Concert Reviews

During the Who’s first Los Angeles show in four years, Pete Townshend made a cheeky joke about selling out to a car company. Years ago, an audience might have been outraged, but not now. The large crowd attending the Who’s Hollywood Bowl performance roared with laughter. I guess they identified with the compromises Pete has made. Can you call them sell outs? Of course you can.
Selling out was a notion the Who accepted long ago. It’s no accident that the title of one of their finest albums refers to that very notion. The first concert I ever attended was a Who show at the L.A. Sports Arena in 1980, so it was essential to mark this anniversary by seeing them again.
The group has been performing with a basic setup these days, so the prospect of seeing a more traditional Who show was exciting. There’s nothing like hearing the opening chords to “I Can’t Explain”. Even now, it still resonates. The Who tore into the song, and by altering the beat, gave it a vitality it had previously lacked.
They stumbled on competent but unspectacular versions of “Substitute” and “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere, but they regained their footing with solid renditions of two tunes from the “Who’s Next” era, “My Wife” and “Relay”. These performances came across as raw, relaxed jam sessions.
The band gained a momentum which intensified with each Townshend windmill. Pete gave lead vocalist Roger Daltrey a rest with a marvelous solo version of “Drowned”. The anchor of the Who’s sound is legendary bassist, John Entwistle. He truly outdid himself when he took an extended solo during “5:15”. His cascading runs, and lightning fills were breathtaking, and an inspired Townshend responded with some ferocious playing of his own.
There were several moments during the show when it felt like it was 1975 again, that’s how well they played. Drummer Zak Starkey plays with an energy that is reminiscent of his late hero Keith Moon. Starkey’s playing has revived the others.
Snarling, storming versions of “Who Are You” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” followed, and this time it was Daltrey’s turn to shine. After some rough going early on, his voice became much stronger, but he really gave his all on those two. A splendid encore included a sublime, autumnal rendering of “The Kids Are Alright”, a rousing “Let’s See Action”, and a roaring “My Generation”.
The Who’s music once captured the frustrations of youth. It seems that they have finally come to grips with aging. All of them are on the other side of fifty, but they aren’t ready to go quietly just yet, and this is definitely a reason to celebrate.