By John Curley
British rock veterans The Who and Elvis Costello performed a benefit show on Thursday, February 28th for Teen Cancer America and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center at New York City’s Theater at Madison Square Garden. It was a fantastic night of music for two great causes. For The Who, it marked the end of their North American tour in which they performed Quadrophenia in its entirety along with a smattering of other hits. For this benefit show, however, The Who performed a greatest-hits set. The concert took place the day before the 69th birthday of The Who’s lead singer, Roger Daltrey. Daltrey, along with his bandmate Pete Townshend, has been doing a lot of groundwork to get Teen Cancer America up and running. The organization, which is similar to the UK’s Teenage Cancer Trust, is looking to build dedicated cancer wards for teenagers in hospitals around the United States.
The evening of music was kicked off with a nice 15-minute set by the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Steven Roth. After a brief break, Elvis Costello and The Imposters took the stage. And they were fantastic. (The Imposters include longtime Costello sidemen keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas.) Kicking off their set with a blistering cover of Sam and Dave’s “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down,” Costello and his band soon had the crowd up on their feet. Costello’s punchy 45-minute set featured one hit after another: “Radio Radio,” “Everyday I Write The Book,” “Alison,” “Pump It Up,” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” Costello closed his set with a nice nod to the headline act on the night. He and his band tore through a blistering cover of The Who’s “Substitute” that had the crowd cheering and singing along.
The Who’s set was only 75 minutes long, the shortest set I’ve ever seen them do in the 20 Who concerts I’ve attended over the years. The brevity of the set was necessitated by the band having to leave the stage by 11p.m. to avoid having to pay overtime to the union workers, which would have meant less money going into the charities’ coffers. Despite the truncated stage time, The Who made their set count. Daltrey was in fine voice throughout and Townshend played, as usual, with the fire and ferocity of a guitarist four decades his junior. Townshend’s signature windmill move is still one of the most jaw-dropping sights in rock.
Starting with one of their signature songs, “Who Are You,” and then seguing into a jaunty version of one of their earliest hits, 1965’s “The Kids Are Alright,” Daltrey, Townshend, and company showed that why, after almost five decades, they are still one of the most compelling bands in rock music. The Who’s set also included “Pinball Wizard” from Tommy, a really excellent take on “Baba O’Riley,” a nice surprise in “You Better You Bet,” as well as a trio of songs from Quadrophenia—“5:15,” “Drowned,” and a remarkable “Love Reign O’er Me.” The Who knocked it out of the park with their usual set closer, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” The crowd, mostly in their 40s and 50s, were up on their feet, pumping their fists in the air. It was quite a sight.
Daltrey and Townshend were backed by their usual crew of very talented musicians that includes drummer Zak Starkey (the son of The Beatles’ Ringo Starr), bassist Pino Palladino, and guitarist Simon Townshend, who is Pete Townshend’s younger brother. The band was rounded out by three keyboardists—Jon Carin, Loren Gold, and Frank Simes. Simes also served as the tour’s musical director.
Following The Who’s performance, Daltrey spoke to the crowd for several minutes about why he and Townshend felt it was important to get involved with Teen Cancer America. Daltrey spoke from the heart on the subject, and what he had to say was actually quite moving.
Special mention should be given to the sound crew at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. The sound throughout the show was absolutely fantastic, the cleanest sound I’ve ever heard at a rock concert. Bravo to them.
The set by Elvis Costello and The Imposters was as follows:
I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down (Sam and Dave cover)
Everyday I Write The Book
Watching The Detectives
(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea
Pump It Up
(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding? (Nick Lowe cover)
Substitute (The Who cover)
The Who’s set was as follows:
Who Are You
The Kids Are Alright
Behind Blue Eyes
You Better You Bet
Love Reign O’er Me
Won’t Get Fooled Again