2012 Gift-Giving Guide, part one
apropos of The Who, there are two new Who-related items in the 2012 Christmas gift-giving season:
1) A double-CD set called Live At Hull, the show The Who recorded the night after Live At Leeds, long-rumored to be even better than the Leeds show. (Personally, I have serious doubts it's actually better, but that's the kind of stuff that rock band aficionados and music industry insiders always come up with just so they can hold over our rock & roll rank and file heads that they have something better than us that we can't have. I call this the "nyah-nyah-nyah effect.") (Actually, come to think of it, I do that all the time myself, mostly with obscure 45's from late-70's to mid-80's Boston punk-rock bands and live stuff by The Neighborhoods.) Anyway, Live At Hull never came out before because there were technical problems recording John Entwistle's bass tracks, but with 21st century technology they flew in the tracks from Live At Leeds or some such sonic voodoo, so it's finally being released. It's kind of a bullshit move. I prefer my live albums actually being live, not doctored 42 years after the fact, but since when are live records live anyway? (As proof, play Get Your Ya-Ya's Out by The Rolling Stones next to the Live'r Than You'll Ever Be bootleg from the 1969 tour. Then we'll talk about post-concert overdubs and live album "sweetening.") (Or maybe just ask Colin & Joe from Watershed.)
The Ricki C. gift-giving recommendation: I haven't actually heard it, it's on my personal Christmas wish-list, but The Who circa 1966-1972 were the greatest rock & roll organism that ever stepped onto a stage (see following live piece), it's almost GOTTA be great, so buy it for yourself or for The Who fan on your list. (Further, maybe buy it for the Arcade Fire, Muse, Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, Black Keys, etc. fans on your list, so they can hear what a REAL rock & roll band sounds like.) (Yeah, I know that's a boring old fart, close-minded, classic-rocker kinda sentiment, but this IS Growing Old With Rock & Roll, after all. I'm entitled, nay, almost required, to be all of those things.)
2) The Pete Townshend autobiography, Who I Am, that just came out. Those of you who know me well or who have been reading this blog for any amount of time are well aware of my philosophical problems with Pete Townshend. In a nutshell: all of my standards of rock & roll professionalism are based on the 1969 Who and today Pete seems to have forgotten most, if not all, of those standards; Pete Townshend was my ultimate rock & roll hero from the first time I saw them on Shindig in 1966 until probably 1973 when the boring, over-blown, over-hyped Quadrophenia double-album convinced me that Pete had lost the rock & roll plot; then worst of all, in 1978 when Keith Moon died of an overdose of sedative medications and Townshend opted to continue The Who.
Quite simply, ladies & gentlemen, The Who WERE Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon. No one else. Not then, not now, not ever. It took four mighty turbines to make that most exquisite of rock & roll engines, The Who, roar into life. Those four turbines - Roger, Pete, John & Keith - not Kenney Jones, not Rabbit Bundrick, not Simon Phillips, not Pino Palladino, not Zak Starkey. (For Chrissakes, even Led Zeppelin had the good sense and, more to the point, the integrity to break up after John Bonham died, and he wasn't even as integral to Zep as Keith Moon was to The Who.) When Keith Moon departed this mortal coil it seems he took with him any sense of fun, any sense of humor and any acknowledgment of joy that Pete Townshend ever possessed in his miserable existence.
Only your biggest rock & roll heroes can let you down as badly as Pete Townshend has me: the endless "farewell" tours, commencing in 1982 and continuing to this day (I believe only The Eagles and Kiss have conducted more farewell tours than that rotting, bloated corpse masquerading as The Who that Townshend & Daltrey haul around the world every few years); selling out The Who's greatest songs to any highest bidder, be they computer companies, SUV manufacturers, or whatever edition of the C.S.I. television franchise needs a helping of baby-boomer rock pablum.
Plus it seems to me that for someone who professes great love and devotion to a Spiritual Master, Meher Baba, Pete Townshend seemed really committed to alcohol and adultery and did an awful lot of cocaine. And I'm not being a prude, we're all adults here. Townshend is a rock star, but let's stop kidding ourselves; very few true spiritual seekers have copious quantities of kiddie-porn on their computers when the cops come knocking.
