Wednesday, August 28, 2002
Anyone who questioned The Who's decision back in June to forge ahead and tour following the tragic death of John Entwhistle would have left this show very pleased that Roger and Pete made such a choice. Word had clearly spread that this concert was worth its inflated ticket price (even without 'ol Thunderpaws) because Polaris Amphitheater was packed…early!
Robert Plant sauntered out while the August sun was still in the sky over a crowded lawn section and nearly full pavilion. Obviously, this wasn't your typical show-up-whenever opening act. Anticipation abounded as the ex-Led Zeppelin frontman waltzed right into a peaceful version of "In the Mood" from 1983's solo effort The Principle of Moments. The appreciative crowd seemed content but clearly came to hear their share of Zeppelin treasures. Plant quickly granted these supposed wishes as his merely average backing band jumped into "Celebration Day" from Led Zeppelin III. The Achilles heel of any set like this is enduring new or unknown material. At least with Robert Plant, his new Dreamland album is a collection of cover tunes, mostly unrecognizable, and he only dabbled into two of them on this night. "Morning Dew" was somewhat refreshing but really only provided the diehards with a final chance at a beer break before the hammer got dropped on a stretch of live rock nobody in their right mind would miss. A lovely sit-down, acoustic take on "Going to California" was met with righteous approval, then a blistering version of "Tie Dye on the Highway" recalled 1990's Manic Nirvana project.
Plant briefly paid homage to Elvis Presley as he introduced one of the night's finest moments, a wildly popular presentation of "Tall Cool One." From there he stayed the Zeppelin course by pounding out "Four Sticks" and the classic "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" to everyone's delight! "We don't really have anything to prove any more," quipped an honest and mellow Plant. "We're just trying to enjoy…so enjoy!" After a brisk exit, Plant and the boys answered the call by launching into the crown jewel "Whole Lotta Love." Unfortunately, this version was abbreviated, the guitar solo was practically non-existent, and they ultimately ended at one of the lower points of the set. Still, one hell of an opening act!
No elaborate stage props, no dancing half-naked girls, no pyrotechnics to speak of, but by the time Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey took the stage at 9:00 pm, there was little doubt who was going to own your senses for the next two hours! Donning a plain black t-shirt, jeans and dark sunglasses, Townshend appeared from the darkness, strapped on his guitar and slung fearlessly into "I Can't Explain." As Roger stood front and center, I was first struck by how youthful and clean he looked. With premium $165 seats, I also took note of how short he really is! Even in a pair of platform Dr. Marten's boots, Daltrey stood considerably shorter than an average Townshend. However, at an astounding 58 years old, Daltrey's pipes were impressive to say the least. He hit every note in the outset with seemingly little effort, punching out dead-on renditions of "Substitute" and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere."
It didn't take long for the legendary Townshend windmills to get cranked up, and during an early "Who Are You" it was very apparent that this performance would not be short on nostalgia. A splendid offering of old and new (if that's possible from a band who hasn't released a new studio album in 20 years!), well-known hits and forgotten rarities were the landmark of this night. So many eras and albums were represented, and very few left out. From 1973's Quadrophenia ("Sea and Sand" and "Love, Reign O'er Me") to 1981's Face Dances ("You Better You Bet" and "Another Tricky Day") and beyond, The Who have always displayed unprecedented energy, amazing variety and unmatched instrumental (sometimes even symphonic) presentation. With longtime session bassist Pino Palladino standing stoically in the space once occupied by Entwhistle and Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey clocked in behind the drums, this current lineup was tight, inspired and fiercely determined. Pete's brother Simon Townshend was even present, providing supplemental guitar parts and vital keyboards. As Pete introduced the band, he admitted, "Pino has been a champ, and we love him for what he's done! He's no John Entwhistle, but we wouldn't be here without him."
The middle of the set shined with 1971's Who's Next album kicking out "Bargain," "Behind Blue Eyes" and the classic, fist-pumping anthem "Baba O'Riley." A brief stop at It's Hard from 1982 produced a lengthy "Eminence Front," before one of the musical highlights of the evening, an extended jam through the Quadrophenia gem, "5:15." More than any other composition, "5:15" demonstrated the phenomenal live qualities of this band, cranked up and rammed down the throats of 20,000 spellbound fans! The final mile of this glorious marathon saw "The Kids are Alright," "My Generation" (where Entwhistle's thundering bass was clearly missed!) and the regular set finale, "Won't Get Fooled Again." Seeing that last song performed the way it was written and intended was truly an unforgettable thing of classic rock beauty! The well-orchestrated encore was a tribute to the rock opera Tommy, opening with the crowd singing "Pinball Wizard." Hidden tracks "Amazing Journey" and "Sparks" ensued, and then the curtain was pulled on a stellar version of "See Me, Feel Me."
Any doubts that this tour was ill thought or carelessly executed were immediately put to rest. The memory of John Entwhistle was certainly on most people's mind, but the music took front seat, as John would have wished. Pete and Roger seem as friendly and compatible as ever. At one point in the show they even playfully argued like schoolyard mates about a "Phantom of the Opera" segment that Pete attempted to sing. As a teen of the 1980s who regrettably missed The Who's heyday, I was giddy to see them in the twilight of their career and be able to salute one of the dominant rock'n'roll influences of our age.