Thursday, November 8, 2007

Musings - The Who

It's a day of humming/ha-ing for me: low energy and meagre inspiration. I thought I might write something to our profession, but my yawning is too frequent and the professional disillusionment is simply too heavy a weight upon my burdened shoulders today.... Instead, what's happened is that I'm scribbling something that I originally intended as a response to posting on Metropolis of Mind, entitled Dave & Eddie Back Together Again: Best News All Decade Or Too Little Too Late?

For the author of the afore mentioned, the 2007 reunion and tour of Van Halen inspires eloquence. Metro's scribble sends me back through the Time Machine to December 2006 and The Who performing at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada. For me, anticipation of that show defined 'Excitement!', but I knew that my memories of the classic line-up, that from the band’s prime years of 1966-1978, were what would carry the evening.

What made original The Who line-up remarkable in performance and on vinyl was the tonal separation of the four musicians that, somehow, pulled us into a breathtaking vortex. The individual contribution to the sound of The Who by Roger, Pete, John & Keith created a Gestalt -- the 'power' sound.

Each original Who member was a phenomenal creator and contributor; the absence of any negates the Gestalt, leaving a noticeable void. I find the post-Who Are You? (1978) material to be weaker as the result of Keith's passing; the quality of the post-2002 material Wire & Glass (2006) suffers from the absence of both Keith and John. (I still think John's death was an idiotic way to go).

Pino Palladino, The Who's current bassist, is renowned for his ability & style. He is a highly respected studio musician, but he isn't John Entwistle. Neither is Zak Starkey a Keith Moon, nor even a Kenny Jones for that matter. (Jones was drummer for The Small Faces and The Faces, before sitting for The Who after Keith's death. Jones has very serious creds in my book). During the TO show's rendition of 'My Generation' in particular, Palladino played 'note-on', but lacked the energy ... the aggression ... of Entwistle. Starkey just does not have that 'Electric Mayhem' element that animated Keith Moon.

While covering the standards, Palladino and Starkey each were professional and straight-forward. I did notice Palladino flub the solo on "My Generation", but he made a good catch. Generally, Starkey provided a terrific cover of classic Moon, rarely deviating from the original recordings. The audience roared to life during renditions of "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Baba O'Reilly", "Pinball Wizard" and "Who Are You?". (Yes, Bic lighters came forth to spark clouds of reefer). However, neither Palladino's, nor Skarkey's contribution to the new material equalled the intensity and improvisation of the classic Who line-up. The Gestalt is gone. It simply was not 'The Who'.

Evidence to this was provided during the performance of new material from 'Wire & Glass'. In performance and on the CD release, Palladino's bass is padded and sent to the rear of the mix, whereas the Who bass sound, (Entwistle's sound), is expected to be forefront and chainsaw-like. Starkey's contribution to the new material is pedestrian and unimaginative. Moon was never so staid. However, it is worth to note that Zak Starkey is the son of Ringo Starr, whose best friend and drinking partner was Keith Moon. Both Greats instructed and inspired Zak, and I feel Zak's style is an even balance of the two mentors' contributions.

Townshend qualifies the new line-up perfectly: "The Best Who Cover-Band in The World". 'Tis true, Chairman Townshend. That's what grounded the experience of the Toronto 2006 performance. Though the original line-up is gone, it was still wonderful to experience the collective and absolute shiver, whether it was inspired by actuality, memory, or a combination thereof.

1 comment:

Metropolis of Mind said...

Great post, LL. As you may recall, I was at that Toronto show too. I couldn't agree more with your gestalt description. Starkey is a great drummer, who can do a great Moon impression, but it's noticably not the real thing. And Entwhistle--his base was equal to the other voices/instruments in the Who's sound, just as Moon was.
I had the definite impression, as I was watching this iteration of the Who, this cover band, perform in Toronto as being a band led on stage by two old timey (though to my mind still great) rockers, who, as well as trying to energize and satisfy the arena of fans, had the additional burden of energizing the other band members (who didn't have as much legacy vested in the music as performers). For instance, I felt the concert really kicked up a notch after Pete told the audience how special it always was for him to play T.O. I think this sent a signal to the others on stage that they should put a little something extra into it, and it showed. For the rest of the show, Pino, Zak, and Simon were more expressive and animated, more aware that they were part of the show, that they had a responsibility to deliver the goods, to live up to the Who brand, as it were.
Pete was still great with his windmills, and Roger gave it his all. It was a great show, all in all, though it sagged with every tune off the new album, going from all out I'm-in-the-same-room-as-two-rock-dieties euphoria when an established Who tune was playing, to sit-down, subdued politenss when a new song was playing. Their choosing of a new song to end the night was weak--as old time performers/stars who've planned and stage-managed more than a few set lists in their day, they should have known better.
Still, half a Who is better than no Who. Can we hold it against Peter & Roger if they still want the adulation, rush, and satisfaction of touring in front of thousands of rapturous, bic lighting devotees? It'll always be better than anything else they might otherwise be doing...
metro of mind