Or, a listy (listless?) review of a great show
That is, if I recall correctly, exactly what Roger Daltrey says to us a few songs into the set. I am putting it on my CV, thank you very much.
For a singer, Roger is not a talker. Probably healthy, and one of many things I like about him. He is here to sing some tunes (my GOD is he here to SING some TUNES) and otherwise lets Pete do most of the banter.
Pete is a funny old man who wears a bandana. Sometimes he does a windmill with his arm while playing the guitar (not an overrated move, every bit as wonderful to see as you’d expect). He has a history of damaging his equipment, but tonight the only thing he breaks is my heart when he walks offstage. And I’m a roadie who will glue it together, again and again, expressly for this purpose.
My friend and I are two young people in a crowd that skews far older. I am, additionally, a rather short girl in a crowd that skews taller and overwhelmingly male. I first notice this en route out to the venue, standing in an increasingly packed train car and being unable to see over shoulders, and yet I feel totally safe and comfortable. We all know we’re in for a spiritual event.
Here is an annotated set list, in chronological order to the best of my memory:
- Selections from Tommy (“Overture,” “1921,” “Sparks,” “Amazing Journey,” “The Acid Queen,” “Pinball Wizard,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It”)—I have my differences with Tommy, but I gotta say: you haven’t lived until you and 19,999 other people have gone a little out of your minds to a song about an arcade game. How bizarre and beautiful is this world of ours? (Equally compelling, if more unsettling and thought-provoking, was the sight of a couple of women in front of me jamming shamelessly to a song in which a prostitute drugs and quite possibly sexually assaults a young man. Only this band.)
- “Who Are You”—I would like to congratulate myself and the guy on my other side, because we really brought it on this one. Though I don’t see how one can’t.
- “Eminence Front”—what a bop! Convinced me even more that Pete may have been listening to Talking Heads when he wrote it?? I hear some Remain in Light in there.
- “The Kids Are Alright”—perhaps the sweetest moment of the night. I love this song. It’s got a great bridge, simple and striking (Pete makes the difficult task of writing a strong bridge look easy), which, in a lovely twist, they sang twice!
- “You Better You Bet”—ok, so my headcanon is this: Pete wrote “I’m not into your passport picture / I just like your nose” because he was feeling insecure about his nose, and Roger picked up on that and addressed the line to him when he sang it. And I was proven RIGHT at least on the latter point! I love male friendship. Especially between men who weren’t always friends.
- “The Seeker”—OMG they pulled out this gem for us! It’s my understanding that they’ve played it sporadically over the years, i.e., not for every crowd, so I’m still glowing to think they deemed us worthy of it. (Alternate reading: I hear Roger isn’t a big fan of it, so it was very nice of him to suffer through it for our sake.) Pete doesn’t have many straight-up blues, which is part of what I think makes it special. Side note: first song I’ve heard to name-drop Timothy Leary? He was alluded to all over the place, of course, but no other songs come to mind that name him.
- “Substitute”—one of the few times I sang along full-voice, to live out my fantasy of doing John’s high harmony on “LOOK PRETTY GOOD TOGETHERRRRRRR!” etc. This song is a masterpiece. During the acoustic break, it occurred to me that we could have been anybody, anywhere in the world, lounging on a lawn on a summer night drinking beer while some guy played the guitar. Except we had paid a fair bit of money to lounge on this lawn and drink this beer, and the guy playing the guitar was Pete Townshend. I’m a person who takes joy in being alive generally, but in this moment I was REALLY glad to be alive.
- “Tattoo”—I didn’t realistically dare hope that they would include a number from Sell Out. It’s one of my favorite records, with one of the highest proportions of songs I would have loved to hear. This one’s got a funny lyric and a luxurious, gorgeous arrangement. Kind of made me want to get a tattoo! Not really. (If I did, it would be a tiny red ‘A’ on my chest, there is literally no other tattoo that makes sense for a New England girlie.)
- “Won’t Get Fooled Again”—a wild transition from “Tattoo,” come at us outta nowhere, why don’t you. I can’t say just what I felt for the next nine minutes, but ‘the pull of gravity’ was not it.
- “Behind Blue Eyes”—I kid you not, every man in that arena was singing this song with every fiber of his being. I personally have hazel eyes, but I think it’s pretty good anyway. They stripped down the second part of the middle eight (“And if I swallow anything evil…”), a moment that gives me chills just writing about it.
- Selections from Quadrophenia (“The Real Me,” “I’m One,” “Cut My Hair,” “5:15,” “The Rock,” “Love, Reign O’er Me”)—among the works I’m less familiar with at this juncture. It’s my concert companion’s favorite; he’s quite knowledgeable about its creation and meaning, and it was fulfilling for him to hear it live. I enjoyed the artistry of the songs even without feeling a particular connection to them. “5:15” is a good one. I would have liked to hear “Doctor Jimmy,” but we can’t have everything.
*Pete introduces a fraction of the people onstage*
- “Baba O’Riley”—one of the best live song experiences I have ever had. The place was in total communion. My friend and I sang to each other. Hearing the intro with an orchestra behind it was unreal. Hearing the coda, played by the immensely talented violinist Katie Jacoby, I almost forgot where I was. I hope this number showed Pete that he has ultimately succeeded in building the Lifehouse, if not as originally envisioned. For those five minutes, we were the Lifehouse.
- That’s it. No encore. When they leave, they leave. My brain was like GET BACK OUT HERE AND PLAY “MY GENERATION” YOU IDIOTS. A TERM I USE AFFECTIONATELY. But I can respect knowing when it’s time to go.
In summary, it was simultaneously a completely human endeavor and everything I hoped it would be. Before I go, three last things that must be said:
- A few of my favorite Who songs are John Entwistle Originals, and I was conscious of the painful contradiction of wanting to hear them while knowing it would be wrong to play them without him.
- Zak Starkey is not Keith Moon. Zak Starkey is Zak Starkey (!!!), an extremely good drummer. And a STARKEY.
- The train back from the venue, gradually losing fellow revelers until my friend and I suddenly found ourselves surrounded by normies, was a jarring comedown. It really was like slipping into and out of an alternate dimension. I couldn’t listen to any music at all for the next couple days, and I wanted the rest of the city to shut off their music too. Didn’t they realize what had just taken place? Concerts, man. They’ll wreck you.
Also, props to the guy down the row from us who shouted “MAGIC BUS!” I too would have appreciated hearing that one. Maybe next time.
Dedicated to Liam. Obviously.
Image: taken by the author just before the finale