First of all, if you want to hear the Who’s music, don’t bother with this weak tribute stuff. Go straight to the source. You want live, get Live at Leeds. You want insights, you should watch the Amazing Journey documentary (in heavy rotation on VH-1, and the source for most of the clips they showed.)
Here’s my review of a bunch of bands I know nothing about.
Foo Fighters – Young Man Blues – Awesome. These guys get it. Not only are the great musicians, they bring the right attitude and that counts for a lot. For Bargain they brought out the lead singer of SuperGrass. Terrible! The guy can’t even hold the notes! Foo Fighters, yes!
Incubus – If you’re going to take on I Can See For Miles, you’d better have a drummer who can pull it off. They don’t. They also lost half the dynamic stop start feel of the song and basically destroyed it. I don’t know about their version of I Can’t Explain, I was already fast forwarding.
Flaming Lips (Tommy medley) – Very good. They did a lot of playing around with the music. They managed to keep the essence while doing something new with it. The lead singer came out in a giant plastic ball. He went over the audience, that’s a version of crowd surfing I hadn’t seen. He was either very cool or a giant hamster. Points for stagecraft in general, especially the bassist with a skeleton suit.
Tenacious D (Squeezebox) – I’m done with them. I am no longer amused by Jack Black saying words with excessive weight and seriousness.
Pearl Jam (Love Reign O’er Me) – Fantastic! So Eddie Vedder is a mega-fan of the Who. There hasn’t been a Who tribute or all-star show or benefit that he hasn’t snuck his way into. He has always been good, but frankly I have not been overly impressed. I’ve always wondered why he doesn’t bring all of Pearl Jam out because I would love to hear what they sound like. The answer is through the roof.
Love Reign O’er Me is the hardest Who song for a singer. Roger has always said it was always the biggest stretch for him. I saw them in 1996 with my college roommate. Roger could only hit the note by doing an enormous yelling screeching noise – you could practically hear his esophogaus tearing itself up. As roomie said, “Even if you don’t like the music you gotta respect someone who will do that to themselves just to sing the song right”. Um, what else… they get that the verses are all about the bass guitar it’s gotta be huge booming notes. Okay, back in a second, I’m 99% sure I heard the first note of The Real Me.
…yep, and it was just as good. Anyhow, my point about the Roger vocals is that for once Eddie was doing the all-out rock singing that you have to do. I’ve never been a Pearl Jam fan but I this may have turned me. More bonus points: The bassist did a great Enwistle imitation musically and he even had the tone right. The guitarist managed to do most of the Townshend stage moves (jumps, jumping splits, rump wiggle) and broke the headstock of the guitar at the end.
So far Pearl Jam is dominating. Only The Foo Fighters are even in the same league.
Adam Sandler (Magic Bus, Live at Leeds version): He’s got the feel. The words aren’t very funny at all. What happened to him? Aw, who cares, The Who’s coming out!
Baba O’Riley – They start off pretty raggedy and weak. Roger can’t hit a note, Pete is just doing it by the book. About a minute in they hit their stride. They’re much better when they move out of the mindset of “Two old guys who do a really good job of covering Who songs” and into the mindset of “We own this song and we’ll do whatever we please with it.”
Who Are You: Highs and lows. They completely flub the first break section. Pete can’t get his clean sound working right. Roger messes up the verses. And yet when they are together it is incredibly good. It’s the willingness to just play it and damn the consequences that makes it so good when it’s working.
I wish they had done this show midway through a tour. I’ve seen them enough to recognize when they’re rusty. They’re rusty. And in normal concerts, they start with several easy songs to get themselves warmed up (usually I Can’t Explain and Substitute are in the early part) and they hit their stride about 20 minutes in. Here they are tackling two of their harder songs right off the bat.
Behind Blue Eyes: I’m just sick of this song. Here’s a couple more interesting versions.
My Generation: Uch, the missed cues again. The ratio of screwups to brilliance seems to be increasing. As a sidenote, Zak Starkey gets better every year he plays with them, he is fully locked into Pete now. I don’t care how great Pino Palladino is supposed to be, he’s a pale reflection of John. Even when he plays the notes right it doesn’t work somehow. Bring in the Pearl Jam bassist!
So far, this is a pretty bad performance by them. Coming back from commercial, they had a good montage of the boys at work. I’ve seen them a whole bunch of times when they were sixty-plus years old. It blows me away how vital they are, how energetic, how enthusiastic. That’s the part that’s not coming through tonight. They are concentrating on not messing up, they aren’t in the groove enough to hit that next level. That little montage gave a taste of how great they still are. I hope casual fans watching this show aren’t judging them too harshly by it. Eh, who knows, maybe I just see the imperfections because I know the band too well. Honestly, you should rent (or borrow from me) The Who at the Royal Albert Hall (the 2002 allstar show). That is an incredible gig.
Tea & Theatre: This song would be unfamiliar to most listeners, it’s the last track from Endless Wire (their 2006 album). It was the standard closer on their last tour. It’s about aging and loss and acceptance. I really like it as a closer for this also. It’s a very nice song of course. But mainly, it’s dignified. It’s a song written by older people for older people and that’s just how it is. And not just any older people, it’s obviously meant to be performed by Pete and Roger and no one else.
My final order of Performances:
1) Pearl Jam
2) Foo Fighters
3) The Who
4) Flaming Lips
5) Tie with everyone else
6) That loser from SuperGrass.