The British band led by septuagenarians Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey returned to Van Andel Arena on Tuesday and proved their mettle with a night of timeless rock classics. (Review, photos)
SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTO GALLERY, SET LIST
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Even compared to The Rolling Stones, The Who were always the British Invasion band most likely to veer into complete chaos.
Still, there’s no reason, when seeing a group well into its fifth decade of existence on a greatest-hits arena tour, to expect anything really suspenseful, off-book or dangerous to occur in exchange for premium baby-boomer ticket dollars. But that actually kind of happened at The Who’s nearly sold-out show Tuesday night at Van Andel Arena. Much respect!
Pete Townshend doesn’t smash many guitars these days, but frontman Roger Daltrey spent a good chunk of time toward the middle of the Who’s two-hour set being visibly very annoyed, and it was terrific. He seemed at one point to be having a problem with his in-ear monitors, which he removed while the band — now consisting of Pete Townshend and six other musicians, including Pete’s younger brother Simon(!) and Ringo Starr’s son Zak(!!) — vamped along gamely. Daltrey spoke some emphatic words into an onstage microphone that was inaudible to the audience but presumably well-understood among the crew.
A song or two later, he explained to the crowd, in expletive-laden detail, that the smell of cigarette smoke from somewhere backstage was throwing him off. During the next couple of songs, Daltrey returned a few more times to that secondary microphone to deliver more words, probably also expletive-laden, to whomever was listening backstage.
Luckily for the flow of the concert, the band was beginning a stretch of songs from “Quadrophenia,” unquestionably their best album (fight me!).
DALTREY IN FINE VOICE, TOWNSHEND SHREDDING GUITAR LIKE A TEEN
This allowed Daltrey a breather while Townshend did lead vocals on “I’m One” and the band segued into the instrumental “The Rock.” After which, Daltrey, 73, returned triumphantly to stage and crushed the living hell out of “Love, Reign O’er Me,” which I can verify from embarrassing karaoke experience is a super-humanly difficult vocal part even for a person in his 20s or 30s. Again, much respect!
From there, the smartly constructed setlist charged into the band’s peak “Tommy”/”Who’s Next” period, which found Daltrey performing microphone twirls that probably involved Olympian amounts of choreography. The set-closing run of “Amazing Journey,” “Sparks,” “See Me, Feel Me,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Baba O’Reilly” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is a rock and roll slam dunk for the ages, performed by people who are not ageless but have somehow turned age defiance into its own form of angsty rebellion. Daltrey seemed to bask in the irony of the “Hope I die before I get old” line from “My Generation” which somehow has gone from funny to poignant.
Townshend, meanwhile, still plays guitar with a teenager’s sense of joy, imprecision and discovery, like he’s still figuring out what noises he can coax out of a Stratocaster. His trademark windmill arm swing feels less obligatory than just the way he likes playing guitar. There was legitimate shredding. That he can do all of this while 72 and partly deaf is wizard-level stuff.
So in summary: Hell yes! Give me all of this!
I couldn’t even ballpark the number of thoroughly boring arena shows I’ve seen where everything is stage-managed into meaninglessness. And yet here’s The Who, deeply into their sunset, check-cashing years, somehow finding a way to reaffirm what made their rollicking interpretation of R&B so exciting to begin with.
We all die, we all get old, not necessarily in that order.
May we all fight this inevitability with the same caginess and tenacity of the Who.
PHOTO GALLERY: The Who, The London Souls
Photos by Anthony Norkus
SET LIST: The Who at Van Andel Arena
(Courtesy of setlist.fm)
1. I Can’t Explain
2. The Seeker
3. Who Are You
4. The Kids Are Alright
5. I Can See for Miles
6. My Generation
7. Behind Blue Eyes
9. Join Together
10. You Better You Bet
12. I’m One
13. The Rock
14. Love, Reign O’er Me
15. Eminence Front
16. Amazing Journey
18. Pinball Wizard
19. See Me, Feel Me
20. Baba O’Riley
21. Won’t Get Fooled Again
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC