I sipped my $25 shot of whiskey and leaned as far forward as I could in my Wednesday Addams dress as my friend Martin drank in The Who as best as he could from the back of Climate Pledge Arena, wearing a nice shirt and blazer. My husband Jason seemed happy enough, and my best friend Mary sang along. But it was really about Martin and me. Martin, who had given a PowerPoint presentation about The Who at work earlier in the week and who once lifted the end of “Circles” and tucked it into one of his own songs. And myself, who will freely speak of storing Pete Townshend’s brain in my freezer and how now is the time to do it before he ages any further. The four of us had just enjoyed fancy dinner together. We were running late and missed Mike Campbell opening. Normally, you wouldn’t catch me at a massive show like this, much less dressed to the nines and throwing financial caution to the wind for a simple drink or two. I felt like a boomer, although I’m cusp millenial (or so I like to think). I didn’t care. I was in the same room as Pete, and that was all that mattered.
Functionally, not much had changed since the last time that the band had been in town at T-Mobile Park. The stage setup was exactly the same, flashy lights, etc., etc. The orchestra played almost the same exact songs (which makes sense; not every Who song can be orchestral and besides, Tommy and Quadrophenia are called rock operas for a reason). Opening the show with the Tommy suite still feels like a ballsy move; they don’t play a hit until the fifth song in their set (“Pinball Wizard”), and the songs’ focus is mainly instrumental rather than on Roger Daltrey’s (still strong) vocal chops. But “Sparks” and “Overture” were powerful, beautiful, and emotion-inducing, standing out in almost 3D relief for this listener, who discovered Tommy three decades ago as a teen. I think of Townshend’s age at the time that he wrote that album and I’m blown away. And there he is, IN THE ROOM WITH ME. A big room. A very big room.
You know, I don’t really care how silly anyone thinks “You Better, You Bet” is, I love it and I love hearing it live. My little group sang along gleefully from our seats as I drank what was probably an $85 cider or something. That song was followed by “The Seeker,” a (meaty?) big and bouncy number that figured as the earliest track on the setlist after the Tommy songs. It’s a minor quibble that The Who’s formative hits were ignored; in 2019 we heard “I Can See For Miles” and “Substitute,” but no luck this time. If you’re a repeat offender such as myself it’s not a big deal but I’m sure that any newcomers were a little bummed out. I enjoyed the “band only” portion of the set; “Won’t Get Fooled Again” proved that an orchestra wasn’t needed to achieve an all-encompassing sound (although my crew surmised that the lynchpin howl likely wasn’t performed by Daltrey but by a “stunt screamer,” a job that we are all interested in applying for).
After a bit, the orchestra trotted back out. Those expecting an appearance from hometown hero Eddie Vedder were disappointed, but the six-song tail end of the set featuring Quadrophenia songs was as vital as ever. The core group performing these songs are supremely talented folk. John Button took on John Entwistle’s iconic bass lines admirably, while Zak Starkey proved once again why he’s been drumming with the band since the mid-nineties. He’s the baby of the band at 57, and effortlessly channels his godfather. Townshend’s brother Simon played guitar and sang backup vocals and did it well. As noted earlier, Daltrey still has a voice like a hearty stew. It’s glorious. And Townshend. I have to admit that I was sending mind waves to the tiny figure across the arena from me, my eyes flicking up to the screens whenever the camera switched to a closeup of his fingers on the guitar as he forced it to do his bidding in various ways. I wistfully wished that if I could play guitar, that I could play like that. Townshend says that he does not enjoy touring, but I swear he loves to play. I gazed in wonder at a closeup glimpse of his pedalboard (Martin informed me that it’s a Cornish, and very fancy). Also, he sang “I’m One,” which is my favorite. Anyway, I love him, and I love his salty anecdotes. The sound at Climate Pledge was pretty damn good. It was my first time there since the renovation, and the improvement in acoustics was palpable.
There was one weird downer during the set, and it was the video of historic happenings both good and bad that coincided with “The Rock.” It was the same video that was played during the song in 2019, only “updated” for 2022 and that now included COVID and the death of the Queen. It was a bit much. That’s all.
If you’re The Who and you don’t close out the night with “Baba O’Riley,” who even are you? Props to the incredible violinist Katie Jacoby, who rolled out to center stage for her take on the iconic, swirling solo. It honestly didn’t feel anywhere near a 21-song set, but I suppose that’s how it always feels when you can’t shoehorn in all of the hits and beloved deep cuts. There are just too many. In any case I felt full in my heart as we walked away into the brisk night.