Who’s Next

[11 November 2003]

By Adam Williams

PopMatters Associate Music Editor

The world of cover bands is indeed a confusing one. Sprouting from the seedling of the first Elvis impersonator, poseurs and wannabes stand side by side with talented groups, all paying tribute to their respective musical heroes. Zeppelin, KISS, Floyd, even Bon Jovi imitators exist en masse on the regular club circuit, attracting fans with promises of recreating the real thing. Some acts look the part, others sound the part, some do both, while others do neither. With a litany of contenders and pretenders to sort through, it is rare to encounter an act that has successfully found the perfect balance of style and substance; Who’s Next is such a band.

Taking the stage on the second night of Wholapalooza II (a phenomenal weekend gathering of fans, friends and sundry Who aficionados in NYC), Who’s Next dazzled with a three-hour set of favorites and forgotten classics. Led by guitarist Bill Cannell, the group has crafted an impressive performance blueprint: Play faithful renditions of Who songs while incorporating a video backdrop of vintage concert footage, thereby creating an atmosphere even the most discerning Who purist would smile at. The key to Who’s Next’ success, aside from expert musicianship, is that the visual aesthetic is not overdone. Of course there are period costumes and clothing, as well as a sizable collection of vintage guitars changed throughout the set. There are plenty of jumps and windmills too, but Cannell and Company are setting a tone, rather than trying to actually be the Who.

Saturday’s twin set show was comprised of over three dozen songs, running the gambit from early singles and arena behemoths, to healthy doses of material from Tommy and Quadrophenia. From the opening chords of “Can’t Explain” through the rousing climax of “Long Live Rock”, Le Bar Bat was transformed into Who-Heaven, with an SRO crowd singing and dancing the night away.

Was it a treat to get impeccable renditions of “Pinball Wizard” and “Who Are You”? Absolutely, but it was even better to hear less popular gems like “Water” and “So Sad About Us”. Let’s not forget the impressive block of material played in honor of the late, great John Entwistle: “Heaven and Hell”, “The Real Me”, “Success Story”, “905”, “Trick of the Light”, “My Wife”, and of course, “Boris the Spider”.

What makes Who’s Next so special? It’s actually quite simple: Who’s Next is not merely a cover band, but rather a sophisticated musical celebration done tastefully and with the utmost love and respect. Appealing to both the ear and the eye, the group does a magnificent job of revisiting the expansive Who catalogue, as Wholapalooza celebrants could attest.

But there is one other aspect of Who’s Next that sets it apart from other tribute acts: the band’s continued support for the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Foundation. Long a favorite charity of Pete Townshend, et al, Nordoff-Robbins receives proceeds from each Who’s Next performance. Cannell believes it is his way of supporting a worthy cause while continuing to honor the musical legacy of The Who.

Talent and generosity? Who’s Next proves that the kids are quite alright.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/whos-next-031011/