New Jersey Star-Ledger on MSG

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Mon May 24 06:08:26 CDT 2004


Townshend breathes new life into the Who 
Monday, May 24, 2004
Star-Ledger Staff

NEW YORK -- If the young Pete Townshend could have
looked into a crystal ball to see himself performing
on the Madison Square Garden stage three days after
his 59th birthday, he would've been left slack-jawed
with shock. 

Townshend not only avoided dying before he got old
(counter to his youthful sentiments and unlike so many
of his peers, either in body or soul). As an electric
guitarist, he has recovered enough primal virtuosity
to rival his prime self -- and far surpass the
ambivalent, hearing-impaired performer of the late
'80s and '90s. On Saturday, he was as ferocious as any
young lion. 

Moreover, Townshend the songwriter has shown that his
grace, guts and gray matter remain intact, with this
tour airing the first new songs he has written for the
Who in more than 20 years. 

The original Who are down to two, after the sudden
passing of bassist John Entwistle just before the
band's 2002 tour. (Drummer Keith Moon died in 1978.)
As on that tour, Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey
are backed up by keyboardist "Rabbit" Bundrick,
bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo
Starr's son, who has now logged more time in the seat
than Kenny Jones, Moon's initial replacement). A
secret weapon was rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist
Simon Townshend (Pete's brother), whose shadow screams
covered Daltrey whenever his graying voice frayed. 

While providing fine low-end support, Palladino
couldn't hope to re-create the full-frequency
jet-engine roar of the peerless Entwistle. But perhaps
feeling freed, yet again, from a past ideal of "the
Who," Townshend filled the sonic hole to overflowing
with his live-wire solos. Since taking up the electric
guitar again, he has developed a stinging, shimmying
new sound, playing a Fender Stratocaster (with whammy
bar) rather than the Gibson Les Paul of the '70s. The
old dog who invented the power chord has learned some
new six-string tricks, incredibly energized and
amazingly articulated. 

The Who took the stage with a storming trio of '60s
singles. Against all odds, "I Can't Explain" sounded
as manic in 2004 as it did nearly 40 years ago when it
was the band's first hit. If forced to skirt the high
notes of "Substitute," the fit-looking Daltrey
persuasively re-voiced the nervy testosterone anthem
"Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" as an aging man's statement
of defiance. 

Particularly effective among the 21-song set list was
"Who Are You," with the metallic salvos devastating
and Daltrey in virile form. Among the left-field
inclusions, a riveting take on "The Punk and the
Godfather" and an acoustic "Drowned" were the
highlights of a "Quadrophenia" sequence. 

Choosing New York to debut a number in their new
"Everly Brothers format," Townshend and Daltrey played
the '70s fan favorite "Naked Eye" with each on
acoustic guitars. Although the rush of electricity was
missed in this of all songs, the duo's performance had
a loose, work-in-progress charm. 

Appearing on yet another Who hits anthology,
Townshend's new song "Real Good Looking Boy" deals
with adolescent pains that echo through adulthood,
with late resolution. Emotionally acute and sonically
rich, the song evokes the past while being texturally
fresh. Live, Townshend's harmonies weren't as piquant
as they are on the recording, but the band did justice
to a subtle, touching, living piece of rock music. 

Daltrey can still sing and swing a microphone, and
Townshend's windmill strumming still excites. But it's
the promise of "Real Good Looking Boy" and "Old Red
Wine" -- the latter a moving tough-love tribute to
Entwistle, sadly truncated on Saturday as part of a
medley -- that provides a viable, valuable route ahead
for the Who beyond being an oldies act, however

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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