CHICAGO – United Center
Thursday. Mar 10, 2016:
Some pre-Who Chicago history: Another big music town, going back well over 100 years. With Chicago being in the ‘middle’ of the country, and easily reached by both ship and train, the USA’s big catalog (or catalogue, for the English) companies were here–Sears Roebuck, Lyon and Healy, etc. Long before we had big malls, WalMarts, or anyplace to buy a variety of things, the whole country bought a range of goods from catalogs. Musical instruments became a big part of that, so some of the great manufacturers of guitars, pianos, accordions, trumpets, violins– were based in Chicago as a result. And we all know how big the blues became here, the Northern homeland of a very Southern music style.
Back in 2016 we’re back to the big United Center. We’ve been here before, and it rivals Boston as the big arena to play. Packed to the roof tonight, that’s a lot of seats. And they are not shy… a noisy bunch, as you’d expect from Chicago.
Before the show, various slides with WHO history run; sometimes just photos, sometimes text stories and facts. Each town gets a small mini-history of The WHO playing there, some gig photos from the past, or posters shown from local concerts. Sometimes, as today, there is a current event we must mention. The passing of George Martin, the famous producer of The Beatles and more, was significant to mention. We’d mentioned George’s film scores, other artists (America, Jeff Beck) and showed a nice photo of George with Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff; the team who put together the Tommy musical. George certain is the best-known record producer of all time, and his credits are immense and varied. He will be missed, but lived a long life, leaving us at 90 years. When the slides showed on the big screens, the audience broke into spontaneous applause.
Our attention was up from the start of the show. Pete played nothing during the guitar solo of ‘Who Are You’. He usually has his monitor man fade up a quiet click track, a metronome sound to help him follow the sudden drop in volume and lack of a beat. Yet tonight, for some reason, he couldn’t hear the click. Rather than fake it he waited, then gestured to “turn it up!” and then walked over to the monitor desk to see what was going on. Still nothing, so the entire solo section was silent, as the guitar/synthesizer track played softly as it does. Back into the song, and it was as it nothing had happened… well, nothing did!
On ‘The Seeker’, the new visual effects are quite effective. Our house video master is Giani, who rolls the pre-recorded video cues made for most of the songs. This year, he’s found a new way to blend live-action visuals with the videotape. It looks incredible as an artistic, processed version of what the camera ‘sees’, so it blends stylistically into what the film is doing. It’s a beautiful effect, and something to bring the motion and rhythm of what’s being played into a visual the entire audience can see. Nicely done, and it happens here and there throughout the show now.
Pete mentioned how he has good friends in Chicago and once spent a lovely day sailing out on the huge water of Lake Erie. He said he’s come to realize Chicago is more than big buildings, big money, and Irish pubs! (It’s also the home of many of America’s great restaurants, as they do love food here!)
‘The Real Me’ has stayed in the set. It’s played apart from the other few songs from Quadrophenia that come later in the set. It certainly was good to play the entire album, in sequence, on the previous tour. Pete mentioned how great it was to play the record (his favorite Who album) live. It had finally sounded the way he imagined it could, way back in 1973, when it didn’t quite come out live as they’d hoped.
‘My Generation’ had a bit of a stumble, and the VIP audience who comes in to see our sound check may be the only ones who understood. The band rehearsed this old classic over and over in the afternoon, as 100 or so VIP ticketholders watched and listened. Why rehearse and learn the oldest song in the catalog? Because an attempt had been made to play it more like the released record. Trouble was, everyone was used to how it had been played thousands of times before; it is hard to physically un-learn what the mind and body have grown used to doing. So the slight hesitancy and a jumble of unsure chords were an echo of what had been going on during sound check today. I’m still not sure it’s worked out, and the band may be taking two different paths on this one for a while more.
The 1-2 punch of ‘Baba O’Riley’ going into ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ is an incredible show ending. A perfect set of anthems almost heaven-sent for rock stage performance. Any band would be ecstatic to have either tune in their catalog, so having these back-to-back insures everyone will be up and out of their seats. For a while, it was thought that ‘Baba’ was the most-popular/famous of the two songs, but it seems likely the response was better only in that it has a hard and notable ending, something people expect – and get. ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ used to have such a defined ending, but it’s often extended into a jam that people don’t expect or recognize. Now it follows ‘Baba’ to close the show every night and returns to being the powerhouse closing number it ought to be. ‘Baba’ has the new visual effect mentioned before, with bassist Pino Palladino appearing visually as the ghost-in-the-machine as the song plays. A great update to the now classic video. Speaking of video: For the next show we’ll spend a considerable part of the blog on the video crew, the least-known of our traveling circus team. The video guys do a lot to enhance the shows, and most people may appreciate it a bit more if we can explain what they do. Next time!