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The Who’s “Moving On” At Jones Beach, Sunday, September 16th, 2019, Reviewed

Two weeks ago I went to see this very show by the Who at Madison Square Garden, last night I saw it again at Jones Beach. The difference? In the former I was four before the last row, last night I was second row. It gave me the rare opportunity to see the difference proximity makes. And it makes no difference to what you are hearing but it is a difference in size. At MSG, the Who were arena rockers, scaled out of all proportion, with a full orchestra behind them, and Zak Starkey anchoring the entire show tethered to Pete Townshend. Last night, the band had morphed into an old school British Explosion rock band, intimate, self-deprecating, and friendly, between burst of operatic rock.

Clearly, Jones Beach was the better experience. For one thing, Canadian rocker duo Reignwolf, were a much better choice than Leslie Mendelsohn for opening act. But mostly, it was a great chance to see Pete shaking his fingers when they don’t work the way he wanted them to.  Roger Daltrey, the true working class hero made good, seemed a million miles away from the leather tasseled (like a Lil Nas X forebearer), golden haired and permed uber lead singer we’ve seen so many times in old Woodstock footage. On stage, and for decades, there was something unapproachable about the lead singer, his hard rock “I taught Robert Plant” everything he knows bellow, was the essence of rock as god. Up close, Roger was a very friendly presence, kidding with the front row, dropping his mic on the ground, laughing through two delays as the monitors and mics went out, funning on Pete when he spoke like Chevy Chase on SNL, getting to the point of  it fast when Pete complained about the sound (“How does it sound to you guys?” he asked). And altogether Roger proved himself well past the point where he was willing to indulge in show biz tantrums.

Pete, in a boiler suit, the blue equivalent to the white one he started wearing in 1973, a cap, and sunglasses, seemed bemused by the tech incidents, going as far as to say we wouldn’t miss the songs they couldn’t perform due to time constrictions because they wouldn’t sound good. He did seem excited for the upcoming album, the Who’s first in a decade, and to be called Who. Last year, Roger was touring with an orchestrated Tommy (I wasn’t thrilled) and Pete claims he spent the time writing the dozen songs here, something of a tautology: the band performed “Ball And Chain,” the excellent new single, originally called “Guantanamo,” and released on a Pete greatest hits in 2015. I missed it the first time, and the current version is certainly better: the bridge is cleaned up and Roger’s vocal is a growling masterpiece, but it wasn’t written last year.

A three movement set, “Moving On” it opens with Tommy highlights with the orchestra, moves on to some odds and sods, the third movement was Quadrophenia, and the end was “Baba O’Reilly”. I always assumed Pete was behind the concept of touring with an orchestra, an expensive habit (and, astonishingly, they choose different orchestras in every town -who are they? Who who? Chuck Berry?), but it was Roger’s idea and except for the new “Hero Ground Zero,” Peter didn’t don the orchestrations. More like Paul and the Stones, as opposed to Dylan or Robert Plant, they don’t fuck around too much with their recorded sound, so arranging for an orchestra must have sparked their interest. Opening with the first five songs off Tommy performed with a stunning vibrancy and vocal charge by Roger, soon they are bringing out “Who Are You?”, drunken Pete meets punk rock, with terrific backing harmonies. During the band only set, we get a vibrant “You Better You Bet” (Roger stayed away from the high notes) and an acoustic duet on “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Back came the orchestra for standout “5:15,” and the solid build to a teenage wasteland to cap two plus excellent hours.

Just as exciting, we got “The Kids Are Alright,” instead of “Substitute”,  but even still, and “I Can See For Miles” instead of “The Seeker” -which sure works for me.  Due to the tech problems, they dumped “Drowned” and “The Punk And The Godfather,”  from the Quadrophenia, which had the effect of hurrying everything along and made the final half hour much tighter. Also, in my job as advertising guy I get invited to late night talk show tapings and what I’ve learnt is, keep your eyes on what happens when the cameras are off. Similarly, if you are close enough to admire the make up on Roger’s face, you are close enough to welcome disruptions so you can see the rockers off autopilot.

I’ve seen the Who many times but never from second row, my thanks to rocknyc partner SohoJohnny Pasquale for this opportunity, and for his inspired “Behind Blue Eyes” duet with a girl sitting behind him. As for the Who? There is no John Entwistle and no Keith Moon, and, before performing “Imagine A Man” -a gloriously, overblown ballad they could give to Celine Dion, off their 1975 By Numbers album, Pete noted how it was the first album where the band stopped being regarded as great on record. Perhaps, but live on stage, Roger and Pete are, small or large, impeccable.

Grade: A-


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