Fifty years of The Who: An Appreciation

Seeing The Who again this week got me thinking about my relationship with my favorite band. I was born the same year as Tommy. The Who has been my favorite band for thirty six years, I’ve been seeing them live for most of that time. Writing about this last show made me remember many of the good times I’ve had as a Who concert goer (I’ve seen them around 20 times). Here are some of them.

  • Tommy is released in May of 1969. I was two months old. Two months later humans would land on the moon. These are all equally important events!
  • Age 13, at camp I had a cassette tape with Pinball Wizard, Baba O’Riley, and Won’t get Fooled Again on it. I played it a lot, but didn’t know much about them. I thought Roger was the only singer, and didn’t yet know that Pete Townshend was what I really liked.
  • Age 14, on a day like any other, I returned to the house worn out after ultimate frisbee. I snuck into my oldest brothers room and put on side one of Tommy album. Those next twenty minutes would change my musical life. Half-awake, I was transported by those songs. It was like nothing I had ever heard. I sunk into a state of rapture. I haven’t come out of it yet.
  • 1989, thirty years ago, I saw them live for the first time. The tour was derided for its prominent Budweiser branding, “Who on Ice” feel of many musicians, semi-deaf Pete Townshend playing acoustic in a glass box, and mostly that they were on tour at all after having called it quits publicly only seven years earlier. I didn’t care. They blew me away. (In retrospect, the thin air of Colorado may have added to my euphoria.)
  • 1993 (?) Pete Townshend on the Psychoderelict tour. It was my first time meeting fellow hard-core fans, as the local contingent of the Odds & Sods listserv gang went whale watching in the morning. We hit it off with another couple and were fast friends for the next several years. The show was fantastic. It closed with a full choir for Listening to You. The best part was when everything went wrong. The enormous then-cutting-edge video screen failed several times. Townshend stopped the show, went backstage to yell at somebody. He came back pissed off, picked up the electric counted 1-2-3-go and launched into a furious rendition of Magic Bus. (I would see him do that another show, Magic Bus seems to be his default when he’s angry.)
  • 1996, driving to New York City and seeing three of their tour-opening Quadrophenia shows at Madison Square Garden, featuring a one-eyed Daltrey. The first time I heard John Entwistle play a bass solo (during 5:15), literally dropped my jaw.
  • 1996? Dragging the young girls from the office to see them. Roger was over fifty, but still made one of them say, “ohmygod, for five minutes with that man…”
  • 1996? Catching Simon Townshend (Pete’s little brother) for his first album  (he should have released Medicine as the single) twice. Great shows. Not surprising at all he went on to be the second guitarist in The Who, and frankly plays the hard guitar parts these days while Pete gets all the credit.
  • 1998, on a vacation out west with my new girlfriend. Driving through New Mexico, the radio announce that John Entwistle would be playing that night. We changed our plans right there to see the show. It was terrible! A ratty little bar and Entwistle played so loud our ears rang the next two days. Couldn’t hear a damn note, just a wall of noise. (The trip was so great, it later turned out we were independently thinking, I could see being with this person forever. We’re at nineteen years and going strong.)
  • 2000, two weeks before my wedding catching another show. I still remember the crushing huge notes to end the guitar solo of Love Reign O’er Me – three simple notes played with such incredible authority and tone over those wonderful strings and chord changes. Simon had played great lead most of the night (including breaking a string during the complicated instrumental Quadrophenia song and simply switching to other voicings of the notes in real time), but Pete taught him a lesson right there.
  • 2007? In an otherwise average Who show, Townshend rips the living hell out of Eminence Front.  Much like this performance (from Vancouver 2006).
  • 2012, Quadrophenia. Bringing my 9-year old, for his first rock show. We ponied up for 3rd row seats. It’s a whole different concert. Probably the last time I was truly blown away by the whole show.
  • 2015, The Who Turn Fifty.  After seeing them in Atlanta, flew back to Boston and took my cousin. I had paid a princely sum for 2nd rows seats, figuring it was the last time I’d ever see them. It was a good show, but retroactively disappointing – the first time I felt Roger just couldn’t cut it, and the sound mix was terrible.
  • 2019, I’m no longer willing to pay lots of money. I get front row of the “100s” section, and have an enjoyable night. I think, “60% of the greatest live band ever is still more than most any other band will ever get”. There are just enough great moments to keep me going, and then the closers of Love Reign O’er Me and Baba O’Riley are transcendent and I leave with an unusually open smile on my face for the next hour.

