Driving down to Rhode Island to hear the Who in concert, we mused about an accurate way of rating rock groups in terms of the distance one would travel to see them in action. Thus, Dylan is worth a trip to anywhere on the East Coast, the Stones are good for 300 miles, Jeff Beck 220 (i.e. to New York), and Loving Spoonful about as far as 40 cent subway ride will take one. We were uncertain about the status of the Who but since we were going the 45 miles to Providence to hear them we hoped it would be worth it.
Blood, Sweat and Tears, an American group, played first for a slow hour. The group's sound is saved by its great banks of horns (four horns out of a massive nine men in the group) except when these horn players indulge in their bland, meaningless solos. However, when the drummer latches on to a stirring beat, as on "I Can't Quit Her," the resulting music is very creamy and striking. Al Kooper, the founding father of the group, has left but his place has been taken by a swarthy singer who sways and bends elegantly.
But we had come for the Who and when the MC announced that they would be a "few minutes late" the groans quickly gave way to resignation. The crowd might not have behaved so impeccably if it had known the full extent of the delay that was in store.
A friend who had been backstage informed us that he had it from Uncle T of the Freedom Machine that none of the organizers had any idea where the Who actually was. "They could be anywhere," he said. "In this business everybody lies. The manager of a group will call up from San Francisco and say they're being held up at the local Turnpike."
It took two hours that night with periodic tactful reassurances from the MC about how the Who "were temperamental like all great artists," and how they had decided to rest a little in New York, etc. But finally the amplifiers did begin to appear on stage, narrow amps and big ones, amps of all shapes and sizes, 18 of them in all waiting like faithful dogs for their masters to come and re-vitalize them. The lights blackened and the Who sprinted on.
Keith Moon, a short man, was on a raised platform with his drums, which have orange psychedelic sides and look expensive, the significance of which fact will appear by and by. John Entwistle, one of the more accomplished rock musicians around, who plays bass guitar and French horn and has been known to still a frenzied unruly crowd with a 20 minute horn solo, stood to the left of the stage, making it clear that he, for one, was not going to prance around. Funny how bass guitarists are generally more sober than their partners on the other instruments. Maybe it is because the bass man's sound comes so much from the gut that he has no libidinal impulses left over.
The splashiest and most fanatical part of the Who's act is their other pair, Roger Daltrey, singer, dressed in a clinging white T-shirt and silken white pants and Peter Townshend, lead guitar. The mind-rape these two pull off on stage has to be experienced to be believed.
Daltrey swivels and kicks one foot up-and-out from his slippery hips, churning arms, sings into the mike. "I'M a substitute for another guy/I LOOK pretty young but I'm just backdated yeahhhh" Incredibly, he begins to swing the mike round and round on the end of the wire, shaking his body like a sexy cowboy. Flinging the mike across he catches it in his outstretched left hand and resumes singing, going down on his haunches and jerking back and forth from his knees. All the while the music is booming propelled by Keith's Moon's ferocious drumming and tempered succulently by the combined guitars.
Peter Townshend in performance is a tall sleek figure with jabbing thighs. He whips to his left--slips forward--darts further forward--slams his bent foot down on the stage floor to a chord on the guitar played upward with his hand at the end of a complete circle of his whole arm. He retains complete control of his music though and never seems to miss guitar cues.
At just the right moment in the music Daltrey and Townshend both leap into the air arms and legs wide stretched.
For all the pyrotechnics the Who's songs are emphatically not crude jingles. Their music is intelligent and comes over best on a good stereo set. Nevertheless their show in person is equally a must. If for no other reason then for the instrument smashing bit.
Everyone knew in the vast hall of the Rhode Island Auditorium that the Who often end with such a gory finale and that the signal for it to begin is the song "My Generation". There was a mad rush to the front of the room, everyone standing. After the interminable excitement of waiting for it, the flash of recognition as Daltrey begins the proceedings by tearing at the microphone wire till it snaps. Townshend starts pounding the floor with his guitar--plays a little on it--then crashes it into the nearest amplifier again and again hitting the sides and the delicate loudspeaker fiber.
Fragile and finely-balanced machines usually get unthinking respect from us poor humans, but who has not dreamed sometimes of impulsively jamming a crowbar into the glassy cool facade of a computer? Watching Peter Townshend furiously poke his guitar with a gleaming steel microphone stand was strangely uplifting. Perhaps this is the mystical turn-on that violence is said to give. One can reasonably hope that such exhibitions as the Who's will only serve as emotional releases and not create a taste for violence for its own sake.
The Who are a group worth going many hundreds of miles to see--so consider yourselves lucky that they will be appearing in Boston on August 6 at the Music Hall.