The Kids Are Still Alright
30 May 2004: Madison Square Garden New York
At the very least, four decades as part of rock’s most exciting band has not dampened the enthusiasm of guitarist Pete Townshend and vocalist Roger Daltrey. Older, wiser, but just as passionate as ever, the twin surviving members of The Who assembled the musicians before a raucous New York crowd as they prepare for an ambitious world tour.
Affectionately known as The Two since the untimely passing of bassist John Entwistle in 2002, Townshend and Daltrey hit the stage with a purpose: perhaps to give the Who faithful Maximum R&B value for the rather pricey tickets, perhaps simply to show themselves that they still can rekindle the past spark of greatness. Ably backed by long time keyboardist Rabbit Bundrick, younger brother Simon Townshend on rhythm guitar, drummer Zak Starkey and session bassist Pino Palladino, the pair worked their way through a generous two hour helping of classics. As this was the line-up’s second official stateside jaunt since Entwistle’s death, the awkwardness and melancholy from two summers ago has long since passed.
Fresh off a single show in Massachusetts earlier in the week, Townshend demonstrated that middle age has not diminished his playing or windmilling capacities one whit, as he brought the crowd to it collective feet early on. Opening with “Can’t Explain” and “Substitute” then moving into “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere” and “Who Are You”, Townshend strummed and gyrated with abandon. Losing his plectrum during the third song forced him into a remarkable display of impromptu finger picking, nary missing a beat, and evidencing his often underrated skills.
Covering a set list of material compiled primarily from Who’s Next and Quadrophenia, the band was, for the most part, in good form. Starkey and Palladino are as efficient a rhythm section as anyone could ask for, although the latter’s bass was noticeably lost in the mix, particularly from close up. When Entwistle stood in the shadows and anchored stage left, everyone within thirty rows could feel his bass violently reverberate through their bodies. As the thunder of the Ox is no more, fans must make due with Palladino’s milder, but no less valuable, contributions.
Although the selection of songs deviated slightly from standard Who shows, Townshend’s solo acoustic version of “Drowned” and the dual acoustic effort with Daltrey on “Naked Eye” were noteworthy. Somewhat surprisingly, only one of the recently released new tracks, “Real Good Looking Boy”, was played in its entirety. The second, “Old Red Wine”, was haphazardly included in an extended “My Generation” jam. The crowd did not seem to mind however, as the opportunity to see Townshend and Daltrey perform, in whatever incarnation, has become an event to be savored.
As Who concerts have traditionally been defined by exciting, albeit inconsistent results, the Garden gig was par for the course. Was the set perfect? Far from it. Though the on stage chemistry was as cordial as ever, there were times the two seemed to miss each other’s cues, resulting in muffed lyrics and an occasional stumble. Even Daltrey’s voice was showing signs of wear, as the ravages of forty years of singing prevented him from hitting some of the traditional high notes he once did.
The evening’s most memorable moment? Under normal circumstances it would have easily gone to Townshend’s post set salute. Turning and waving to every section of fans, the guitarist appeared generally moved, even humbled, by the tremendous show of support he received. But normal has never been part of The Who’s lexicon, thus Townshend takes second place, directly behind Daltrey and his microphone spin gone awry. During the encore medley of “Pinball Wizard-Amazing Journey-Sparks,” dear Roger began his trademark twirl only to lose his grip, and sending the microphone directly into front row center like a tethered harpoon. Remarkably no one was injured, although Daltrey was visibly shocked by the miscue, kneeling down in mid song and mouthing “Are you OK?” to those before him. Most fans close to the stage were having too much of a good time to be troubled however, thus the incident quickly became an amusing concert anecdote to relay later on.
Irrespective of the minor imperfections of the performance, it is the timelessness of The Who’s music that endures. Hearing impassioned versions of “Love Reign O’er Me” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was a wonderful reminder that no band boasts a more diversified catalogue, and no band outperforms Townshend and Daltrey, even on a less than perfect evening.
Still chugging along after forty years, and still the best ticket in town, a nice band from Shepherd’s Bush London, Thee ‘oo