar to his esteemed drumming mentor.
In conclusion, The Who put on a spectacular show on Sunday night filled with an energy that belied their advanced age. I am thrilled I finally got to catch them live and witness them play such a stellar set at such an historical venue as The Hollywood Bowl. The Who are immortal, and Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry are rock behemoths who still walk the earth. If you get a chance to see them perform live, I highly recommend you take it while you still can…you won’t be disappointed.
We’re Not Gonna Take it
Who Are You
Imagine a Man
Hero Ground Zero
I Can See For Miles
You Better You Bet
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Behind Blue Eyes
Ball and Chain
The Real Me
Love, Reign O’er Me