The Who was a great band for the 1960's and early 1970's but were rendered rather redundant once the rock & roll audience shifted its pharmaceutical preferences from enlightenment and transcendence to simple obliteration. It's only teenage wasteland, indeed. (Forget about attaining nirvana, let's just kill a few million brain cells with 'ludes.) Pete Townshend could easily have moved on to a brilliant solo career and somehow come to terms with those changes, challenging his audience rather than continually pandering to it. Instead he chose to make The Who into an oldies act, rehashing Tommy or Quadrophenia year after year, tour after tour, whenever a balloon payment on his and Daltrey's English mansions are due. I realize it's harsh, and rather obvious, but I wish The Who had died before they got old.
The Ricki C. gift-giving recommendation: Skip buying the book, get it out of the library (what a quaint notion in these Nook and Kindle-ridden days) and read as much as you can stand without throwing the book across the room. (Don't get me started on how cavalierly Townshend treats the deaths of Keith Moon or the eleven Who fans at the Cincinnati show in 1979.) Proceed at your own risk.
The Who / Veteran's Memorial Auditorium, Columbus, Ohio / Saturday, November 1st, 1969
First things first: This was the greatest rock & roll show I have ever witnessed in my 60 years on the planet. Hands down, no contest, the number two show - Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, September 1978 (see The Best Of Everything blog entry, January 2012) - doesn't even come close. On a scale of 1-100, The Who in 1969 rates 100, the Springsteen show, killer as it was, was maybe a 78, like its year. I saw Bob Dylan's first electric tour in 1966 (see Shows I Saw In The 1960's - part one, blog entry, May 2012), I saw The Doors in 1968 in their prime, I saw Cream that same year in their declining period, I saw The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968 and 1969, I saw Janis Joplin & The Full Tilt Boogie band in '69, etc. and NONE, NOT ONE of those bands came anywhere close to The Who I experienced that November night.
From the very first chord of "Heaven & Hell," Townshend & company were magnificent. And Jesus, were they fucking LOUD! I was four rows from the back of the main floor of Veteran's Memorial, a 3000 seat auditorium, and I swear the entire audience's heads were blown back simultaneously by the first blast of sound off the stage. And they played at that full volume for almost three hours without a break. I couldn't hear properly for three days after the show. I went to high school for those days in a kind of muffled haze that had nothing to do with drugs and everything to do with the grand redemptive POWER of painfully over-amped rock & roll.
But back to that opening number; while still recovering from and adjusting to the extreme volume coming off the stage (Keith Moon's bass drums sounded like the "booms" you hear at a fireworks display, you could actually FEEL the vibration in your chest, it was glorious) I realized that the opening verse of "Heaven & Hell" was being sung by John Entwistle and my heart dropped. Where was Roger Daltrey? I'd been waiting, ACHING to see The Who live since the first time I saw them on the Shindig T.V. show in 1966, and especially after watching them smash their gear in numerous disapproving establishment documentary newsreels of the time, and now three years later I was gonna experience them without their lead singer. (It's kinda hard to conceive of for modern audiences, but 60's bands regularly played shows without key members; I saw The Beach Boys without Brian Wilson, The Left Banke without Michael Brown, Ray Manzarek of The Doors sang lead on at least three or four songs at The Doors show while Jim Morrison was, let's say, "indisposed." I've read that The Velvet Underground routinely did shows without Lou Reed or John Cale being able to perform. That was just the way it was in the 60's, you did what you had to do to make the gig, the show must go on.)
Anyway, just as I was adjusting to the idea of a show with a three-man Who lineup, the second verse of "Heaven & Hell" kicked in and Roger Daltrey came striding out from between Entwistle's amps and Moon's drums, all blonde curls and barechested in that buckskin fringed jacket, swinging the mic chord and laying into the "AND DOWN IN THE GROUND IS THE PLACE WHERE YOU GO IF YOU'VE BEEN A BAD BOY, IF YOU'VE BEEN A BAD BOY" second verse. It was, quite possibly, the greatest rock & roll entrance I've ever seen by a performer. And then Daltrey, Entwistle and Townshend hit their mics for the "Why can't we have eternal life and never die?" chorus and my fucking brain exploded. I was in that heaven. I had never heard anything like that raging, sacred din. I'd never seen anything like it. It was like being at a four-ring circus, you didn't know where to look, didn't know who to watch: Townshend windmilling and leaping about doing scissor-kicks; Moon pounding the shit out of his drums, bouncing sticks off his kit twenty feet into the air; Daltrey singing his ass off and mic-twirling during every vocal interval; Entwistle anchoring the entire maelstrom and NAILING every one of his vocal parts, both bass and falsetto, something I don't think he ever gets enough credit for when people write about The Who.
