The Who turns 50: Atlanta Review

Here we are in Atlanta, Georgia on April 23, 2015 to see The Who hits 50. I last saw them in 2012. I paid for the VIP tickets and watched from the third row. This time I was in the company suite, way up in the rafters. A very different experience! I don’t have good video or pictures this time, I was too far away. One of the other guests in the suite turned out to be good friends with Keith Moon’s cousin. He sadly admitted that it got him exactly nothing in any kind of access or good stories.

I felt bittersweet, this is one of the last shows I’ll ever see. This will be the last tour they do. I am planning to go to California to visit my brother and catch one of the shows, and then it’s over. No more live Who. I think I’ve seen them about 20 times (including various solo versions). I believe this puts me in the “devout but not psychopathic” category.

Alright, let’s get to the review! Pete Townshend is my god and I make no apologies for the Pete-centric focus.

The background visuals and electronics were excellent. They were always interesting to watch, but never intrusive. Some genuinely clever CGI was added on top of nostalgic images and videos. Before the show they scrolled a neat history of The Who and Atlanta. You would never know the Who existed after 1980, but that’s okay. The audience… there’s something sad about all the suburban parents dressed up nice to go the rock show. I say this as a suburban parent myself, but it’s depressing how un-rock and roll a crowd can be.

Overall, the show had three parts. The warm-ups and ‘get these out of the way’, then they start trying, then they blow the doors off the joint.

• I Can’t Explain
• The Seeker (the opening sounds exactly like The Relay)
• Who Are You

Pete had on a truly ridiculous hat, it looked like a mutant bee had died on his head. Rogers voice was generally quite strong. It faded here and there by the end, but he is far from done.

• The Kids are Alright. I love their treatments of it nowadays. Time has treated this song well.
• I Can See for Miles

They sound sharp tonight. Roger Daltrey is ridiculously good looking for his age. I think I’m glad my wife couldn’t come.

They are still funny. And they are having fun. Pete will be 70 in two weeks. Wow. He quoted from Dylan Thomas, stating he was still raging against the dying of the light and whacked his head against his guitar to prove it. This was after he pretend to mistake Duluth, Georgia for Duluth, Minnesota, where Bob Dylan grew up. This led to a bizarre tangent about Atlanta growing bigger and bigger to take over more space… much like Elton John. Pete asks Roger, “Do you get a Christmas card from Sir Elton John? Because I do.” “No, but I get one from George Bush!” Back to the show.

• Pictures of Lily
• My Generation
• Magic Bus. During which he sang that he would give the money to anyone who could correctly explain what the fucking song is actually about. They kept a lot of Country Line Special in as well.
• Behind Blue Eyes. Simon on acoustic, Pete on lead.
• Bargain: Pete asks everyone, what key are we in for the next one? B flat? What? What key? I need a different guitar then. Where’s the… allright, let’s do Young Man Blues (much cheering). More banter. OK, seriously, what f’in key are we in!? He gets a new guitar, and they launch into Bargain.

He did one warm up chord on the new guitar, and I instantly called out it was Bargain. Several Who songs (Behind Blue Eyes, Pinball Wizard) have distinctive opening chords, and Pete often likes to strum the first chord before starting for real. I was very impressed with myself by calling out the song from a single warm up chord out of context. I’m not entirely sure my suitemates appreciated my display of brilliance.
• Join Together. This started up with several people playing the mouthharp parts. I don’t know where these musicians were. I’m sure they were on stage the whole time and doing useful musical things, but they could not have been more background until this point. It was like they materialized out of thin air. This is a fun singalong tune. You couldn’t hear the lead vocals very well, the harmony parts were overwhelming.

Overall, I found Pete’s guitar tone frustrating, as I have since 1990 or so. It’s too much to ask him to go back to a Les Paul, but I don’t like his modern tone live. It is trebly and tingy. The abrasive tones that everyone hated in Quadrophenia seem to be his normal playing tones now. I firmly believe this to be a consequence of the tinnitus. I don’t think he can hear the lack of muscle and depth in his tone anymore, so we get loudness in the ranges he can hear.

