The Who - tour impressions
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kelly

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I saw The Who perform at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX
Saturday, September 21, 2002. My impressions follow.

the venue
This was my first time to attend a show at the American Airlines
Center. The only performance I'd have really liked to have seen and missed was Luciano Paveratti, something I will always regret. The American Airlines Center is located near the heart of downtown Dallas and was luckily within walking distance of where I work. Because of this, I saved my $10 in parking fees and enjoyed a short walk with my date in some of the best weather Dallas has had in several months.

The venue is a large closed stadium and regular home to the Dallas Stars hockey team, something else I keep meaning to attend and have never managed to. Seats are smaller than expected and I wondered if some of womens-sized women I'd seen outside were able to sit for the show, but at least there were cup holders. The stage was at the long end and so were my seats on upper balcony. This was not a bad seat except that the large projector screen was located forward on the stage enough to make visibility of the drummer almost non-existent. I did have an excellent view of Roger and Pete though, who I'll talk about a lot in a little bit.

The sound of the auditorium was unique in that while it carried the echoey nature of auditoriums, it managed to do so without sounding nearly as bad as they typically do. I far prefer this venue to Dallas' old Reunion Arena and hope to see more shows here. Still, I couldn't help but wish for less of that echoey effect and think I'd have preferred a concert of this size at a completely outdoor venue. At one point during the concert, I heard someone clapping just next to me and turned to look. To my surprise the man clapping was 20 chairs away from me. Very strange acoustics.

the audience
The audience was not as I expected. The turnout for The Who was a broad demographic. The last time I saw The Who was 14 years ago and at that time, "the final stop of their farewell tour", they had drawn more of a "classic rock" audience. This time the Who was a bigger act. They have been elevated to legend status and inducted into halls of fame and praised by the press. I often moaned in the past that the Who was the best of the British Invasion bands and that lesser bands like The Beatles and Rolling Stones largely overshadowed them and even Led Zepplin in the second act of the British invasion. Now it seems that The Who is right there with them.

The audience was also younger than I expected, a comment echoed by Roger Daltry during the performance. He said it was "good to see so many young people" and I took that to mean that they were nicer to see and agreed. Beautiful women were out in force at this event leading me to the conclusion that beautiful women are either more inclined to afford expensive concerts or more likely to have tickets bought for them. I theorized that people wealth enough to have $50-$150 tickets to a concert are more likely to have bar soap, shampoo and toothpaste than the average attendant of a free Blue Oyster Cult concert.

the opening act
Robert Plant had been scheduled to open for some of the Who dates. I naively wished away that this would be the case at the Dallas stop. Alas, it was not to be. Instead we were made to suffer through Counting Crows. Having a personal aversion to any band with "Crow" in the name, I hope you can forgive my bias. This band to me strikes me as watered down Dave Matthews Band and Dave Matthews Band had already struck me as watered down Phish. At this point, I'd have to conclude that there is more water than band. For those of you who actually like this music, I'll report on them anyway.

The band played for roughly 37 minutes, not that I was counting. The drummer was attending his brother's wedding that evening and because of this, the band had planned to play acoustically. The lead singer informed us that this was the only stop on the tour in which they'd be playing unplugged. As someone who doesn't care for their music, I believe I found it far less offensive than I would have had it not been acoustic. The set included all of their songs I'd heard from them on the radio and a couple I hadn't. Their performance was very good so long as you like the music. I'm sure fans of this won't be disappointed, but I doubt their standards are all that high anyway.

the setlist
I Can't Explain
Substitute
Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere
Who Are You
Another Tricky Day
Relay
Bargain
Baba O'Riley
Eminence Front
Sea and Sand
5.15
Love Reign O'er Me
Behind Blue Eyes
You Better, You Bet
The Kids Are Alright
My Generation
Won't Get Fooled Again