Fifty years of my life and thirty years of live shows sprinkled throughout my adult life. If there’s never another one, it’s been a great ride. Thank you boys!

The Who: Moving On Review (Sept 18, 2019)

The Who (now in their 70s) performed with an orchestra. They kicked things off with a suite of Tommy songs.

  • Overture/Didn’t Hear It: The first notes of the overture played with a full orchestra had the audience going early. Unfortunately the mix was poor, a common complaint of mine the last few tours. Except for the bass and snare drums, Zak was inaudible. Together with the bass, there was a thudding noise instead of the engine that drives the music and the many dynamics in the songs. The orchestral timing was often subtly off from the rest of the band, removing the sharpness of hitting the notes just so on the beat. And The Who is all about hitting the beats hard.
  • 1921: A wonderful short song that usually doesn’t get their live treatment.
  • Amazing Journey / Sparks
  • Pinball Wizard: Here is the dynamic these days. Simon does the real work on the acoustic guitar. Pete idly strums on the electric. The screens focus on Pete doing not much interesting musically and the crowd goes crazy. It’s amazing how much of the real work is being done by Simon.
  • We’re Not Gonna Take It / Listening to You
  • Who Are You: Ah, now we’re getting warmed up.
  • Eminence Front: Hey, Pete’s awake! The old man is suddenly starting to play that guitar like he means it.
  • Imagine A Man: Much like on Daltrey Sings Townshend, the orchestra makes this song work. A wonderful deep cut.
  • Hero at Ground Zero: One of their two new songs. It’s hard to judge songs by a live performance, but it sounded ordinary. I could swear the chorus used the same backing chords as The Punk Meets the Godfather.

The orchestra left for a while. This was good, the less people on stage, the more the band could let loose.

  • The Kids Are Alright
  • I Can See For Miles
  • You Better You Bet
  • Won’t Get Fooled Again: One of the high points of the night. Pete on acoustic, Roger singing, and nothing else. A modern reprise of Pete’s performance on Secret Policemans Ball. Did you know that together with Bon Jovi, that was the genesis of MTVs: Unplugged. Yep, look it up.

Now the orchestra starts sliding back in.

  • Behind Blue Eyes: Featuring a violin and cello.
  • Ball and Chain: Their other new song, stronger than the first. The verse/chorus is overly simple, but the musical break between verses is quite interesting. On the subway home, I was informed this song is derived from a Pete Townshend solo song, Guantanamo.

On to the Quadrophenia suite (with Orchestra) and closing:

  • The Real Me
  • I’m One: This should always be acoustic. Roger played blues harmonica over it. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did. Now the orchestra and the band are sounding great together.
  • 5:15: Seems sad to have no bass solo.
  • Quadrophenia (the song): Nice to see Simon and Pete trading off the parts with each other. The orchestra is wonderful. Simon rules.
  • Love Reign O’er Me: I have never heard of Loren Gold, but I’m a fan now. He took the piano intro and made it his own. He captured all the melancholy feel of the album but with an extended classical take on it, a few minutes worth. Roger now sings the lyrics correctly (on the album, he reversed the lines, The night is hot as black as ink/I sleep and I lay and I think” which makes far less sense). After the song was over, Pete introduced the band with the piano player as “The gent who played that incredible piano part for two and half hours or so.” This is a song that’s hard to get right. Pearl Jam comes the closest, but somehow misses. Even with Roger unable to hit so many notes with power, all the feel and emotion comes across. With a full orchestra, this was a wonderful closer to the main show. And thanks be to heaven, they didn’t play the ridiculous fake encore game. (Lights go off. Everyone claps. They cheer some more. The band comes back on. Repeat at next venue.) There was a few minutes pause as they talked to the audience for a bit, then launched into the closer.
  • Baba O’Riley: Goddamnit, what a song. I don’t care how old they are, how bad the sound is, that Pete almost falls over while closing the song out or anything negative. This is just the best. The violin player (Katie Jacoby) absolutely destroys it (start at 3:15). That same huge grin on her face was planted on mine the rest of the night. To quote Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, “Marvelous.”

Notable cuts from the setlist: I Can’t Explain (their traditional opener), My Generation, Tea & Theatre.