So by the end of the first song I was brain-battered and semi-exhausted, I'm not precisely sure I'd taken a breath yet and without the slightest pause, the band blasted into "I Can't Explain," and it was even BETTER than "Heaven & Hell." It was unbelievable, the sheer exhilaration coming off of that stage. The Who used up more energy in the first two songs of their set than Cream had managed their entire decrepit show less than a year earlier at the same venue. The first time my mind could form a thought clearly, possibly in the short interval between "I Can't Explain" and "Young Man Blues," that thought was, "Man, this is gonna be a short show, they can't keep this up, they can't play like this for long." BUT THEY DID! The whole show had to go well over two hours; they did about 35 or 40 minutes of older songs ("older" at that point meaning two or three years, not like today when "older" means 45 years), virtually the entirety of the then-brand new Tommy album, easily 45 minutes after that and the energy level never flagged ONCE.
Prime extra-musical moments in the show included Daltrey getting his microphone cord wrapped around one of Moon's cymbal stands during a twirling interlude and pulling over roughly half the kit, Moon continuing to hit thin air for about thirty seconds before realizing the left side of said kit was missing until a roadie could right things. Another striking thing about the stage set-up was how close together The Who were onstage. Bands that appeared at Vet's Memorial in those days tended to spread out, just to fill up the grand stage expanse. The drummers were always up on a riser, and when The Doors appeared I bet there was twenty or thirty feet between Ray Manzarek and Robbie Kreiger with Jim Morrison ranging in between. The Who were packed together like sardines, Townshend and Moon side-by-side, close enough to banter back & forth during songs as they played wildly off against each other the entire night. The weakest musical link in the show was the vocal harmonies, given the fact that in 1969 monitor speakers hadn't been invented yet. I just can't imagine how Entwistle, Daltrey and Townshend could POSSIBLY have heard one another's vocals with anything approaching clarity through the constant ear-splitting surge of sound from those HIWATT amps.
I remember quite clearly - after the band careened through "We're Not Gonna Take It" at the conclusion of Tommy - Townshend standing onstage with his hands on his hips, watching as droves of audience members collected up their coats and exited, convinced that HAD to be the end of the show, thinking the band couldn't possibly continue. I'd have to say at least a hundred of the audience had gone when Townshend stepped up to the mic and said, "Okay, has everyone left who's leaving? Good, here's the second set then." And with that they launched into "Summertime Blues" and somehow impossibly lifted the show and the energy even HIGHER than all that had preceded. It was quite unbelievable, it truly was. I was exhausted and I wasn't even DOING anything beyond bearing mute witness to this paean to raw power.
They ran through "Shakin' All Over" and bashed their way into "My Generation," reprising a good bit of the Tommy finale in that tune. The nascent beginnings of "Naked Eye" also got their first airing during the extended instrumental codas of "Generation," along with one or two other tunes that would later crop up in The Who catalog. And here's something I've never heard mentioned in any Who-related literature I've devoured in my 50-plus years of reading rock journalism; in the course of that "My Generation" finale, the band were so spent that one or the other of them would stop playing entirely for 30 or 40 seconds at a time just to rest for brief precious moments. All three of the instrumental players - Townhend, Entwistle, Moon - took those rest breaks. Daltrey, as lead singer, got lots of long breaks during the protracted instrumental flourishes.
And then it was over, it was in the books. It was the greatest rock show I ever saw and, at my advanced age, I can't imagine I'm ever going to see a better one. I can close my eyes and SEE, remember every moment of it. It really was quite magnificent. Roger, Pete, John, Keith; thank you, from the bottom of my rock & roll heart.
For the young, or for the uninitiated, the best representations of The Who live at their peak 1969-1970 period are the Live At Leeds Deluxe Edition double-CD and the somewhat questionable but best-we've-got Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970 DVD; neither of those representations, in my humble opinion, comes anywhere close to the show I witnessed in Columbus, Ohio, but really it was the sixties, you kinda hadda be there.
© 2012 Ricki C.