The collective resume of The Who sadly halved to guitarist and vocalist, Pete Townshend and vocalist and guitarist (there IS a distinction) Roger Daltrey is daunting to type out despite reams of available research. More than a band, this English trio plus one can be recognized by their contributions to music, rock and other. From pushing the limits of live concert volume to Townshend’s invention of stacked guitar amplifiers to the Mod scene to rock opera to the world’s first lead drummer, the only other prototypical band in The Who’s class is The Beatles. Although while the Fab Four were twisting and shouting in 1965, The Who were bashing the shit out of rock music with My Generation. As separate parts, Daltrey’s fair looks and soulful scream, Townshend’s songs and crashing guitars, Keith Moon’s inventive drumming and impish behaviour and John Entwhistle’s giblet-liquifying bass and oddball songwriting, each member brought a hyper-unique offering to the band. These four wholes are the reason The Who never lost an ounce of cred, despite playing numerous farewell tours. The band lost their rhythm section, first with Keith Moon’s passing in 1978. Then Entwhistle went out in a blaze of glory in 2002. The band continued to play despite their losses. Most recently, The Who started their Moving On tour, which features ‘The Two’ backed by their superb band AND a 48-piece orchestra. The first leg ended in May, which the current second leg runs until October 2019.
The show opened with selections from Tommy, including Overture, 1921, Amazing Journey, Sparks, Pinball Wizard and We’re Not Gonna Take It. Two of their ‘modern’ hits were played next, Who Are You and a ragged version of Eminence Front. Next was Imagine A Man from 1975’s The Who By Numbers. The final song of the first portion was a new one called Hero Ground Zero. Townshend introduced the number by saying that it was off their forthcoming album which they thought they’d record before they die. It was a fairly classic sounding Who song, much to the delight of the fans who chose to not hit the head or recharge on popcorn and beer.
The orchestra was dismissed while the ‘small’ band played a short set of early hits. The regular band lineup is little brother Simon Townshend on rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals, Loren Gold on keyboards and backing vocals, Jon Button on bass guitar and backup vocals, the show-stopping Zak Starkey on drums and Billy Nicholls on supporting vocals. Added to the band for the Moving On tour is charismatic violinist, Katie Jacoby. The mini-set was not only the most well-received portion of the show but really showed the band at its deepest strength. There were moments during the orchestrated songs that came off muddy and confusing. Perhaps this was due to the challenges associated with mixing a 48-piece orchestra along with a rock band in an arena. Hearing classics like Substitute, The Seeker, You Better You Bet and Behind Blue Eyes (played with cello and violin accompaniment). The highlight of the band set was a powerful performance of Won’t Get Fooled Again, performed by just Townshend and Daltrey. This song is more relevant than ever before and is likely the reason why the duo chose to perform it in such a way. Each line can be aimed at politicians around the world. Despite the fact that we can point to our Prime Minister and sing “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss“, Peter Townshend said that as they were driving in from the airport, he kept thinking about how Canada is one of the few large countries that actually makes any fucking sense these days. His banter and humour was wry and uncensored and much appreciated. As the orchestra returned to the stage, many fans headed to the concessions and washrooms as the band played another new song called Big Cigars. It was a fairly forgettable blues romp that led into the band’s Quadrophenia set of The Real Me, I’m One, The Punk and the Godfather, 5:15, Drowned, The Rock and Love, Reign O’er Me. The latter song was the second highlight of the night despite a double punch combo of Roger Daltrey losing his in-ear monitors and his voice. He signalled the audience to take the vocals for him but welled up some energy to come in with a thunderous LOVE at the song’s climax. It was an unforgettable moment to witness.
Throughout the show, Pete Townshend repeated his love of the audience and the city of Toronto (as well as the orchestra) and showed genuine affection for the legions of fans who attended the show, at no small cost and showed their heroes some love. He was effusive as the band closed their final song of the night, rushed to be played due to time constraints and Daltrey’s exhausted voice. The audience roared as the oscillating synth part of Baba O’Reilly filled their ears. Luckily, the singer had just enough left in the tank make it through arguably their biggest hit. The finale allowed violinist Jacoby to take her moment in the spotlight for a rousing close to the show.
The original punks still have so much of what made them famous. Final songs aside, Daltrey can still belt it out. As can Townshend on guitar and vocals though the range of both has been somewhat limited by years of wear and tear. An aspect of what shows by classic rock artists like The Who demonstrate is how hit rich they are. As song after song is a rock radio standard, it’s easy to realize that the prolific nature and musical legacy is what separates some of these old rockers apart from any contemporary version.
Rock may in fact now be dead.
However, The Who are still standing
Setlist accuracy provided by setlist.fm