Monday Night Feels: The Who Edition

Oh hi. It’s been a minute, hasn’t it?

Sorry for the lack of posts on here. I’m happy to say it’s because I’ve been doing a lot of writing elsewhere, although I certainly don’t want this blog to die. Where else can I blab about my favorite classic rock bands, silent movies, and TV shows?

Speaking of which, I have some thoughts about The Who that I want to share.

Last night, The Who played Outside Lands, a festival that I’ve written up twice this year and which happens to be three blocks down the street from where I live.

You’d think I’d be there, right? If this was a couple years ago, it’d be a no-brainer.

But I wasn’t, for a combination of logistical reasons first: we had weekend plans, one day tickets are still so expensive, there weren’t that many other acts I wanted to see, etc. But perhaps the biggest reason for me personally, however, was reading this interview with Pete, right around the time of Desert Trip. In it, he basically says that performing is a chore, and that he comes off the stage thinking the band has “pulled off another scam.” The full article is here but you have to sign up to read it. It made me sad, and hesitant to see them in concert again. I was worried that even if the show itself was great, it would be obvious that they were just going through the motions.

So last night I tuned into the livestream to see if the show matched up to Pete’s words. I went in expecting to witness a decent rock & roll performance, with minimal effort and rehearsed song introductions, maybe some snarky comments here and there.

Instead, I saw a real rock & roll show (not without some flubs) with so much life and energy behind it, especially from Mr. Grumps himself. There were plenty of snarky comments too, which are to be expected, but it made me remember how much I love Townshend stage banter. The whole thing was incredibly fun to watch.

Sure, maybe they’re just really good at putting on an act (Pete has said so himself), but I’d like to believe it was real, and this is why.

Pete and Roger are 72 and 73, respectively. They’ve been playing together for over 50 years. To Pete’s point, I can see why he considers performing a “job” these days (people say they could quit and live off their royalties, but I’m not sure if they really can? Or maybe the repetition of performing is still better than being retired?). They play a lot of arenas and probably a lot of the same venues every few years. Right before Outside Lands they’d just finished a residency at Caesars Palace in Vegas (yeesh). I know from experience that their audiences span generations, but I do think for the most part, the crowd is more boomers than anything else.

This show was different, though. The Outside Lands crowd is so young (seriously, I look at photos and videos from the weekend and everyone looks like they’re in high school). Pete and Rog cracked a few jokes about it when they first came onstage, but I think they were genuinely excited to be playing for a new and different audience. Pete delighted in talking about radio as if it was a prehistoric thing, and explaining The Who’s most iconic albums as if no one knew what they were. He also wasn’t afraid to make some salty old man jokes (see the first 10 seconds of the video below), which he probably felt ok doing because he wasn’t in front of a crowd of people his own age.

(That video ends with “Naked Eye,” one of my faves. Definitely worth a watch.)

And Roger seemed to enjoy himself too, although the poor guy struggled to hit some of the notes he could previously wail on. His scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was excellent though. I had trouble following what he was trying to say half the time (“stay lucky”?), but he had some good zingers too. Like the one about the pot. Nice, Rog.

Highlights for me in a set full of mostly classics were “I’m One,” “Amazing Journey,” and “Sparks” (mostly for sentimental value…it was one of my favorite songs to play when learning guitar). Part of me wishes I could’ve been there in the cold and wet, as close as possible to the stage, singing along at the top of my voice. But hearing the music from our apartment clearly enough to sing along was probably the next best thing, and also a very surreal experience.

I can’t say I’m a superfan, but I’ve watched my fair share of Who performances/interviews and read lots of stuff Pete has written over the years… and I know he’s had pretty much the same attitude since The Who started. Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have taken that Desert Trip article too seriously. Even if Pete’s a grumpy old man most of the time, I do think he enjoys performing enough to keep doing it, and that the crowd in San Francisco made him realize it.

For funsies, here’s “My Generation” from 50 years ago, at the Monterey Pop Festival (the concert that put The Who on the map in the States):

And I know putting a bunch of video links in here is a bad idea because they always become dead after a while, but I just really want to shine a spotlight on Pete’s video diaries from 2000 (see Pete, you can have fun on tour!). Some blessed soul put together a compilation of all the best bits, and it’s the best thing I’ve seen all week.

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