by Eddie Rivera
Photos by Joshua Pacheco
LOS ANGELES—With the flash of the strobe lights and the first chord of the Tommy overture, it all came rushing back to me: hearing rainfall from the overhead speakers behind me at the Inglewood Forum as The Who performed Quadrophenia in 1974, seeing and feeling a roaring Anaheim Stadium audience sing the “Teenage Wasteland” chorus of “Baba O’Riley” in 1976, as the stadium literally bounced, comforting my tearful friend Mickey Brown the night Keith Moon died on a fall night in 1978. And on and on it went.
For so long, The Who represented something larger than rock—the original rebels, the first punks, though they couldn’t have known it at the time. Leader Peter Townshend quickly elevated the musical form from four-chord bar music to majestic symphonies, without the pompous stylings of say, the Moody Blues, and countless others who thought more meant more.
The Who brought more, but they brought it with an elegant force, loud and fierce and pounding, and still cerebral. Tommy invented the rock opera, and Quadrophenia personalized it for millions, locked in their rooms, listening to it over and over.
The loss of Keith Moon, and eventually John Entwhistle, stunned the band. The Who I saw at the Hollywood Bowl weeks after Entwhistle’s death, was a struggling Who cover band. Good, but not The Who.
The Who that took the stage Friday at the Hollywood Bowl, were as close to the Who that played the Forum and Anaheim Stadiums as they could get, despite the passing of decades. Townshend and Roger Daltrey still whirled and twirled, Townshend sawing the air with his windmill guitar attack and Daltrey spinning his mic like a cowboy with a lariat, never missing a beat.
Backed by the crack LA Philharmonic conducted by Keith Levenson and powered by Zak Starkey on drums, Pete’s brother Simon on guitars, keyboardist Loren Gold, and bassist Jon Button, the band opened with a generous slice of their groundbreaking, aforementioned Tommy. The overture swept over the Bowl fans like waves breaking over their heads, pounding them and lifting them up to the next crest.
Old was new again, really new. The audience of seniors, some with hipsters in tow, sang along again, perhaps not as loudly or as forcefully as those 20-somethings who rocked the Forum and made Anaheim Stadium bounce, but it was still their band up there. And they were the same 20-somethings. With snotty grandchildren.
The Tommy performance begat “Who Are You” and “Eminence Front” from the 1977 Who Are You album, both delivered with the additional sonic firepower of the orchestra, bringing a new richness and texture to both.
From the very early days, it was “The Kids are All Right” and “Substitute.” An acoustic “Won’t Get Fooled Again” supplied all the power and intent of the original, while “Behind Blue Eyes” aptly displayed every layer of the band from the minute to the magnificent.
Violinist Katie Jacoby brought fire and flash to the spinning finish of “Baba O’Riley,” as the band’s always-innovative lighting system seemingly turned the stage and every tune into a new and different cinematic event.
A four-song set from Quadrophenia to close the show was the remarkable highlight to an already stirring and remarkable night. Daltrey, who was forced to stop a show in Dallas weeks ago when he was simply unable to sing, bravely hit the chorus of the closing “Love Reign O’er Me,” spot on, strengthening as the ending climbed and soared. Remarkable at 30-something, and spectacular at 70-something.
Mickey Brown, if you’re out there, they still rocked.
Once-mysteriously hailed show opener Liam Gallagher delivered his whiny ouevre to a two-thirds full house. That seemed about right.