Sunday, February 8, 2015

I can't explain The Who

Back in 1996, I got to see The Who when they brought their Quadrophenia tour to San Jose. I remember sitting next to a guy who said that he was a teenager when the album came out, and I replied that it came out the year that I was born (just a month before, actually).

Why were they touring for an album that was over twenty years old? It turned out that they were unable to perform that rock opera the way Pete Townshend envisioned it originally, and when the opportunity came along to do it the right way, with a large band with a horn section and large screens to tell the story, it was time to do it.

How was the show? It was great. Of course, original drummer Keith Moon wasn't there, since he had died back in 1978, but they were ably assisted by Zak Starkey, a protege of Moon's (and son of Ring Starr).

The whole show was a real treat for me, because Quadrophenia is easily my favorite album of theirs. I was just listening to it the other day, and I have to say that it's one of my favorite albums EVER. There's a lot of stuff that I loved in my 20s, and while I still love it to this day, it doesn't have the same kind of emotional punch for me as it did back then. This particular one though had me singing and feeling like it was still new to me. (Notable track: "The Punk and the Godfather". Maybe it's because I'm even older and more disillusioned now.)

I've written a few tributes to some of my favorite bands now, but for some reason I'm just getting around to writing about The Who. I've started and stopped writing posts about them before, never quite finding the right angle to take on how I feel about them. The thought came back to me recently as I've been listening to the audio of Pete Townshend's autobiography, Who I Am.

It's fitting (and simultaneously ironic and coincidental) that they have a song title that perfectly explains my inability to express how much their music means to me. I definitely feel something strong, but it's hard for me to put it into words.

Obviously, I wasn't around for when they first came on to the scene. For the longest time, they were just one more band on a long list of "oldies", and it wasn't until I started exploring classic rock that I started listening to them. One of the first CDs I bought was Who's Next, the reason being that I saw a video of Pearl Jam performing the song Baba O'Rily.

So, I don't have any memories of seeing them at Woodstock or having been a mod who used to fight the rockers in Brighton. I just had those CDs which I blasted in my car while on my way to college classes and/or my job at a grocery store. I remember that I even incorporated them into some of my creative writing short stories when I went to San Francisco State University, and I even snuck Pete Townshend into the background of a comic book I drew.

One thing that I can say for the band is that they're one of the few where each member is crucial to their sound. Yeah, they had albums after Moon died, but I don't recommend them all that much. He had one of the most distinctive drum styles. He was kinda the anti-Ringo Starr, who operates on the principle of "less is more". With Moon, it's "more is more", but it still goes with the music, never overtaking what the others are trying to do. Still, you can just sit there and listen to him and be entertained.

I especially don't recommend Endless Wire. Not only is Moon not present, but they're lacking one of the best bass players ever, John Entwistle. That man wasn't just part of the rhythm section. His playing was a crucial part of the melody of many of The Who's songs. There's a reason why he's one of the first to do a bass solo (on "My Generation").

Of course, Roger Daltrey also had (it's gone now folks, sorry) one of the greatest rock and roll voices ever, with him able to do a melodic love song and a lion's growl with equal effectiveness. Of course, without Pete, you don't have most of the ideas and songs from the band. Honestly though, I can't think of many bands where changing even one member has such a drastic effect. The Who is definitely one of those though.

Like I said, I wasn't there for when they first made it big, but I have a feeling that I would have liked them just as much had I been.

1 comment:

Funkifized said...

The original band was unsurpassed. That's a given. However, to write anything post-Moon is just wrong. Kenny Jones made a great effort, and managed quite well on the "Who's Last", and live recordings, such as the Concert for Kampuchea recordings. I didn't get to see the original 4 members, as I discovered the band after Moon died. However, I spent the bulk of my Jr. High and High School years emulating Keith's drumming and hero-worshipping this band. Kenny wasn't really the best recruit for the drum chair, but he was quite successful, considering the shoes that he had to fill. He also brought his own influences into the band, rather than trying to copy Moon. "Eminence Front" is a great groove, certainly a different side of the band that works to this day. Live recordings featuring Zak are a treasure, and while he's not on the cutting edge of creativity with the band, Pino Palladino is a more than able replacement for Entwistle. He knows not to try to outshine The Ox, but he allows for Pete, Roger, and Zak to do what they do. I loved "Endless Wire". It's not the original band, but the original band wouldn't be the original band, even if John and Keith continued. Rather than mourn the loss of rock's greatest band, it may be better to celebrate that the legacy still lives, different but updated.