Opening acts- the shame and the glory

by Jason Gross

1 October 2006


After shelling out 50 bucks for nosebleed seats to see the Who (hey, it was half the price of the Stones), a few things struck me about the show at Madison Square Garden.  Zak Starkey (aka Ringo’s son) is a hell of a drummer.  Daltrey still has a good strong voice though I’ve heard reports of it going on at later shows.  Pete T’s new material sounded pretty good and though he’s recycling some of his old themes, he’s still a helluva thoughtful and intelligent guy.  But most of all, I felt kind of bad for their opening act and kind of admired the fact that they were chosen at all.
Peeping Tom is Mike Patton’s latest band/project.  After reaching commercial heights with Faith No More, he’s done some decidedly uncommercial ventures as a solo artist including his Ipecac label and collaborations with John Zorn and Eye from the Boredoms among others.  I wasn’t too impressed by the Tom album but I thought that they were an interesting choice to open for the Who. 

Unfortunately, most of the crowd didn’t agree.  As Patton appeared with a band and a DJ, doing a mix of funk, punk, hip-hop, they were roundly boo’d after each song, with assorted cat-calls asking them to leave the stage.  My girlfriend thought they sounded OK and I just thought that I’d rather listen to them than Limp Bizkit.  At the end of the set, Patton left the stage hugging the band members, looking like he felt good about the set- hell, he got to play at MSG.

Mind you, the Who could have done a safer picked and gone with a band that the fans could have related to more easily: I remember seeing the Pretenders open for the Stones a few years ago and crowd was definitely with them.  But the fact that in this case, they went with a little riskier choice is definitely to their (the Who’s) credit.  I’d seen the Clash and David Johansen open for them back in ‘82 and while the former was cheered (“Rock the Cabash” was a radio staple then) and the later was boo’d (nothing on the radio and he was sick of the jock crowd anyway), it would have been a hell of a lot gutsier say to have the London boys open for them in the late 70’s or the Dolls open for them in the early 70’s.  Having a weird cross-genre band like Peeping Tom open for them now is commendable, even if the crowd themselves didn’t agree.  I’ve also seen Sonic Youth boo’d when they opened for Neil Young (Ragged Glory tour in ‘91) but part of that was because a band like SY doesn’t translate well in a huge arena, not to mention that Neil fans like their feedback in more controlled doses and less orchestrated.  Similarly, Patton’s new band would probably sound a lot better in a small venue, not to mention the fact that more people would be there who paid to see them and thus be more receptive to their music. 

When the Who or Neil or any other bigger act decides to rope in adventurous smaller bands, I’d like to think it’s not just because they like their music but they also want to expose their fans to it.  As I saw, some of them aren’t going to go along with it but there’s bound to be a few open-minded fans in the crowd who might get interested.  If radio is so fragmented that it’s hard-pressed to provide any surprises anymore, can’t we at least expect it from some arena bands?

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