- David Rolland
THE WHO PLAY HARD ROCK. LIVE ONCE AGAIN...
THE WHO HAVE PLAYED HARD ROCK LIVE IN HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA MORE TIMES THAN I CAN COUNT... AND WE ARE GLAD TO HAVE THEM BACK AGAIN.
Only a few songs into the Who's two-and-and-a-half-hour show at Hard Rock Live last Friday, Pete Townshend confronted the elephant in the room. "People always ask me, 'How do you feel about writing, "I hope I die before I get old,"'" the 76-year-old guitarist and songwriter sighed to a packed house. "I feel really, really old." Though "My Generation" was omitted on the first night of the Who Hits Back Tour, the band managed to rip through a 24-song set that would wear out musicians a third of Townshend's age. Throughout its nearly 60-year span, the Who has gone through several iterations. The band started in 1964 as a tight, energetically hyper, almost proto-punk four-piece. In the late 1960s and early '70s, the group's ambition of creating rock operas allowed the Who to mature more gracefully than many of its peers. Townshend and lead vocalist Roger Daltrey are now backed by six core band members, who were, in turn, backed by a 48-piece orchestra, complete with cellos and French horns, at Hard Rock. Unsurprisingly, Friday's set leaned heavily on symphonically enhanced renditions from the Who's two rock operas, Tommyand Quadrophenia. With so many musicians on stage, Townsend and Daltrey didn't have to resort to their old antics of jumping around like maniacs to command the crowd's attention. Midway through the show, to demonstrate they weren't hiding diminished musical skills with a fuller stage, the two original band members took the stage alone for a performance of "Won't Get Fooled Again," from the Who's 1971 album Who's Next. The stripped-back rendition proved Daltrey could still hit a wide range of notes and Townshend still had a sufficiently flexible shoulder to complete his trademark windmill guitar strum. The band also added a bunch of pitch-perfect renditions of some of its greatest hits, like "Behind Blue Eyes," "I Can See for Miles," and an epic "Who Are You?" — which caused it to dawn on me midperformance that its refrain of "Who who who who" may have served as the basis for the Baha Men's novelty song "Who Let the Dogs Out." Perhaps it was the fact that the Who Hits Back Tour was postponed for two years or that the Hard Rock show was the first stop, but the musicians complained a few times that the sound quality wasn't where they would have liked it to be. Townshend pointed out the echo in the room, while Daltrey said the songs didn't quite yet feel the way they did during rehearsals.
But no one in the audience seemed to mind. The crowd seemed transfixed by the presence of the rock icons of their generation. During the performance of "5:15," audience members broke out their air guitars to shred along, and during "Love, Reign O'er Me," they shook their fists in the air.
The two massive screens flanking each side of the stage were more distracting than any sound issues. Sure, it allowed those in the nosebleed seats to get a good view of the band regardless of the distance, but for those sitting closer to the stage, it was hard not to focus your gaze on the crisp screens rather than the performers on stage. Even those who recorded the concert for posterity on their smartphones chose to focus on the screens. The only time the screens weren't used to show a live view of the stage was during "The Rock." Instead, a montage of the Who's career, including brief tributes to the late rhythm section of drummer Keith Moon (1946–1978) and bassist John Entwistle (1944–2002), was shown. The night ended with "Baba O'Riley," a powerful-enough anthem to delude us all that we're still in a teenage wasteland, even if, as Pete Townshend reminded us, none of us is as young as we used to be.