Love, Reign O’er Me: An Essay – The Who, DNA, and a Live Concert

I am still reeling and restless from my recent attendance of having what will, sadly, probably be the last time I get the chance to do this… and by ‘this’ I mean, getting to see one of my lifelong, all-time favorite bands perform live. That band being THE WHO! I say, “THE WHO!” with an exclamation point and capitalized letters, because of my love for them, which needs to be shouted to sufficiently elucidate my sentiments.

I bought my tickets earlier this year in January. I didn’t even check the date when I saw there was a presale. I didn’t even flinch; tickets were purchased as soon as the 10:00 EST clock started ticking that day. I got to see Roger Daltrey perform last summer at the same venue with the Cleveland Orchestra and his touring band behind him. Watching that performance rekindled the flame in my heart that had never died, but that I thought was at peace. I had sadly accepted and had put to rest the anticipation and zeal I had for many of my childhood heroes. I have had to accept the fact that many are now either senior citizens or are almost reaching that point. The Who are, indeed, one of those bands.

The Who, 9/10/19, Cuyahoga Falls Ohio, Blossom Music Center

The first album I ever owned was “It’s Hard,” and my parents gave it to me for my fifth birthday. My sister, despite already having anything Who-related she could get her paws on, was so jealous they bought it for me. I have teased her for years about this. I need to note that my love for The Who is a bit more emotional than just vapid fangirl nonsense. I think it might be possible that something happened in the womb and The Who are embedded in my DNA somehow. I say this because I must mention my family regarding our collective Who-Fandom. With The Who, it’s hereditary.  

It starts with my mother. When The Who were on their first tour in the US, my mother was a teenager. She was absolutely besotted with them, as well as pretty much everyone in the British Invasion. My mother was a teenager in New York City during the 1960s and was indeed at Ground Zero when that wave hit our side of the Atlantic. She got to see monumental concerts during this time frame, and one of them was The Who. As she and her friends were waiting to catch a glimpse of the band, Keith Moon comes bolting out of the stage door, knocking her to the ground. Moon “The Loon” was running around waving a pair of pants on a hanger, and Pete Townshend followed in close pursuit yelling, “STOP THAT MAN! He has my trousers!” As my mom got back on her feet, she glanced through the doorway and saw a throng of women draped across Roger Daltrey. For the record, my mother doesn’t tell everyone this story so willingly, as she tends to be a reserved person who never boasts about anything. She always felt that this incident sounded like a rich bullshit story. I also believe that her getting stampeded by Keith Moon may have jostled some eggs in her ovaries to create born Who-fans!

It’s not just my mother. It is my older sister, too! Out of the family, she is the biggest Who fan. To give you a clearer picture of her passion, she used to repeatedly watch the film McVicar on Cinemax in the early 1980s, when our dad figured out how to steal cable. If you recognize the film McVicar, then you know that Roger Daltrey plays the lead character of the infamous bank robber, John McVicar. The film takes place while he is imprisoned, so there are many butt-naked shower scenes of Roger in this film. Roger was/still is my sister’s pin-up heartthrob, 100%! I always tease her and say McVicar was her equivalent of a teenaged boy finding his father’s Playboy stash! Cinemax also used to continually play the feature-length film Tommy, as well as the documentary The Kids Are Alright. Our father recorded both of those movies from the TV (illegally) for his daughters. He wasn’t really a fan, but I think he did that to get us to stop whining. My mother ended up taking us to Rich Stadium in Buffalo, NY, in 1989 to see The Who. It was at their sold-out reunion tour wherein they performed Tommy from beginning to end (and then at least another hour and a half of additional performance after that). I remember vividly being stuck on I-90 between Buffalo and Rochester as the traffic was so backed up, it was like a parking lot.  I still don’t know how we found the car afterward.

