Backed by an orchestra of local symphony musicians, the iconic British band led by Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey rocked a career-spanning set at Van Andel Arena on Tuesday.
SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTO GALLERY, SET LIST
Support our coverage of
West Michigan's music scene
Returning to Grand Rapids for the first time since 2017, The Who took Van Andel Arena by British storm on Tuesday evening to kick off the band’s “Moving On” North American tour.
Helmed by legendary songwriters and frontmen Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, and accompanied by Ringo Starr’s son Zak Starkey and Pete Townshend’s brother Simon Townshend on guitar/mandolin, as well as bassist Jon Button and keyboard player Loren Gold, the crew gave a carefully-executed, dynamic two-hour, 22-song performance for a packed house.
The group was also accompanied by 50 local and out-of-town musicians, including members of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra. The stage was sprawling, with the orchestra musicians taking up twice as much room as the band itself. Strings flanking the group on either side, horns, an entire percussion section perched on risers at the very back of the stage.
With limited rehearsals, they sounded wonderfully tentative. As did The Who itself, conjuring up a whirlwind of rock ’n’ roll and stadium-worthy jams.
Problem is, the two struggled to combine, making for a half classical, half rock show, but never really anywhere in the middle.
Opening the show with “Tommy Overture” and “It’s a Boy,” the group arrived firing on all cylinders. Given all the trappings of the band and milestone tour, one would think a light show or stage decor would be an added element – but only minimal stage lights and a ruffled backdrop provided any visual elements.
The band settled in, growing in intensity throughout the evening. Later in the set, “Who are You,” amped things up quit a bit with its driving rhythm and aggressive drums. Well, aggressive as they can be on an electric drum kit that is…a major downside and seemingly unnecessary swap. If anything, a stadium tour should at least call for an acoustic drum set.
A ‘BABA O’RILEY’ FINISHING TOUCH
“Imagine a Man” followed, and was a highlight of the night, with Townshend doing the heavy lifting vocally for the tender tune. Toward the end of the set, the band played a short catalog of songs without the orchestra, including a cover of “The Kids are Alright,” a somewhat odd acoustic rendition of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Tea and Theatre” with Daltrey and Townshend performing a duo.
With the orchestra rejoining, things heated up once more. Highlights certainly included “The Punk And The Godfather,” one of the most rocking songs of the night. Starkey landed a number of dizzying and well-placed fills, Townshend proved to be just as powerful on guitar as he ever was, and Daltrey was a fitting rock star.
As an opening night, there were some challenges and even Townshend at one point seemed to question the concept of orchestral backing.
One disappointed fan, who asked to remain anonymous, said it appeared The Who didn’t rehearse enough with the orchestra because some passages weren’t in sync and “it distracted from many of the songs.”
But others commenting on Facebook were complimentary, although some expressed disappointment there was no official encore. “Quite a different Who experience, but still cool,” wrote one fan. “‘Tommy’ and ‘Quadrophenia’ tunes really jumped with the orchestra.”
The evening concluded (as expected) with “Baba O’ Riley,” which served as the de facto encore.
The cheers and applause were deafening from the moment the song’s distinct intro began. With the crowd on its feet and the band hitting those three rattling chords in succession, it was finally clear that this was a stadium rock show, even if it took till the final song to realize it.
And it also seemed to be when the band had the most fun, with Daltrey prancing around stage and Townshend thrashing his guitar. It was a triumphant moment for all present, no doubt.
PHOTO GALLERY: The Who, Dirty Honey at Van Andel Arena
Photos by Anthony Norkus
Copyright 2019, Spins on Music LLC