OC Register on Long Beach

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Wed Feb 28 04:34:31 PST 2007


The Who stages a replay in Long Beach 
Review: The Who, on a marathon tour, delivers a less impressive rerun of its Bowl bash in Long Beach. 
The Orange County Register

Pete Townshend was in a particularly chatty mood Monday night at Long Beach Arena.

Come to think of it, the verbose songwriter who (for better and worse) gave us the term "rock opera" has been especially gabby throughout this current Who tour – "the longest tour Roger (Daltrey) and I have done together," he pointed out midway into this two-hour set.

Indeed, the trek began last June, four months before the Who (now teasingly nicknamed the Two) released the well-received "Endless Wire," its first album of new material in almost a quarter-century. In early November Townshend and Daltrey and their ace support players packed 'em in for two nights at the Hollywood Bowl; they're back this week, including a stop in San Diego on Thursday night; and they'll conclude this global spin in the States in August.

That's long enough away from home to make a man half Townshend's age (and a fraction of his intelligence) positively batty. Yakking about the personal breakthrough of the new album and cracking sardonic jokes – "California's a clean state, right? Just full of filthy people" – can be as much a means to maintain sanity as engage the audience in something unfamiliar.

So it was that he had something to say after just about every other song. Sometimes his comments were thought-provokingly funny, as when he dedicated "A Man in a Purple Dress" to newly bald Britney Spears. Most thought he was putting her down, and maybe he was a little, but given the roots of "Purple Dress" – a stark piece of defiance inspired by the media and legal hounding he endured over dubious child pornography charges in 2003 – he likely meant his dedication with a great deal of empathy.

"Let's not be too quick to judge is what I mean," he added after laughs and hollers subsided.

At other times he was amusingly self-referential, assessing the meaning of both past triumphs and newborn material. About "Endless Wire": "It's the end of the beginning, rather than the beginning of the end." About the typically thunderous response to "Baba O'Riley": "Particularly in the U.S.A. that tune gets people applauding the most." Which is funny, because "that song, more than anything else I've ever written for the Who, is about absolutely nothing at all. I didn't see a field till I was 27 or 28."

Frankly, it was moments like these, and not the music, that stood out this night.

If you missed the Who at the Bowl, then perhaps you found this set more surprising, rewarding – although surely you also noticed that it wasn't one of Daltrey's better performances. Though remarkably fit as he turns 63 this Thursday, he's nonetheless no longer the throaty wailer of yore. His phrasing and lower-register wallop remains intact, but as this tour grinds on, his high notes and spine-tingling screams have turned to huff and rasp.

Consequently, he sounded stronger on newer material – especially "Purple Dress" (sung with grace and intensity) and "Black Widow's Eyes," a curiously constructed song about terrorism – or, as Townshend explained, "about people who blow themselves up in the vicinity of children." It's a worthy subject to tackle, though as with excerpts from the mini-opera "Wire and Glass" presented earlier in the set, subtitles might have helped. It can be hard for 10,000 or so fans to connect the commentary dots in "Eyes" when the only line that can really be made out amid a Daltrey-drowned mix is "I fell right in love with you."

Notice I said 10,000 or so – which means the Who didn't sell out here. What accounts for that? Probably Long Beach Arena itself. As far as I can recall – and our classic-rock guru Steve Fryer would concur – the Who had never played here before. Reason enough to get me to go, even thought I suspected I'd hear the same set as I did at the Bowl. At triple-digit prices, however, most aging Who fans probably weren't inclined to contend with the cramped seating and typically cavernous mix that afflicts this arena.

It also didn't help that the opening act, lamentably named Canadian outfit the Tragically Hip, is one of the weaker offerings from m-m-my g-g-generation, a '90s also-ran at best that kept the lobby shoulder-to-shoulder crowded during the band's set. As was the case with the forgettable Rose Hill Drive at the Bowl shows, this show would have been vastly improved had there been no opener and the headliner played an extra half-hour of hits.

As it was, this crowd got only the usual suspects. To open, ripping runs through "I Can't Explain," "The Seeker" and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," the first drenched in archival images of the band, the third used as backdrop for a titillating '60s pop-art explosion. You got the "CSI" themes: "Who Are You," "Baba" and "Won't Get Fooled Again," all potent enough to overcome their irritating omnipresence on television.

You got a pair of early-'80s tracks: "Eminence Front," much too slick this time, and "You Better You Bet," which needs to go back into the vault for a long while. Anything else would have been preferable – "Bargain," "5:15," "The Real Me," heck, even "Squeeze Box."

And, of course, you got the expected "Tommy" suite in the encore, from "Pinball Wizard" to "Amazing Journey" to "Sparks" to "See Me, Feel Me." But during moments like that I once again marveled at just how potent this incarnation of the Who can be.

It's a great band, even if it's only a distant cousin of the real thing. The superb Pino Palladino is as nimble and ox-like as John Entwistle. Zak Starkey (correct: Ringo's kid) has his dad's precision but Keith Moon's flair for cataclysm and flash. And guitarist Simon Townshend (correct: Pete's brother) and stalwart keysman John "Rabbit" Bundrick continue to bolster the massive sound with subtle flourishes.

With their superb support, and with Townshend and Daltrey seemingly revitalized, maybe this really is the start of exciting new things for the Who. Here's hoping, however, that they don't forsake too much more of their past in pursuit of something fresh. 

-Brian in Atlanta 
The Who This Month! 

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