Beat Recommends: The Who

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Pete Townshend reminding us “I’m alive!” at the Staples Center, January 2013. Photo by Brian Michaels for the LA Beat.

I know, that sounds like something I’d say. Of course I recommend the Who – they’re awesome. I could have told you that when I was ten years old, having my mind blown by Tommy The Movie while my grandmother tried to drag me out of the theater. (She finally consented to sit in the lobby and leave me to it, just moments before the Uncle Ernie scene, for which I am eternally grateful.)  They became my favorite band that day and they still are. So, take the recommendation with the knowledge that it’s coming from a particular point of view.

Even at 50 years old, the Who still have plenty to recommend them, not least of which is the repertoire. Their big hits are eternal, and some are un-skippable in the set list, but those who have seen them before should expect surprises. Previous stops on this anniversary tour have seen them pulling out gems which hadn’t been tried on stage in decades, from sixties singles to seventies deep album cuts, even re-visiting “Cry If You Want,” the most rocking track from 1982’s much-maligned It’s Hard album. The Anaheim and LA stops come at the very beginning of this final leg, and given the way tracks have floated in and out of rotation since they first hit the road nearly a year ago, it feels like anything is possible.

They are, as many people like to point out, not the same as they once were. (Another thing not the same as it once was: the people who say that.) It’s not about re-creating the past, like the Civil War or anything. It’s definitely not the same. But it’s still very good. It’s particularly good when Pete Townshend is having himself a good time, and his last few appearances in town have been “on.” So have Roger Daltrey’s, considerably recovered in recent years from throat troubles that shadowed him in 2007.

The last time this lineup played LA, playing Quadrophenia in its entirety, one thing that stood out was the degree of proficiency the newly-added side players from Roger’s solo band bring to the picture. Like the Wondermints did with Brian Wilson, they bring a note-perfect re-creation of parts, the way they sound on the album. This is very new territory for the Who, who used to be furious improvisers even when playing along to pre-taped synthesizer parts. This can sometimes interfere with the frantic energy one wants out of a Who show. But they also bring a confidence that possibly allows Pete and Roger to feel comfortable playing songs they haven’t played a million times.

So yes, by all means, go see the Who. They may not do this again, although they very well might, too. But don’t just cross them off your list, go to a rock show and play air guitar to “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and scream “They’re all wasted!” with 15,000 people who feel the same way. Remember, like Pete said, that line’s not about getting wasted, it’s about waste. The Who is in town. Don’t waste the moment.

The Who with special guest Joan Jett and the Blackhearts perform at Honda Center of Anaheim on Wednesday, September 16 and Staples Center on Monday, September 21.

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