Pinball Wizard
Amazing Journey
Sparks
See Me, Feel Me

Hopefully you've not read this if you didn't want that spoiled, but the
setlist has been discussed enough on the internet that I felt it not too big a secret. This is both a longer and more interesting set than the last time I saw The Who. Whenever you see a band like this who has no new album and nothing to promote, you know that you're largely just re-arranging a greatest hits compilation and then flavoring it with the occasional
non-hit. To that end, the notable "missings" include "Squeeze Box", a song that I think must get more airplay in Dallas than other areas and "Magic Bus", a song I didn't think a Who show could be without. Songs I wished for but didn't really expect to hear were "Summertime Blues" (no one gets too big for covers), "Tatoo", "I'm Free", "I'm A Boy" and "Happy
Jack." It seems the Who retired "Long Live Rock" and "I Can See For
Miles" but I'm not sure why, maybe they were just boring to play. They'd previously stated that they were not going to play "My Generation" anymore due to the lyric "hope I die before I get old" but for some reason decided to do it this tour--count the ironies. I was sad to not hear "Boris the Spider" for obvious reasons.

the performance
From where I was sitting, it was strange to see them all walk out on the stage. It's not really very rock band like. Maybe I've become accustomed to people like Ozzy who enter the stage during a song and with energy. Members of the Who strolled out as if they were there to accept awards.

The show began with the three-song tribute to Who bassist John Entwhistle who, if you haven't been following along, died of a drug related heart failure the day before the tour was to begin in Las Vegas. The three songs, "I Can't Explain", "Substitute" and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" were still somewhat eerie for me despite my having heard about this prior to the show. I don't know what I was expecting, but the songs were more like a celebration than a funeral, all well performed with Roger Daltry smiling the whole time. It was all very professional.

Having seen the bad 14 years ago, that's the one understatement of this tour compared to the last--it was all... very professional. I had mixed emotions about this. It doesn't seem like a band can sell out so many years after their last studio album and yet they just didn't seem like that underdog rock band they used to seem like. Every step, every position and every swing of the microphone cord seemed planned and precise. It's strange that with Roger's acting experience of late, his performance only now seems more "forced" than it did before. In fact, throughout the entire show, one couldn't help but be reminded that we were watching an actor and a playwright. It was a strange homecoming--it was the town I grew up in, but things had changed.

One of the things highlighting the change for me is that when last I saw them, I was under whelmed by Pete Townsend's performance. Even from live albums, Pete had always struck me as being the weaker performer despite being such a prominent songwriter and publicist, and despite being the person to do most of the talking to the audience. Pete's guitar work was inconsistent and his vocals could rarely replicate what was on the album. Something has changed. Pete is now a seasoned professional and delivers every pluck and strum of the guitar alongside a powerful voice. I was very impressed and yet somewhat disoriented.

By now, you've probably noticed my only mentioning Pete and Roger. This is no accident. The rest of the band was presented as a backup band in the truest sense of the word. While Pete was kind enough to introduce them after their three song Entwistle tribute and clever lead into "Who Are You", the band hung back mostly in the shadows. They were all very good. I had no complaints of their keyboardist, drummer or bassist. Again, they were all professionals. I was surprised to learn, though, that Pete's brother had been lending his vocals on stage to supplement for Entwistle's aging, as Pete explained. I didn't remember this from the last time I saw them and wondered how long he'd been with them.

The crowd was somewhat orderly for such an act--yet another piece of the strangeness. I'm sure a part of it was the heavy security of the venue but it was odd to look down on all of the folding shares on the floor throughout the show seeing them all remain so neatly aligned as the fans stood in front of them and applauded as if they were watching a Grammy speech. The audience was involved but not as you typically see at rock concerts. I spotted the overly excited fans in the first two rows pointing and yelling each lyric but from the third row back with rare exception were people standing, nodding along and smiling.

It's funny that a few years ago in the early 90s, I saw people literally stage dive and thrash about to such mellow bands as Tears For Fears. And yet here I was watching the Who with in a completely orderly crowd. I reminded myself again of the ticket price and wondered if that alone played such a large role in the behavior of the audience.

The audience nodded along to "Another Tricky Day", "Relay" and "Bargain" but really came into an uproar cheer as they began "Baba O'Riley." This was a song that could really highlight the strengths of both Roger and Pete's vocals and is one of the reasons I mentioned Pete's performance being better than I remembered from the previous concert and live albums. When the CD or DVD of this tour comes out, this performance alone will be reason enough to acquire it.

I thought of that, throughout the show--while I was somewhat taken aback by the band's clean and almost polished presentation, the whole thing made me think to myself, "Wow, this is going to be great on DVD." Like I said, it was really mixed emotions.

