I was a high school senior in 1979 when I first saw The Who in concert. After wrestling practice, my friends and I drove over 30 miles to the Pontiac Silverdome to watch the show. Half of my friends backed out of the concert because their parents feared for their safety after a tragedy at the Cincinnati concert a week earlier left eleven people dead. Original drummer Keith Moon had died the year before and was replaced by Kenny Jones, but I remember an excellent concert.
For 43 years, that was my only direct experience with this legendary rock group. Until Wednesday night, when I sat in Chicago's United Center and saw The Who for the second time. Bassist John Entwistle has also left us (dead of a heart attack in 2002) but founding members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend remain and they were always the heart of the band. Daltrey provided lead vocals on most of their songs and led the band on stage, while Townshend wrote most of their music and played some memorable guitar riffs.
The mod music of The Who helped define the post-Beatles British invasion of the 1960s, but they were much more than that. Their music evolved over time, which allowed them to remain relevant throughout the 1970s and early 1980s.
Wednesday night's Chicago show drew on music from most of their entire career, including some of their biggest hits ("Who Are You?", "Eminence Front", "Won't Get Fooled Again") and deeper album tracks ("Naked Eye", "Ball and Chain"). They also performed abbreviated versions of Townshend's two classic rock operas: "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia". A symphony orchestra consisting of Chicago musicians accompanied them, contributing to the arrangements of the rock operas and some of the other songs. Noticeably missing from the set were any cuts from the pre-Tommy catalog which featured more stripped-down rock and roll.
The orchestra left the stage in the middle of the show for a 5-song set featuring the core band - Daltrey and Townshend, along with two keyboards, a bass guitar, drums, and a small string section. Pete's brother Simon Townshend and violinist Katie Jacoby stood out among this group. Jacoby was particularly impressive when she came to the front of the stage to dance while playing to close out "Baba O'Reilly", on which the concert ended.
Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are in the back half of their 70s, but they still possess the talent and energy for a 2+ hour arena show. They danced and engaged the audience, and each performed their signature stage moves - Daltrey swinging his microphone in a wide arc and Townshend striking his guitar strings with a windmill windup. Daltrey's voice was particularly impressive late in the show when he showed off his range on "Love Reign O'er Me".
If this was the last time I see The Who live, it is a memory I will carry with me for another 43 years.