Nine Thoughts on the Mueller Findings

  1. My overwhelming reaction is positive. It’s been easy to lose track of what the investigation was about. It’s not about getting Trump out of office. I’m glad that Trump is essentially cleared of collusion. Our president shouldn’t be working with Russia and shouldn’t be betraying America to be President. I’m glad he didn’t. (Yes, yes, collusion is not a real crime. I use it as shorthand for the concept we all understand.)
  2. 15 months ago I predicted the outcome of the investigation. It was quite spot on. 
  3. Don’t lose sight of the real story. Russia interfered in the election. If Trump didn’t actively collude, he was a willing recipient of their aid (and some of his campaign and friends were actively colluding). Efforts by Obama and others to do something about the interference were blocked by Mitch McConnell. Efforts to do anything to beef up election security continue to be stymied by the Republican party.
  4. Is Trump guilty of Obstruction of Justice? Hard to say without seeing the underlying evidence, but I’m inclined to defer to Mueller, Barr, and Rosenstein, all of whom say there is not enough there for a criminal indictment.
  5. Don’t lose sight of differing standards of evidence. There may not be enough to indict Trump on collusion. At the same time, there may be more than enough evidence to impeach him in regards to Russia and election interference.
  6. Don’t lose sight of the scope of the special counsel. Unlike Kenneth Starr, Mueller was restricted to issues relating to Russian interference in the election. Unlike the Starr investigation, he was not allowed to go chasing whatever else came up along the way. Ergo, being ‘cleared’ by the Mueller investigation does not mean Trump and crew are innocent of other crimes. As we know from the investigations Mueller has passed off to the New York DAs.
  7. Don’t lose sight of how much was uncovered by the investigation. Flynn, Manafort, many others…  this many indictments is a big deal. It’s not a witch hunt when you find real witches. Manafort particularly is a traitor to the country and should be put in front of a firing squad.
  8. AG Barr: Lots of liberals are jumping all over him. Relax. He said he’ll be more transparent, give him a chance to follow through before threatening more lawsuits and investigations.
  9. Let’s give Trump some credit. Despite the incessant liberal fear-mongering, it does not appear that Trump interfered with the investigation in any meaningful way. He resisted, explored what he could do, but didn’t do anything material to undermine it. The GOP refused to pass bills protecting the investigation, claiming they were unneeded. It appears they were right.

On the 2018 Midterms

What does Muttroxia think about the midterms? Not much. Glad to see the Democrats got the House. It could have been better, it could have been worse. Get ready for two more years of gridlock, partisanship, and dysfunction.

Three takeaways from the midterms:

  1. The Democrats overreached on Kavanaugh: For all the legitimate reasons to fight the nomination, it was never going to change the outcome. Instead of looking the grownups in the room, they looked just as bad as the Republicans. Playing to the base also means riling up the other base.
  2. Lying and Cheating works: Many Republican candidates out and out lied in their campaigns. Particularly on health care, where they have been fighting and sabotaging the ACA, it takes serious chutzpah to deny that and accuse the other guy of stripping pre-existing conditions (for example), but that’s what happened. The tone comes from the top, where Trump made up an immigrant caravan crisis that doesn’t exist for the midterms, on top of lies about middle-class tax cuts and innumerable others. When the president doesn’t care about truth and has no shame about it, it is no wonder that more candidates do the same. The sadness is that it works. Then there’s the voter suppression, the gerrymandering, etc.
  3. The USA is governed by a minority party. Trump was elected with a minority of the votes, as was Bush in 2000. The only time in the last 20 years the GOP has gotten more votes for the Presidency was Bush’s reelection. The House of Representatives hasn’t been close to a GOP majority for a while, but has been held by the GOP on and off. The Senate votes have also been majority Democrat. The Supreme Court justices have then been put in place by Senators who represent less than half the votes. The fact is, the Democratic party represents over half the country and has for some time, but the GOP has tightened its hold on the levers of power.

A Bathroom Puzzler

You are out at neighborhood restaurant. It’s the trivia tournament playoffs. he bathroom is a single, only one person at a time. Security is tight, there’s only a few minutes for everyone to go. There is a line of five men waiting to use it.

Which is worse?
A) Wash your hands appropriately, using precious seconds they need to do their business before the second half begins.
B) Leave without washing.

Laying out Donald Trumps Strategy

Steve Schmidt was a GOP operative for many years, who recently ‘defected’, believing Trump to be a threat to liberal democracy and the American Experiment. In a wonderful episode of “Stay Tuned with Preet” this especially stood out.

For audio, start at around 38:00. I’ve attempted to transcribe this because I think it is so accurate and so chilling (with slight edits to clean up grammar for the written page).

(Coming out of a discussion about the role of fear in politics and policy)
Question (Preet): What circumstances have to be present for the message of fear to win out over the message of hope? Is it about the messenger, or is it about something else?

