By John Curley
Pete Townshend, 70, and Roger Daltrey, 71, shook off the cobwebs to put on a thrilling show at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT on Sunday, May 24th. Their band, The Who, is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year with what Townshend and Daltrey insist will be their last major tour. The songs being performed by The Who on this tour read like a list of the band’s greatest hits, with a few rarely performed songs thrown in as something of a reward to the band’s hardcore fans. The most-recent song in the set list is 1982’s “Eminence Front.” The vast majority of the set consists of songs from the Keith Moon era, unquestionably the band’s heyday. While today’s version of The Who cannot be compared to the band at their peak, when they were quite arguably the greatest live act in rock, seeing them hit the stage with the opening blast of “I Can’t Explain,” their first single (from 1965), still elicits quite a thrill. Age has slowed Townshend and Daltrey a bit, but Townshend still windmills and bashes out power chords with the ferocity of a guitarist five decades his junior while Daltrey continues to whip the microphone around by its lead with reckless abandon.
The Who’s two-hour set was packed with highlights. “I Can’t Explain” sounded crisp and clean, and hasn’t lost any of its bite a half century after its release. “The Kids Are Alright” was fantastic, probably the best live version of the song that they have ever done. The medley of songs from Tommy was spine tingling. And getting to hear “I Can See For Miles,” “Squeeze Box,” and particularly “A Quick One (While He’s Away),” a song that The Who have not performed live for over four decades until this tour, get live airings was fantastic. (Townshend talked to the crowd about how the so-called mini-opera “A Quick One” helped pave the way for the full-length rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia.) But the top marks for the night have to go to the performance of “Bargain.” I mean, wow! Daltrey’s voice, which he has had problems with on recent tours, sounded very powerful throughout the performance of “Bargain.” It seemed like the entire crowd was up on its feet throughout the song, and they let out a massive and sustained roar when the performance of the song was over.
Backing up Townshend and Daltrey were a very talented group of musicians. Jon Carin, Frank Simes, and Loren Gold were on keyboards and backing vocals. (Simes also serves as the band’s musical director.) Pete Townshend’s younger brother Simon Townshend was on guitar and backing vocals, Pino Palladino played bass, and Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr’s son) was on drums. Simes has worked on the backing vocals with the band to give The Who a vocal richness on stage that matches the studio recordings. It has made a difference in their sound. And, of course, Zak Starkey’s incredible, powerhouse drumming serves as the backbone of the band’s current live sound. Keith Moon, a friend of Starkey’s father, was a big musical inspiration to Starkey when he was a boy, and it shows in Starkey’s frenetic playing.
In addition to Townshend’s windmilling and Daltrey’s microphone twirling, the visual side of The Who’s performance was enhanced by videos for each song that were projected on a large screen behind the band. The best of these was the video used with “The Kids Are Alright” that incorporated scenes from the Quadrophenia film and fit seamlessly with the words and flow of the song.
Townshend and Daltrey seemed in good spirits throughout the show, and both men joked with the crowd quite a bit. While there was no encore, it was a nice touch that Townshend and Daltrey remained onstage for a few minutes after the last song of the set, which was the standard set closer “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” to talk to the crowd some more. Daltrey sounded sincere when he discussed how grateful he was for the fans. It was nice to hear. The one-time Angry Young Men may have softened a bit with age, but they can still put on one hell of a show to rival any band of any age. Go to TheWho.com for tour dates and see them live. You won’t be disappointed.
The Mohegan Sun Arena is not a particularly large venue, with a capacity of about 9000. That relative intimacy certainly was a factor in how powerful The Who’s performance seemed from the audience. It seemed like the crowd was right on top of the band. The Who performed 21 songs during their two-hour set.
Opening band Joan Jett and The Blackhearts got things off to a rousing start with their tight 11-song, 40-minute set. A recent inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jett, now 56, is a very engaging performer and, as corny as it may sound, it is clear that she really does love rock ‘n’ roll. Her enthusiasm was infectious, as she and her band ripped through what was essentially a greatest-hits set, with one new song, which is titled “Different,” thrown in. All of the hits from the ‘80s were performed: her version of The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb,” her covers of Garry Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah),” Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover,” The Arrows’ “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” (her biggest hit), and her own “Bad Reputation” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You.” Prior to performing “Light Of Day,” Jett talked to the crowd about the film of the same name in which she starred with Michael J. Fox and how the song was written for the film by Bruce Springsteen. While Jett and her band performed the song, scenes from the film were shown on the large video screen behind the band. Jett’s star may have dimmed a bit since her hit-laden ‘80s heyday that featured heavy-rotation play of her videos on MTV. But she still rocks with the best of them. And the crowd loved her performance, given their enthusiastic response to it.
The set list for Joan Jett and The Blackhearts was as follows:
Cherry Bomb (cover of The Runaways song)
Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah) (cover of Garry Glitter’s song)
You Drive Me Wild (cover of The Runaways song)
Light Of Day
Love Is Pain
The French Song
I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (cover of The Arrows’ song)
Crimson & Clover (cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ song)
I Hate Myself For Loving You
The Who’s set list was as follows:
I Can’t Explain
Who Are You
The Kids Are Alright
I Can See For Miles
Behind Blue Eyes
You Better You Bet
Love, Reign O’er Me
A Quick One (While He’s Away)
See Me, Feel Me / Listening To You
Won’t Get Fooled Again