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The Who Hits 50- Air Canada Centre, Tuesday March 1st, 2016

My love affair with The Who started in the later half of the 70s, and was soon wrapped up in my other love affair with Sting and his appearance as the Ace Face in the movie Quadrophenia, based on the fantastic 1973 release of the same name (and my favourite Who record). I remember picking up LP after LP of their work, and by the time 1982 rolled around, I was finally old enough to go see them. It was their “last show” at Maple Leaf Gardens, and I was fortunate enough to trade a pair of grey cowboy boots for a pair of grey seats to the live rehearsal planned for the day before the televised event on December 17th. I remember Pete Townshend’s houndstooth pleated trousers, a lot of loud music, and emerging from that evening as a confirmed fan for life.

Another priceless Who-venir!

Some of the video montage from the show.

Since that “last concert ever”, I’ve seen the band perform numerous times in many different locales, including Berlin, NYC, and California. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad performance, because there is always something magical that accompanies their shows, whether it’s the location, the company I’m with, or the music itself. Last night, all of those things came together as I saw them once again in my hometown.

Getting to the Air Canada Centre in one piece was my first challenge yesterday: I’d torn a leg muscle two days before and was nursing my injury so that I could attend. I was doubly looking forward to going because an old university friend I’d not seen in twenty years was meeting up with us, and we were quite fortunate to have guest passes to one of the hospitality rooms before and after the show. Twenty-four hours of bed rest and iced compression did the trick, and I made my way rather easily into the city centre ahead of a major snowstorm. Once there, we met up with my old friend and together had a pre-show round of drinks. We were regaled by hilarious storytelling from Tom Kenny, the lighting designer for the current tour; he was completely charming and amiable, and I’ve now added Bill Flanagan’s novel “Evening’s Empire” to my reading list because one of the characters is apparently based on him and that’s enough to pique my interest. In staying and socialising, we did miss the opening act, but it was so much fun chatting and hearing some great road stories. We bonded over common knowledge of dodgy Dublin neighbourhoods, and really enjoyed his company. He is also, as we subsequently found out, an incredibly talented light show designer.

Happy Birthday, Roger!

The show itself was full of all the things I have come to expect from The Who in the last thirty or so years. Their setlists tend to feature their biggest hits from a wide selection of their classic albums, which satisfies the casual fans. They always throw in a few deeper cuts, and Join Together and The Rock were the choices last night. The latter song, a long instrumental from Quadrophenia may have been chosen to give Roger a moment to rest and recover his voice, but it is a great showcase for the musicianship that surrounds him and so I was happy to close my eyes and enjoy it. Pete was slightly frustrated by some recurring amp problems early on in the evening, and then “turned it up to 9” and solved whatever problem he was having. He was less chatty than usual, although he did once again reaffirm his great love for our city and in particular our fine women. There must be great stories in there somewhere…

Pete doing what he does best. Turned up to 9.

The light show and video backdrops were incredible (nice job, Tom Kenny!) and paid wonderful tribute to the history of the Who and its two fallen members, John Entwistle and Keith Moon. There were also visual references to historical events from the late 60s to the present day, including clips of Princess Diana, 9/11, and Margaret Thatcher. It worked with the music, and the jumbo screens largely complemented the songs rather than detracted from them. I expected at some point that we would be invited to sing to the birthday boy, but despite many attempts by the audience to acknowledge Roger Daltrey’s 72nd birthday, it never came to fruition.

Roger’s voice was in fine form.

Video montage during the “Tommy” portions of the set.

My only complaint about the evening was that the set was too short. It came in at just under two hours, and to my absolute shock, there were no encores. The band finished with its standards “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” after a few songs from Tommy, and I was in disbelief when the houselights came on a minute after the band left the stage. Of course, this just meant it was time to head back down and socialize in the hospitality room before heading home, which we did until we had to catch our train back home. While we had been in the cocoon of the Air Canada Centre, Toronto received its first serious dumping of snow of the winter, which made it a very beautiful but slippery walk once we were close to home.

Getting off the train to the first sight of the pretty white stuff.

One final note about this current tour: The Who have been tireless supporters of The Teenage Cancer Trust, and I was pleased last night to contribute in a small way to their continued efforts to raise money for this great cause. Who guitarist Simon Townshend generously donated his time before the show to sign autographs and take photos with fans, and I would just like to commend him and the entire Who organization for their contributions to this charity. What a great way for them to give back to a community that has given them lifelong careers.

Yours truly chatting with the very generous Simon Townshend at the charity booth for Teen Cancer America.

For those of you considering seeing The Who on what I think may well be their “final” tour, I would say to just do it. They are still sounding great and have fire in their bellies after 50 years together, and I felt the same great love for them that first convinced me to catch their last show almost 34 years ago. They are rolling through Toronto again in April, and the first I did today was find a pair of tickets to see them again. For the last time.


Teenage Wasteland: Who Cloudcast

If you’re a Who fan like me, you should be listening to Barry Ratcliffe’s amazing podcasts. He has 11 episodes released so far, and they are filled with incredible selections of The Who’s music, with official releases, live versions, and wonderful insights, interviews, and commentary. You can find the podcasts on the WhoCloudcast Facebook page or directly on the MixCloud page. We know and love Barry as @TheWhoSeeker on Twitter. Long live rock!