The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Who Were They

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I got to Milwaukee on Monday of Spring Break two weeks ago to see The Who.  It was a delayed trip because the lads were supposed to play up there in October on the last leg of their 50th Anniversary tour, which is also their farewell tour.  But viral meningitis stops for no man, not even leather-lunged Roger Daltrey.  He contracted it, he recovered from it, and The Who found Milwaukee for only the third or fourth time ever.  I’m glad I was there for one last head-smashing, ear-drum-bleeding, face-melting concert that I thought I’d be lucky to limp away from.

Well, it was a concert, at least.  Some pre-show projections cautioned the audience not to smoke because Daltrey is allergic to smoke and it might inhibit his performance or be cause to end it.  I have no issue with that, other than what I came to view as a traditional Who concert smelled a whole lot less like what I was used to.  When I saw the band in 2012 on the Quadophenia tour, it took less than a minute after the lights went down and the band launched into “I Am the Sea” for a cloud of weed smoke to engulf The All-State Arena.  Same with The Tweeter Center in 2002, except in all fairness most of that smoke was left over from Robert Plant’s opening set.

One can never count on Pete Townsend to be in good spirits, whether he’s sailing one of his boats, acquiring and editing books, recording in the studio, or playing live.  That’s part of what you expect from the tormented genius.  He heads the band that replayed a song at The Tweeter Center show in 2002 because it didn’t sound right.  Before playing “Baba O’Riley” at a Chicago show  2007, Townsend made it clear how he’s always felt about the track:  “We fucking hate this next song.  The only reason we play it is because you love it.”  He has also on numerous occasions said he doesn’t much care for Daltrey.  I’ve always accepted this side of Townsend because I see it is a manifestation of his creativity and how exacting he is.  I wish more artists felt free to express themselves in that manner.  How strange it was, then, to see him in a jovial mood as he talked with the audience throughout the night.  He joked about the extravagances of the rock star life (“back to the hotel at 3AM…  bed by 9AM…  wake up in late afternoon…”), and asked the audience to be patient with the band because they’re old and because “…we’ve done so many tours that there’s a chance you and I could be related.”

It took a good 45 minutes for the band to really start to fly.  Daltrey struggled to get his voice going, and Townsend confided that he himself wasn’t feeling good and the audience would be able to tell in his singing.  He was right, though he nailed a damn good gritty imagining of “I’m One.”  Still, once they brought out “Join Together” complete with a live Jew’s harp, the boys were close as they could get to The Who at their full power almost 40 years ago.  They rolled for another hour and fifteen minutes after that.  My only disappointment was they opened with “Who Are You” rather than close with it or at least save it for when they were fully warmed up.

I expected it to be an emotional evening.  There is no better rock band than The Who, and I’ve counted them as my all-time favorite band for more than half my life.  I knew I would be watching mortality unfold on stage.  I could never again play Who’s Next or Quadrophenia with the thought that I’d see the band live again.  It was going to be a funeral.  But there was a greater theme being played out throughout the night.  The band still brought their game, still found a meaningful reason to tour beyond dusting off their greatest hits and grabbing cash, and still produced an excellent show.  My ears weren’t ringing when I left (first time seeing The Who that they weren’t!), I wasn’t buzzed from alcohol or excessive weed smoke, and I didn’t feel like I’d been in a mosh pit or that I had lived every song.  Instead, I felt satisfied knowing that the band met the audience at an intersection far down the roads from where both began.  It was a point at which the band that played with a nihilistic bent when they were young and a fan base that was known to be rowdy and violent probably never thought they would or could meet.  That’s all a gift.  If the band can still do it in their 70s and people will still pay to see it, what’s to stop any of us from pushing on with our art?  There’s no expiration date stamped on any of us until we decide to stamp it.

Written by seeker70

April 4, 2016 at 7:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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