• You Better You Bet: The vocal mixes keep going in and out. One song you can’t hear the harmonies, the next song the harmonies overwhelm Roger. I don’t know whose fault this is, but the sound mix is really not up to par.
• I’m One: Finally, Pete puts down the electric guitar. I was fairy disappointed that he didn’t play a wider variety of sounds. Only one song on acoustic. No wah-wahs or echos or compressors or anything like that. Straight ahead rock and roll sound on every song. Reminded me of current Queen — I love Brian May, but their setlist leaves out the variety and eclectism from Freddie Mercury that made them so great. Same for The Who. The guitar sound was pretty consistent for most of the night, making songs sound more alike than they should have. Feels more like dinosaur rock. Would love to hear acoustic Drowned, or Imagine a Man, or something with horn parts. On the other hand, it’s really hard to complain about the setlist. Every song is amazing. And it is somewhat of a greatest hits tour.
• Part Two begins, now they start trying. Despite complaining about the lack of variety in tone above, I do love that almost every song has something a big different in it. They’ve never been overly concerned about playing to the record, they have always felt free to introduce new ideas, and it’s wonderful. And many of the songs that I am used to their non-record standard live versions (Kids are Alright, Magic Bus, My Generation) are new to most people
• Love Reign O’er Me started with a beautiful piano intro. I wish it could have gone longer. It’s not the same without Rabbit, but this was marvelous. The song was great as always. Roger hit the notes, which is no small feat. He ended with an interesting transition down to bass notes. I think the background visuals might have been the exact same as 2012.
• Where’s the bass? Where is the bloody bass? This song should have bass guitar that makes your balls quiver.
• There are few better moments in rock and roll than the end of Pete’s solo coming back to the final chorus. How he can play two or three simple notes and have it sound like God is speaking to you through his music… it’s a true gift.
• Eminence Front! Yeah! This was the absolute highlight of the Atlanta show in 2009. I play the live track from Vancouver 2006 constantly. And Pete has woken up, he’s trying now. But… this was just a good take, nothing special.
• Pete had trouble all night with the ‘twiddly-diddly’ riffs and fills he likes so much. Very often he missed some of the notes or they were inaudible for some other reasons. Around now he started doing less of that and more of his old style – less notes played with more power and tone.

And now begins Part Three. It probably should have been two parts, starting with Love Reign O’er Me, but the lack of bass and poor mix was all the difference. Part Three was the show you came for. It was the part where you couldn’t stop moving and singing along. It was forty five minutes of rock and roll heaven.

• A Quick One While He’s Away: Ah, there’s the bass! Someone on the sound board turned up the bass! About time! Now they suddenly sound amazing. Rich deep sounds, and Pete is playing on top of and against something. Oh, this is great now! We got us a legitimate Who concert! There would be no more banter after this, no more talking, nothing but one amazing performance after another until the night ended.
• Amazing Journey / Sparks (with some of It’s a Boy thrown in). The best cut of the night. Nailed every bloody note. Every bit of energy, all the dynamics, awesome. It might as well be 1970 again. Pete is playing with his volume and tone distortion. He’s stomping around and flailing at the strings. He seems completely lost in the music, taken to another place (I am also). For three minutes, he is playing like his old self. I mean his young self. You know what I mean.

In one of their documentaries, Pete and Roger explain how The Who attacked the beats unlike other bands, it is part of what gives them their unique sound. That is absolutely correct. When they lay down a riff on a time signature each part is in exactly in unison and aggressively on the beat.
They are great at covering up mistakes for each others. There were a few obvious bits (Pete forgetting the lyrics in the break section of Pinball Wizard), but there were also plenty of others were someone messed up and other band members adjusted to make it seem like it was on purpose. Pete and Roger cover for each other. It’s nice to see how well they do that.

• See Me Feel Me / Listening to You: Boy, these guys are great. Pete is unconscious now. Zak and Simon and Pino and… this is what it’s all about.
• Pinball Wizard
• Baba O’ Riley: Fuck, yeah.
• Won’t Get Fooled Again: This was the final song. It bores me. I suspect it bores the band most nights. Tonight it did not. Pete was still revved up and throwing everything he had at it. Zaks drum fills were right on. A strong ending.

Says Roger, “Be good, be lucky! Good night!”

Here is the review from the local paper.