I can’t stop there about the family DNA and The Who. I have a younger brother (ten years younger), who got into The Who as a teenager on his own, without his older sisters’ influence. He learned to play guitar before the age of ten, and when he hit his teens, he naturally discovered The Who. Upon discovery, it took over his whole way of thinking, as well as the passion he put into playing. There’s no denying that Pete Townshend has a visceral intensity in his guitar techniques, and even more so in his lyrics and concepts. Tommy, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia were all so influential on him and, mind you, he was a teenager in the early 2000s. These three albums spoke to an angry young man almost 30 years after they were made in an era he wasn’t part of, yet he could still relate to all of it. It rubbed off on his friends, too. I remember stopping by my mother’s house during the day while she was at work to find two scraps of drum kits fashioned together. The drums took up her entire living room, and there was a stack of amplifiers turned “Up to 11“. My brother and his friend decided that afternoon they were suddenly going to be the new Pete Townshend and Keith Moon. I looked at them and said, “You better clean this shit up before Mom gets home, or she’ll kill you! Also, how do you expect to do this without Roger or The Ox?” My brother ignored me while hitting a power chord. 15 minutes later, these two got a call from some girls and off they went, leaving the set of “Frankendrums” behind. My mother showed up about a half-hour later and walked in to see the space engulfed by this monstrosity that took over her house. The look on her face was priceless. I told her it was her fault for birthing crazy Who fans! This Who lineage has even passed onto one of her grandchildren. My sister’s youngest son, a teenager, is absolutely in love with The Who. Strangely enough, this was at his own volition and not because of my sister’s love for them. It makes me so happy as his aunt to know that he doesn’t listen to trash like Cardi B or Kanye, and that there might actually be a glimmer of hope that the youth aren’t completely hopeless.

So with all of this hereditary prelude out of the way, I think (if you are even still reading at this point) you might be able to comprehend that my excitement about attending this show that took place on September 10, 2019, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio at the Blossom Music Center, is about as genuine as it gets.

The show itself, well… there was some good news and some bad news. I’ll start with the bad news. The venue is pretty much the only thing I have anything negative to say about. The parking entry/exit of this venue is monumentally horrific. It has been a dilemma since it was constructed in the 1970s and, really, nothing has been done to improve the traffic flow except for flaggers, traffic cops, and ushers. There is only one access road to get to the venue, and it is a 2-lane narrow bottleneck.  Additionally, the parking lots are not well-lit, so good luck finding your car in a sea of vehicles in the dark. Blossom Music Center was designed much like many other performing arts centers around the country wherein it is a covered pavilion for the reserved seating, or out in an open field (lawn-seats). It is surrounded by thick woods and swampland, but from within those woods come mosquitoes. Many of these types of amphitheaters have excellent sound and acoustics, but this isn’t one of them, or it is possible that The Who are just too intense of a band for this kind of setting. Much of the sound was muffled at points (luckily, not the entire night). 

The Who, 9/10/19, Cuyahoga Falls Ohio, Blossom Music Center

The Good News… EVERYTHING ELSE! I sincerely cannot believe how those two men (Roger and Pete) are older than my parents, are officially elderly, and you can barely tell. They both still have such energy, integrity, and their wits very much intact. Young performers of today are truly pathetic compared to them and have much to learn. Without a doubt, The Who STILL GOT IT! Both have admitted to losing most of their hearing (Pete, more so than Roger), yet, with their age and occupational wear and tear, it is merely natural that they’d be afflicted. With this obvious impairment, you’d think they wouldn’t even want to perform live, but clearly, they still very much enjoy doing so. It’s clear they are happy to be alive and are proud of their legacy, as they should be.

It’s also apparent that Roger and Pete truly miss the other two who are dearly departed. After the opening act (Peter Wolf, from The J. Geils Band, who I have to say was a really fantastic showman), they had a slideshow of photos on the jumbo screens from their own archives that documented their career, as well as comical personal moments within the band. They showcased both Keith Moon and John Entwistle prominently and with profound reverence for both. Roger and Pete clearly loved and respected them, and in a perfect world, they’d still be alive. However, this is not an ideal world, and what better way to honor their fallen comrades than to keep the music alive!