Answer (Steve Schmidt):

Let’s look at what Trump is doing right now. There are five specific things, behaviors, that I think are deliberate and are not accidental.

First thing is that Donald Trump incites fervor and creates a cult of personality, through mass rallies and constant lying.

Second thing is he scapegoats vulnerable minority populations and assigns blame to them for every complex problem the country and the world is facing. Guatemalean children for instance.

Third thing is he alleges conspiracies — that there is an active conspiracy hidden and unseen, the deep state, that is harming.

Fourth thing, the victims, his base. He creates a sense of mass victimization. You turn on Fox News, there is no higher virtue in Trumpistan than being a victim. What Trump understood distinct from Sarah Palin, who always cast herself as a victim, is that victims will never pick another victim to lead them. They need a leader to validate their victimization, and that’s what Trump does.

Last thing is he asserts the necessity of exercising powers that heretofore, no one ever imagined an American President claiming he could exercise, for the purposes of protecting the victims against the conspiracy and the scapegoated minority populations. He requires in exchange only one thing: The subversion of personal sovereignty, your intellect, and objective truth itself to submit to this idea. That truth is what the leader says is true. Truth is what the leader believes is true, no matter what evidence is plainly before your eyes.

And that is happening in the country for 40% of the population right now.

Manafort, Cohen, Trump: A Few Thoughts

What does it all mean?

The case against: It doesn’t mean very much.

Paul Manafort: His crimes are bad, but so far have little to do with Trump or Russia. Just another white-collar criminal. The important phase is the next trial, which directly relates to his relationship with Russia. He used his position as campaign manager to (try to) clear his debts with Russia. He’s a traitor to the country, and that will come out.

Michael Cohen and campaign law: Yes, he unquestionably broke the law. Also, so what. Does it really matter? The actual harm is… let’s see… what was it again… that America didn’t know he had an affair with Stormy Daniels during the campaign. But is there anyone who didn’t already believe Trump wasn’t faithful? That he had affairs with multiple women already? That he wasn’t a piece of disgusting trash with women and his marriage(s). We knew all that going in.

The affair isn’t germane. Politicians and rich people having affairs, mercy me! Kennedy had affairs while in office. Clinton had an affair while in office. Trump had affairs before he was in office. Most of the country resisted Clintons impeachment because the blowjob had nothing to do with his professional role as President and the rest was legal ‘gotcha’. In the same way, most of the country will see that Trumps affairs have nothing do with his professional role as President, and the rest is legal ‘gotcha.

Let’s remember the end goal here.

First, Trump is manifestly unfit for office, and should be removed for any number of reasons. But most of those reasons are within the normal prerogatives of the duly elected President. If he is removed, it must be done for reasons that don’t set such awful precedents for successors that it ends up harming more than helping.

Second, America and the Western World was and is under attack by Russia. Understanding, publicizing, and resisting that is vital. To whatever degree Trump allowed a foreign power to influence our country, he is a traitor, and should be removed from office and hung in the middle of Time Square. But neither of these convictions come close to that level.

The case for: It’s a big deal.

It will convince some that Trump really is a liar. Some might think, if he bald-faced lied about this and changed his story continually as new evidence was revealed, I wonder if his continually changing story on Russia might indicate lying there?

It makes it harder to shut down Muellers investigation, the Witch Hunt excuse got much thinner.

New York will not indict a sitting President, but Trump is also unable to pardon himself from New York sentences. Given his personality and history, Trump is likely act in more outrageous ways to defend himself and punish/reward his confederates, and these will add to the impeachment fire.

It gives Republicans more cover and reason to speak their mind. This is the truly key dynamic. Trump is enabled by a partisan Congress. To effect real change in this presidency, Congress needs to change.

It will convince some that Trump truly is corrupt. He has surrounded himself with criminals, and has done criminal acts.

It gives Democrats a potent campaign issue. They can reasonably paint a portrait of Trump as lethally corrupt, and that anyone who enabled that corruption is corrupt themselves.

What’s the conclusion? Your humble blogger author thinks that in the end it doesn’t mean much. The next trial of Paul Manafort will mean something. Whatever else Cohen spills might mean something. Allen Weisselberg (Trump Organization CFO, granted immunity and talking) probably means something. Whatever Mueller knows that hasn’t been made public means something.

Keep your eye on the ball. It will take something very big to get Congress to resist and/or impeach Trump, and these aren’t enough.