It’s so hard to believe that rock stars are aging right along with the rest of us mere mortals, however some go into geezerdom harder than others. I cite as evidence the proliferation of fifty-year anniversary tours particularly among two of the top three British imports. It’s worth noting that while the Rolling Stones called their half-century tour “50 and Counting,” their slightly younger compatriots went with “The Who Hits 50!” I’m assuming that they wanted the word “hits” to reflect their chart-topping singles however it also conjures up the image of what happens when you confront the proverbial brick wall at a high speed.
|The Who at Monterey Pop Festival|
I visited Barclays Center in Brooklyn for a tour-de-force performance featuring Joan Jett and The Blackhearts as the opening act along with The Who on their current, as Pete Townshend so eloquently put it, “50 f#@cking years” tour. In my opinion it was worth waiting 50 years for this night! I just hope Roger Daltrey, who is recovering from recent throat surgery and can’t handle pot smoke near the stage (he actually stopped a concert last week and called out someone for doing so) has not blown out his vocal chords on a couple of those screams. I guess that’s why they save “Won’t Get Fooled Again” with its requisite ear-splitting howl for the last song, but that was by no means the only loud guttural utterance.
|Pearly King Jacket on Pete Townshend Nov. 1967|
While Pete Townshend, who just celebrated turning 70 on May 19th, may not have the moves of Jagger or even the leaps of his former self, he still does a mean windmill wind-up before attacking… um I mean playing (they don’t attack guitars or drums anymore for that matter) the guitar. In fact the band shows a video right before the show starts which documents the inspiration for the instrument bashing; a combined result of an Ealing Art College teacher as well as an early performance when Townshend’s guitar hit the low ceiling and he decided to trash the instrument on stage afterwards to a tremendous response. The video also warns people not to smoke close to the stage for reasons already mentioned; and, thirdly and perhaps most importantly, it documents in snapshots the various stage outfits of the band over five decades.
|The Kids Are Alright Album Cover|
From their inception The Who was a group of “rebellious mod dandies” often dressed in the Carnaby Street-style fashions of the day. This includes highly embellished jackets often by UK company Pearly King; graphic often black & white prints; and the wearing of their adopted symbol of the RAF roundel albeit with the colors transposed. The Union Jack is also an iconic apparel trademark of the band who are seen blanketed in it for a photo used on “The Kids Are Alright” album cover. At other times Pete wore a curly lamb fur, Roger donned a velvet jacket and an ascot, but they both favored ruffled shirts at various gigs. The other original band members including legendary drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle followed suit with fairly outrageous clothing as well. As is well documented, Moon died tragically but not entirely unexpectedly at 32 in 1978 from a drug overdose and Entwistle died of a drug induced heart attack in 2002. On this current tour it’s interesting to note that Ringo Starr’s son Zak Starkey is the drummer (he actually studied under Keith Moon) and Pete Townshend’s brother Simon Townshend plays backing guitar and vocals.
|Roger Daltrey at Woodstock|
Unlike the Stones who, still tend to perform in showier clothing, even if some layers get peeled off particularly by Mick (as he does his patented peacock or rooster strut on the T-shaped stage), the two remaining members of The Who lean towards minimalism in their stage clothing these days. Roger Daltry has a stage uniform of an all black shirt and pants although the shirt gets progressively more unbuttoned as the night wears on but he’s still ripped so that’s ok! He also douses himself with a bottle of water during “Love, Reign O’er Me.” Pete’s attire is even more mundane, consisting of a gray t-shirt and jeans, however, he seems to have a trademark bright red pocket square hanging out of the t-shirt as part of his costume. After glimpsing a photo of him wearing a white jacket with a red pocket hankie I tried to find out whether there is any inherent symbolism in this flourish. While researching this phenomenon online I found an interview that alludes to his wearing a red scarf as a symbol of “Capitalistic Socialism.” I’m pretty sure he meant it as a joke, especially as he admits to selling out in the early ’80s upon writing “Eminence Front” for the TV show Miami Vice.
|The Who at 1967 Monterey Pop Festival|
As I mentioned, the septuagenarians don’t move around the stage all that much. Roger does still retain his patented microphone swing which is impressive and of course, he maintains most registers of his voice despite repeated throat lesions. Pete tended to banter a bit between songs and he spoke of the Monterey Pop Festival which was one of the band’s first major American gigs. “We were all dressed up like psychedelic Christmas trees” he said. I almost assume that he’s including Jimi Hendrix who also played, and supposedly lost a bet to Townshend that determined the performance order (Hendrix had to go last.) Townshend joked that only about 25 people attended the festival but over the years he’s met many more who claim to have been there. “Maybe there were more people there than we thought.” The actual estimate is closer to 25,000 to 90,000! This festival paved the way for other outdoor festivals including Woodstock, which occurred two years later. At Woodstock, fringe vetements were king and everyone was a subject.
Joan Jett, recent inductee to The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, wore her signature sparkly onesie/jumpsuit which was initially covered by her oft-worn black lace-up sleeve jacket (hers may have been leather but there’s a similar one in a twill fabric for her Hot Topic/Tripp NYC collaboration (see here) but that was quickly removed once she got rock and rolling. Last night’s sleeveless coverall seemed to be made of a red glitter neoprene or stretch fabric. I’ve seen her wear a gold lurex striped version as well as an all black wet-look or patent shiny one. She was sporting her characteristic cat-eyeliner, no-blush makeup; her spiky hair style has not changed much. At 56 she is holding up well with excellent arm definition and very little wiggle-waggle, although I’m starting to think that despite one’s best efforts, gravity eventually takes over.
I definitely recommend catching at least one of their shows if possible. You can’t beat the entertainment value of Pete crooning the once arch lyrics of “My Generation” (“Hope I die before I get old”) un-ironically. As far as material covered, Pete says they would have to play for over four hours to hit every one of their most popular songs, so at two hours and twenty minutes, not all of them are revisited. Most obvious is the absence of “Tommy” although they perform “Pinball Wizard” and a whole interlude of the rock opera. I would have liked to have heard “Substitute” and “Magic Bus” (both played at other venues along the tour) but that’s just the luck of the draw. I strongly suspect that this is the band’s last time at the rodeo, as Roger Daltrey spoke of how it gets harder to sing every day. Pete Townshend uncharacteristically thanked the audience several times for coming out to see them over the years which is also suspect. It seems that the Glimmer Twins of Mick and Keith, who just kicked off their 15-city “Zip Code Tour”, (Buffalo is as close as they’re getting to NYC) may well win the war of attrition of the original British Triumvirate.