NY Times review of MSG

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Mon May 24 06:04:06 CDT 2004


Who Knew: Rolling Past Collective Memory

Published: May 24, 2004

One imagines the opus of the Who, represented in Pete
Townshend's own ears, as a sharp mosquito buzz: his
evergreen anxieties, his sense of competition, his
drive to organize songs into concepts, his tinnitus.
In the ears of anyone who has encountered them after
the 1970's, that same work is an elephant stampede,
broad-stroked and booming, the epitome of high-starch
classic rock.
Don't forget that the Who, in 1965, were a kind of art
band. Mr. Townshend's influences were amphetamines,
anger, pop art and American R&B. He wasn't a soloist
and didn't want to be, so when pushed into the role of
lead guitarist, he resisted and negated. His
high-concept lead style was all about volume and
violence, scraping strings with the edge of a pick,
thumping them with a fist, slashing them upward with a
windmilling arm; the amplifier became an instrument,
too, reacting in distress. Jimi Hendrix eventually
scooped up his ideas, transforming Mr. Townshend's
tantrums into a giant act of love, and made them look
amateurish, but Mr. Townshend was then, and is still,
good for a beautifully compressed antimelodic solo.

He did it a few times on Saturday at Madison Square
Garden, where the Who played on its current tour.
(There is something to promote: a new greatest hits
album from Universal called "Then and Now.") The best
time came early on, in "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere": his
solo bumped and skidded through brief shardlike ideas,
with feedback peeking out at the edges.

The set proceeded through 13 of the 20 classic-rock
radio staples on "Then and Now," with a few rarities,
"Drowned" and "It Don't Happen That Way at All,"
performed by Mr. Townshend and his longtime band mate
the singer Roger Daltrey, alone with acoustic guitars.

One of the two new songs appended to the new
compilation disc — offerings that qualify the "Now" of
the title — is Mr. Townshend's "Real Good Looking
Boy." The band played it on Saturday, and it is
dreadful. The narrator meditates on his own childhood
ugliness and his admiration of a rock star's glamour;
it's probably Elvis Presley, as the song interpolates
"Can't Help Falling in Love." Finally love redeems the
ugly boy. It extends Mr. Townshend's trope of
self-examination; it also sounds, with its moral
corniness and melodic narrowness, like something at
the worst end of commercial country music.

Mr. Townshend and Mr. Daltrey can't pretend: they're a
59- and a 60-year-old, half of a beloved band, scoring
points off collective memory for an overwhelmingly
middle-aged male audience. There is both modesty and
vainglory in this pose. (Zak Starkey, on drums,
rigorously avoided playing Keith Moon's famous drum
fills, as he did for the band's last tour two years
ago. Pino Palladino played bass, replacing John
Entwistle, who died in 2002. Mr. Townshend's brother,
Simon Townshend, provided all but inaudible rhythm
guitar and backup singing, and Rabbit Bundrick played

Cheerfully Mr. Townshend joked about persevering. "I
have an expensive racing program in the Mediterranean
to pay for," he said, smirking. At another point he
grew serious, thanking the audience for its loyalty;
it has stuck with him, after all, through his recent
arrest in England for possessing child pornography.
(He was cleared of the charges in May 2003 but was
formally cautioned by the police.)

Mr. Daltrey, who played acoustic guitar for several
songs, spoke much less but gave the fans what they
wanted, and a bit more: during one of his patented
microphone-as-lariat moments, the cord flew out of his
hands and into the audience. He ran to the lip of the
stage, registering embarrassment and concern.

Mr. Townshend and Mr. Daltrey could be writing more
new songs, but this band has been breaking up, each
time theoretically for good, since Moon died in 1978.
They could change their sound, or find new stimuli, or
be more elegant and stop publicly calling it quits.
But having problems with being in a rock band has
always been the Who's chemistry. Once they were uncool
in a way that worked. Now they're just uncool.

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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