Other than Roger and Pete, the current touring band consists of Pete’s younger and very talented brother, Simon Townshend on guitar, mandolin and handling a large part of the backing vocals. Zak Starkey, the son of Ringo Starr and godson of Keith Moon, plays drums. Zak has been drumming with members of The Who since the mid-90s. Zak is one of the few instances when the child of an iconic musician has eclipsed his father’s abilities. Jon Button on bass has massive boots to fill, but I have to say, he has been able to do so (and if “The Ox” is who you have to fill in for, that is pretty much an impossible feat). Loren Gold handled the extensive keys and synth arrangements. 

The Cleveland Orchestra was also part of this extravaganza. It was amazing to get to hear select segments from Tommy and Quadrophenia, with a full live orchestra behind the band. The Who were always able to deliver exquisite performances of both albums without symphonies behind them. However, within this context, it really solidifies how accomplished both of those works were. Not every rock epic is retranslated into a format for world-renowned orchestras to play in their repertoire.

Their setlist was set-up as a trilogy of sorts. It started with a sampling of Tommy including: “Overture,” “It’s a Boy,” “1921,” “Amazing Journey,” “Sparks,” “Pinball Wizard,” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” When that set was complete, the Cleveland Orchestra took a break. The Who then played as the touring ensemble (with a few extra string musicians and a background vocalist). They tore through many classics like “Who Are You,” “Eminence Front,” “Substitute,” “I Can See for Miles,” “You Better You Bet,” and “Behind Blue Eyes.” They stripped it down to just Roger and Pete in an acoustic duo format for “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” They also performed three new songs from their unreleased, untitled, and upcoming new album: “Imagine A Man,” “Hero Ground Zero” and another one I wasn’t totally sure of what the title was. I believe it may have been called “Ball and Chain.” All three sounded like classic Who, so I am eager to hear the new record when it is ready.

The third part of the trilogy was, I felt, the highlight of the night. The set consisted of snippets from Quadrophenia: “The Real Me,” (my absolute favorite Who song) “I’m One,” “5:15,” “The Rock” and the sheer apex of the whole setlist, “Love Reign O’er Me.” I think I may have pissed my pants a little bit when Roger belted out that signature wail after the bridge because I couldn’t believe he could still do it. That song has always given me shivers, but hearing it done live gives it a whole new dimension. I had heard him perform it live two separate times before (and he was much younger), and it was always impressive, but seeing him do that at the age of 75 years old, was like an out-of-body experience. I honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and at that moment, I realized that this would probably be the last time I will ever witness this. Tears welled in my eyes. They ended the show, naturally, with “Baba O’Riley.”

There was no encore, but there didn’t need to be one. I don’t know (or care) about how the audience felt after witnessing this event. But for me, The Who mopped the floor with my emotions that night. I really wished that my family could have been there with me that night to witness it all.

Remaining dates on The Who’s Moving On! tour:

SEP 18 State Farm Arena Atlanta, GA
SEP 20 BB&T Center Sunrise, FL
SEP 22 Amalie Arena Tampa, FL
SEP 25 Houston Toyota Center Houston, TX
SEP 27 American Airlines Center Dallas, TX
SEP 29 Pepsi Center Denver, CO
OCT 9 Chase Center San Francisco, CA
OCT 11 Hollywood Bowl Los Angeles, CA
OCT 13 Hollywood Bowl Los Angeles, CA
OCT 16 Viejas Arena San Diego, CA
OCT 19 T-Mobile Park Seattle, WA
OCT 21 Rogers Arena Vancouver, BC, Canada
OCT 23 Rogers Place Edmonton, AB, Canada
OCT 24 Hollywood Bowl Los Angeles, CA

One Reply to “Love, Reign O’er Me: An Essay – The Who, DNA, and a Live Concert”

  1. I just wanted to make a correction. I noticed that I erroneously said that “Imagine a Man” was a new song. It definitely is not new song. It is from “Who By Numbers”. When they were introducing songs on stage, I thought I had heard Pete say that it was new song that will be released on an upcoming album.

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