WASHINGTON DC – March 24, 2016 – Verizon Center
Today was “another tricky day” in Who-speak.
At the last show, Pete had asked for some tea as a remedy for his ailing throat. Luckily for everyone, the worst hit during our two days-off we had after that show. So the day before this show, he was totally voiceless, unable to sing or speak. We’d waited through the day today for news. It turned out he was not deeply ill, but would have to skip the soundcheck (which the VIPs come to see/hear) so that he could rest quietly for the show, the main event. Soundcheck went fine, and Roger explained the situation to the onlookers. At soundcheck one of our entourage came out with a paper “Pete mask” (we have one of Pete and Roger each for emergencies like this) which brought a lot of laughter to the situation. Our guitar tech Alan Rogan had even put it on for a moment, definitely not fooling anyone…
Showtime came and it all began as usual. Mr. Townshend was energetic, though it must have felt weird to be vocally limited, even when not singing. His main role remains to play guitar, so there was no problem there. If you can find online video of “Who Are You” from this show, you’ll see him trying some very experimental angular ideas out during the first solo section. Strange parts returned again over the ending section, and it is worth hearing, at least once.
Somewhat expected, as Washington, DC is not a really family-oriented suburb, but this was a very adult crowd. There were a few under-30s in the crowd, but not many. Still, these adults know how to have fun, and they stood and sang and cheered as much as any so far. One sign far up on the arena upper seats said “Show Us Your Energy.” Although it was just an ad, it was very appropriate for this crowd. There were even more of the crazy-dancer-type in this than we usually see. Oh, to have time to videotape them all…
Pete announced his vocal troubles, but he was able to talk gruffly and get some points across. The show was structured and proceeded as normal, with some of Pete’s vocal breaks being a bit unusual, but always rewarded for the effort. When “I’m One” came up, Pete noted that Quadrophenia was about “a young guy at odds with everybody” who just doesn’t fit in, but hopes that maybe someday he will. He said that at some point in everyone’s life we all pass through that phase, but hopefully we grow beyond it. The singing was rough and very difficult, with Pete sounding like a cross between Dylan and Lemmy, but it worked. And after the first chorus, a loud cheer went up from the crowd showing their acceptance. At one point, he said “Now it sounds like an Old Man song!”
On the setlist was the expected song – ‘Eminence Front’. Pete called a conference with Roger on center stage and they quickly decided to jump to a song no one expected; ‘Slip Kid’. It had been rehearsed at soundcheck just a few days before, without great success, but it worked to slot it in to replace a Pete-vocal song tonight. One guy in the crowd had been holding up his “SLIPKID” license plate, so maybe that prompted it, too? (We were just glad he didn’t have a “RINGOFFIRE” plate!) Backstory: ‘Slip Kid”’ was, for the longest time, a song The WHO had never played live. Roger always asked to do it, and it was turned down. Again and again this happened (Roger likes the tough/rough songs with a bit of stomp to them, so ‘Slip Kid’ is a perfect track, to him.) A few years back, I think December 2006, we were playing small Christmas-season shows at the O2 Indigo in London, basically a club-sized show. Something had happened to make the show stop, and someone asked for ‘Slip Kid’ from the audience. Everyone joked about it as the never-played song, then Pete agreed to try and do it. He said “the band here probably doesn’t know it at all, maybe Simon (Townshend) might… I’ll just play the guitar and Roger can sing it, for the first time ever…” So they began. And when it came time for the first line – Roger couldn’t remember the words! “That’s it!!” Pete said, and it went no further, even though the audience were shouting out what they thought to be the right words. And so the door was opened, and ‘Slip Kid’ is not a once-in-a-while WHO stage song.
During ‘The Rock’ the video screen shows a montage of various world history images (with a little Keith Moon and John Entwistle). Each night the live music is incredible, rare to hear a rock ensemble playing such beautifully-composed and arranged piece. I’ve noticed the peak musically (the musical theme of ‘Love Reign O’er Me’) is also a change point in the video; we see the scenes getting darker and sinister throughout, and at that very moment the World Trade Center is shown to fall, with people running in terror down the street. Especially in the NY area, this moment makes the crowd stop enjoying itself and literally freezes them in place. Same here in Washington, that moment hits hard. But right after this, the music goes to a major key, brightens as the video changes to scenes of hope: Flood relief scenes, positive things of human kindness. It leaves a really good feeling as the show moves to “Love Reign” – which has been a show highlight each night.
Some of the show’s lighting is purplish, a sort of black-lite effect and when it happens we see something unusual from the stage viewpoint: Everyone goes smooth indigo in color, excepting a few t-shirts or signs out there that glow brightly fluorescent. One of my photos shows this, look for the few gleaming shirts in the purple audience shot. Even funnier – but hard to photograph – is all those yellow, green and orange earplugs that we see glowing out in the audience!