Live review: The Who with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts at The Arena at Gwinnett, 4/23/15
We live in a world full of bands touting their this-is-probably-the-last-time tours. They’re called reunions, comebacks and a host of other things. For The Who’s Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, though, it seems like they may never throw in the towel. Truth is, they may actually be getting better. For the fifth stop on “The Who Hits 50!” tour at the Gwinnett Arena last night, many middle-aged Atlantans thanked their lucky stars that the remaining members of the band didn’t die before they got old. Because face it people, they’re old. Townshend mentioned that he’ll turn 70 in a couple weeks and Daltrey is a year older. So those Townshend scissor jumps were (smartly) small and safe. I mean, who wants to see Pete break a hip? He did, however, provide many windmill strum flourishes, which set the crowd to cheering each time. And Daltrey, whose trademark move was to spin his duct-taped mic at high velocities (not unlike a medieval mace on a chain), gave us a few twirls. Despite their age, the two men were looking more svelte and alert than their previous visit in 2012 for the Quadrophenia tour.
The real question is: can they still perform? Daltrey was visibly frustrated from a combination of a fussy mic and his aging vocal chords. The crowd helped out a few times, as did Pete, but as the night progressed, Roger’s voice gained power, and by the time “Won’t Get Fooled Again” came around, he handled “the scream” with force and emotion. Goosebumps rose throughout the arena. Pete, on the other hand, was on top of his game like he’s never been before. Still an exceptional guitarist, he added moves and sounds much evolved from those aged recordings we all know so well. He was one with his guitar. He is the leader and songwriter of The Who. He is the architect. Ample skill was exhibited when he provided backing vocals and when he took the lead on a few songs, his voice was strong, especially on “I’m One.”
But Pete was still Pete…that will never change. The man was full of piss and vinegar, joking with the fans and his band mates all night. “For those of you actually from Duluth, welcome. For everyone else, well, fuck off!” He was funny, warm, sincere and most importantly a rock god among us. After a couple incidents of technical difficulties, Roger was visibly pissed and said, “In the early days, we didn’t have all these people directing everything with the sound and the lights and this huge screen. We controlled everything from right here on the stage.” To which Pete replied, “It’s like Lady Gaga now.”
The band kicked off the night with “I Can’t Explain” and it only got better from there. The gargantuan screen behind the stage projected a combination of old Who footage and artsy, psychedelic explosions. Townshend set up “I Can See for Miles” by telling the crowd that this song was their “…first proper U.S. hit back in ’67” – actually their biggest hit in America to date. As the band performed “Magic Bus,” Daltrey sings, “I want it, I want it, I want it, I want it…” to Townshend’s answer, “You can’t have it!” Then Pete – being Pete – tells the audience, “You can have it if you can explain to me what the fuck this song actually means! What does it mean?” And he threw his arms out in bemusement. One of many hilarious Pete moments.
This current touring band, which has been mostly in place for a while, includes John Corey, Loren Gold and Frank Simes, together playing a host of keyboards, varying instruments and supplying backing vocals; Pete’s younger brother Simon Townshend on guitar and backing vocals; Pino Palladino wicked on the bass (not taking the place of the late John “The Ox” Entwistle, but sounding very, very close); and the inimitable Zak Starkey – son of Ringo Starr – nearly singlehandedly possessing the spirit of the late, great Keith Moon. Starkey interjects where you know he shouldn’t, but you’re glad he does. He is an incredible drummer in his own right (when he begins hitting the skins, you soon forget about his legendary father, who was also just inducted into the Hall of Fame on his solo merits).
With the one-two punch of “Pinball Wizard” and “See Me, Feel Me,” the music and emotion was raised to another level, especially when Daltrey launches into “Listening to you, I get the music / Gazing at you, I get the heat / Following you, I climb the mountain / I get excitement at your feet.” This became a near religious experience.
Wrapping the night was everyone’s favorite “Baba O’Riley” followed by “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” After a solid two hours and ten minutes, it was time to end it. Whether or not this is it for The Who, fans are getting their money’s worth as Townshend, Daltrey and the rest of the band are leaving it all on the stage on this fantastic tour.
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, fresh off their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction five days earlier, came out strong with “Bad Reputation.” No spring chicken herself at 56, Jett seems so much younger. Energetic and charismatic, she hasn’t lost much in the three-plus decades of making music. Still dressed all in black, she commands attention every second she’s on stage.
She graciously thanked fans in the crowd for the years of support before finishing a blistering set of hits. While there were a few covers (Tommy James & the Shondells, Gary Glitter, Bruce Springsteen), Jett also played a couple from the Runaways, her band before the Blackhearts. It may surprise even her most ardent fans that “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” – her first and biggest hit – is also a cover (Arrows, 1975).
The Who set list:
I Can’t Explain
Who Are You
The Kids Are Alright
I Can See For Miles
Pictures of Lily
Behind Blue Eyes
You Better You Bet
Love, Reign O’er Me
A Quick One (While He’s Away)
It’s a Boy
See Me, Feel Me
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts set list:
Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)
You Drive Me Wild
Light of Day
Love is Pain
The French Song
I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll
Crimson & Clover
I Hate Myself for Loving You