I was never much of a The Who fan.. Sure, I enjoyed the songs I heard of theirs, but I’ve never bought an album, wouldn’t pick one out of someone else’s collection to play, and never would’ve bothered going to a concert…until some buddies at work in the late ’80s cajoled me into joining them for the 25th anniversary reunion tour.
Now, by then, the band was already getting on in years. Roger’s voice was scratchy and weaker than in the old days. His belly not the taught, flat package of his youth. Pete’s hearing was failing, and in Tacoma a couple nights before, while performing that crowd-pleasing windmill of his, he pierced his picking hand with the whammy bar of his guitar. I’ll say this though, Peter Townshend is a showman. Sporting a hand that looked to be not much more than a club with a guitar pick duct taped between thumb and fingers, Pete spent the night playing rhythm on an acoustic guitar while some hired gun got to run off with all the juicy electric lics. Pete even did some windmilling — no wammy bar on the acoustic, mind you.
A few songs into the set, though, I realised I’d just heard four classics of rock music. As was the fifth. And the sixth. Every song in their playlist was probably going to be on the playlist of every music teacher who ever taught music history.
I’m still not much of a fan. Still haven’t bought an album, though I have bit-torrented a couple of greatest hits collections. Of the 23 Who songs in my iTunes folder, just half of them get more than 3 stars. But I’m not going to argue their place in music history, or their right to be there.
Still, I was prepared to mock their half time appearance at today’s Super Bowl. Roger’s voice is weaker than ever, and he just doesn’t move the way he used to. Pete’s a bit hunched over, has a hard time holding the sustain on his singing notes, and is often pitchy (probably due to not being able to hear his own voice). And yet…they still got that something. It doesn’t have that effervescent youthful energy anymore, but they still got something.
Maybe if they stopped singing Baba O’Riley (Teenage Wasteland), they wouldn’t seem so old?
The happy ones are near
Let’s get together
Before we get much older
Nah. If they ever stop singing that, the’ll stop being The Who and probably keel over and die.