Pete introduced "Eminence Front" next and I had trouble deciphering his words. Something about the soft British mumble of both Pete and Roger combined with the reverb of the hall made them difficult to understand. Being in Texas I wanted to say, "Boy, you talk funny. Ye ain't from around here are ya?" Nonetheless the audience got the gist of it and expressed their enthusiasm for hearing a song they weren't sure they'd be hearing live but all wanted to. This song had been making it big on classic rock radio and for some I suspected it was their first major exposure to The Who.

"Sea and Sand" and "5.15" went by uneventfully but well performed. The next big song was "Love Reign O'er Me" and I couldn't help but be a little disappointed here when comparing in my head to 1988's fantastic fireworks demonstration over the Cottonbowl. You just can't get away with as much in an indoor arena, I suppose, but blue lights floating around the interior as if from a disco ball were simply a poor substitute.

"Behind Blue Eyes" was another real fan pleaser and perhaps another one people weren't sure if they'd get. I think every Who fan loves this song. It's just enough teen angst and self-pity to have been unique in those days--funny to think about in comparison to today's pop climate. I wonder why some crappy grunge or "alternative" band never bothered to cover this one. No taste, I guess. The band harmonized well on this performance. It's another track I'd look forward to having on the live album.

"You Better, You Bet" and "The Kids Are Alright" were both widely appreciated. The band began to pick up energy again -- a tell tale sign that the end of the set was nearing and that we'd reached the climax of the performance. Everyone in the audience was into it by now. I looked around the auditorium to find myself the only one looking--everyone else transfixed on the stage and mouthing the words.

"My Generation" was a real surprise as I'd mentioned before. The performance was admirable but I questioned the relevance of its lyrics. Which generation are we talking about now? Or is this really a sign that represents each new generation and can simply be handed down. Now we're the ones "not getting it" but instead of stuttering, the youngsters today are packing heat and trying to out gangster each other with lines like "I own you." Yeah, whatever. I'm getting old--I just didn't really need this as a reminder.

"Won't Get Fooled Again" was an excellent performance but again seemed somewhat insincere. The world order has certainly changed since when this song was written and I sometimes wish interviews with these guys would oust classic rock bands' current political views on songs written for a different era. Nonetheless this was a great set closer and a nice way to end on a high note.

The band left the stage in traditional, "Hey, we're leaving, cheer a lot so we can come back on soon to finish the show." I sometimes wonder the point of this practice. It's nice that they get a couple of minutes to get a drink of water and wipe the sweat from their faces but it's funny that we still have to wonder whether we're getting more songs and if so how many. That the lights stayed dim as the roadies adjusted the mics was almost a guarantee of their return.

"Pinball Wizard" was the gist of the encore -- an album they'd been playing in its entirety on their last mini-tour (which did NOT have a Dallas stop!). I had no complaints with any of this except the understanding that I wasn't going to get to hear "Magic Bus" tonight. Ah well. Ending with a good performance of "See Me, Feel Me" was a bit anti-climatic and makes me hope the DVD won't have the credits rolling over it.

I would not have missed this concert for the world. The Who is a changed band and although I have mixed feelings about this, the new version of The Who is not a bad one. In this market, artists evolve or die. I'm happy to have had The Who evolve into serious performers rather than appearing as burned out has-beens as some of the other classic rock acts have become. This isn't the first time The Who has changed and it probably hasn't been as great a shift as it seems when you only get to see them once every 14 years but remember, they stopped wearing their mod suits a long time ago. Roger and Pete are in great physical shape and to say they've grown to old to do this music would be a gross misrepresentation. That Roger now forgoes the jumping splits now seems to reflect more on his not wanting to seem silly than his abilities. The band has matured but it's still The Who and it's still a show you can't afford to miss.
 
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carlo

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i kid you not, this is the best concert review i've read. thank you very much for taking the time kelly.

i found your comments about "my generation" interesting because my perspective is that it has and probably always will be the cry of youth. your standpoint as an older person who's lived with the song (in a sense at least, i'm not sure if you born when "the who sings my generation" was released but you're certainly of a different age group than i am) is one i had never considered before. probably attributable to my arrogant youth...
 
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redshifter

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great review, kelly.

did you know roger stuttered on "my generation" because he was imitating how mods on speed spoke?
 
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