Saturday, June 06, 2015

I'll Never See The Who - And I'm Ok With That

In the year I was born, four arty scrappers who couldn't decide between the High Numbers and The Who as a band name were playing some of their first gigs in England. In one recording from those days, they repeatedly launch into I Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying in between covers of songs by Bo Diddley, Little Richard and their more advanced contemporaries, The Kinks. Like The Yardbirds, they also did Here 'Tis and Smokestack Lightning, but they didn't have the unstoppable energy of McCarty, Dreja and Clapton working together. They also couldn't match John Lennon's throat-shredding blast through Money - but they tried. Overall, they were pretty good, maybe a cut above your cousin's band, but only just. 

Imagine being there, watching one of the greatest bands of all time in their nascence. Would you be able to tell that great things were coming? Or would you think they were merely another noisy bunch of strivers like David Jones and the Lower Third playing just down the street? Of course, I'll never know, as crawling was still in my future and seeing music even further off. So I missed The Who in 1964 and I'm OK with that. 

When Keith Moon died in 1978 I was just on the cusp of my serious concertgoing years. During the decade prior, The Who had become perhaps one of the most formidable live acts in human history. Even Liszt and Paganini, who both tore it up in the 19th century, would have hesitated before following Townsend, Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon on stage. In performance they had excelled far beyond any of those they emulated in 1964, and minus The Beatles, in songwriting as well. This I knew full well from the Live At Leeds album, of which I knew every note, and fascinating studio works like Who's Next, Quadrophenia and Who Are You. But thanks to a combination of my age, lack of discretionary funds, and an older brother who was more into jazz than rock, I never saw The Who in those years either - and I'm OK with that. 

Kenney Jones was soon behind the drum kit, and while he had skills and pedigree, he lacked charisma and The Who were irrevocably a different band. While I could enjoy You Better You Bet, it took me years to realize that Face Dances is one of the best pop albums of the 80's. I think I considered seeing The Who at Shea Stadium in 1982, but it was probably too expensive and I was slightly disturbed at the idea of my heroes The Clash as an opening act, especially so shortly after they had ruled the stage at Bond's. Then The Who officially broke up for the first time and I spent the rest of the decade seeing Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, PiL, Dead Boys, Beastie Boys, Bad Brains, Gang of Four, Pere Ubu, Bob Marley, David Bowie, etc., etc. So I never saw The Who in the 80's - and I'm OK with that. 

I could go on, describing endless reunions, retirements and special appearances, but if it wasn't already over, the death of John Entwistle in 2002 sealed The Who's fate as a performing entity. They could no longer claim much more than a shadow's connection to their glory days. Even with the release of the terrific Endless Wire in 2006, which I played incessantly for several months, I felt no pull to see them live. Mounting their stadium tours left them too beholden to a past they could only hint at and I wasn't interested in watching them try. Daltrey and Townsend play Endless Wire at The Beacon? Two still-vital creative artists performing new songs? Sign me up. 

So I'm OK with never seeing The Who, or the Stones or Pink Floyd, to name a couple of other bands who have toured as a simulacrum of themselves. It's the same for me as Hendrix, The Doors, or The Beatles. I can accept that the time-space continuum just did not make it possible and I'm just too into the music to suspend disbelief that what I would be hearing could live up to the remarkable legacies of these bands. In the case of The Replacements, I was lucky enough to see them in their heyday, at The Ritz, and it was just as great as you can imagine. While I would love to see Paul Westerberg perform some of his most recent material (which is getting less recent all the time, dude), I didn't want to mess with my memories. Based on some of his remarks at ending the current reunion run, which only featured 50% of the original band, I think Westerberg may feel similarly.

All the above is not even to mention the need to husband the limited resources - of both time and money - I have to see shows. For the cost of one ticket to see Clapton on his 70th birthday, I can have infinitely more satisfying experiences seeing Matthew E. White, Father John Misty, Kate Tempest, Natalie Prass and Holly Miranda - and that's just this year alone. The time is now for these artists, not in the past.

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