Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Who

Lester Bangs: "It's just a shame you missed out on Rock and Roll. You got here just in time for the death rattle, the last gasp, the last grope."
William: "Well, at least I'm here for that."
- From Almost Famous

I realized late this year that The Who are probably my all-time favorite band. The Who are more important to me than Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden (the other contenders for that dubious honor).

While I'm a fanatic now, Zeppelin had absolutely no influence on me as a teenager. I hated Zeppelin in high school because everyone else was into them (I felt the same way about The Beatles). I didn't appreciate Zeppelin (and The Beatles) until I was in my 20's. Better late than never. Note: If you want to talk Zeppelin see Skychick, who saw them on acid in 1977 (LSU Assembly Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana - May 19th).

I've seen Sabbath many times during their spotty history and multiple lineups and they hold no mystery for me anymore (although Tony Iommi is still a Guitar God). I've seen Maiden many times as well and, although they're still as great a live act now as they were 23 years ago, they hold no mystery for me anymore either (although they are still THE quintessential Metal band IMO).

The catalyst for this realization about The Who was Green Day's American Idiot album. That album reminded me of The Who in so many ways, and I wasn't the only one who felt that way. The ghosts of Townshend's riffs, 'A Quick One', Moon's maniacal drumming style, and Tommy were all there and it was fucking good... And Green Day didn't shy away from acknowledging The Who influences in interviews and onstage they covered 'The Kids Are Alright' and 'Won't Get Fooled Again' over the past year. Green Day inspired me pull out my Who albums and really listen to them again.

The Who were one of the very first Rock bands that fascinated me as a teenager and their music is still mysterious to me. A couple of days before Christmas I listened to Tommy as I wrapped gifts for my family. It was perfect.

"Listen to Tommy with a candle burning and you will see your entire future..." - From Almost Famous

Seeing Quadrophenia and The Kids Are Alright at midnight movies in high school made a huge impression on me. I credit Quadrophenia and Monty Python for my lifelong Anglophile ways. Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy was also one of the first albums I ever bought with my own money.

I grew up in the pre-Internet world where you had to work hard to be a Music Geek. When you found the latest info on bands via magazines or talking to the local record store guy you appreciated it. If you wanted a bootleg of a band you didn't log onto a file server from the safety of your room... You had to go to the scary part of town to the Head Shop that kept the bootleg albums in the back room. Kidz today don't know... We'd walk 5 miles.. Uphill.. In the fucking snow.

The lack of easy information also kept the Rock Mystique alive to an impressionable teenager like me. This photo in particular (from a 1971 show in England) made The Who mythic Rock Godz in my teenage mind:

I was lucky enough to see The Who live very early in my Music Geek career. The Who's 1980 Tour were their first S.F. Bay Area shows in 4 years and they sold out immediately. I was 16-years old and wasn't together enough to get tickets when they went onsale. However, The Rock Godz work in mysterious ways. They had a plan for me.

As the shows drew near, a friend won a pair of tickets from a local radio station and asked if I wanted to go. I have a vivid memory of listening to a cassette of the Who Are You album while we drove to the show.

The comp seats were actually really good and gave us an excellent view of the stage. This was my 3rd concert ever and to say it was any epiphany would be an understatement.

Of course, there was no Keith Moon at this point... But it was only 4 months after the Cincinnati show where 11 people died and the band still had a fire burning onstage (at least to my 16-year old eyes). Townshend did his trademark leaps and windmill power chords. Daltry swung his mic by the chord like a lasso. Entwistle's bass playing was thunderous. I was mesmerized. The huge pyro explosion during 'Won't Get Fooled Again' was my very first exposure to that beloved concert experience. Amazingly, I captured the moment with my piece of shit Instamatic camera:

(Pic by Umlaut)

The pic was snapped right before Daltry screamed "Yeeeeeeaaahhh!!!" and sang "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss..." Amazing, innit?! The wonder of 126mm Instamatic technology. For those who care, the setlist was:
  • Substitute
  • I Can't Explain
  • Baba O'Riley
  • My Wife
  • Sister Disco
  • Behind Blue Eyes
  • Music Must Change
  • Drowned
  • Who Are You
  • 5:15
  • Dreaming From The Waist
  • Pinball Wizard
  • My Generation
  • I Can See For Miles
  • Sparks
  • See Me Feel Me
  • Won't Get Fooled Again
  • The Relay
  • The Real Me
Being the naive 16-year old, I bought a bootleg shirt in the parking lot. It was a piece of shit.. I washed it once and afterwards you could literally see through it. I've never bought a bootleg shirt again. Inside the arena I also bought a program, which lasted alot longer than that fucking shirt.

Recently, someone was selling that exact same shirt on Ebay so I was able to grab pics of it. Funny.

Later that Summer I saw Black Sabbath for the first time (Heaven And Hell Tour) and went off on The Metal for several years. Obviously, I was very impressionable back then. One moment I was all into Daltry twirling his mic and the next Ronnie James Dio giving the Devil Sign was what appealed to me.

Unfortunately, I skipped The Who's 1982 Tour because I was deep into The Metal....So I missed them with The Clash supporting (BUT that year I did see Iron Maiden 2x on the Number Of The Beast Tour and Metallica 3x when all they had out was a cassette demo..). I remember hearing about The Who shows and having a tug in my gut that I wanted to go, but all my concert friends at that time were Metalheads and asking them would have labeled me a Poser (a fate worse than death!).

I did see The Who again in 1989 when they played 2 nights at Oakland Stadium. Some of the guys I was hanging out with at that time were Who fanatics. One of them had backpacked through Europe a couple of years before and made a pilgrimage to Townshend's Eel Pie Studio in London. When the receptionist told him Pete "wasn't there" he left a note about his Who / Pete fandom and went on his way. When he returned home several weeks later an autographed photo and note from Pete had arrived in the mail. Isn't that a cool Rock Star story?!

Since it was the 20th Anniversary of Tommy they opened the shows with a 9-song set from that album. The main set was the same both nights, but the encores were completely different. The 1st night's encore was only 2 songs but included 'Naked Eye' (!). The 2nd night's encore was 5 songs and featured a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's 'Born On The Bayou', which was a cool nod that the show was in CCR's hometown. The performances themselves were toned down compared to the 1980 show, but on the 1st night during 'Who Are You' Townshend did throw his guitar across the stage and kicked it. Those two nights in Oakland were amazingly fun. Drunken nostalgia has it's charms at a certain time in your life, dyaknowwhatimean?

My cohorts and I had kind of shitty seats for the 2nd night, but another friend had scored a great seat in the Field Level section. In a classic concert scam we made our way to the Field Level and as soon as the bouncer checked the ticket, my friend quickly passed it behind his back to me. Then after the clueless bouncer checked "my" ticket I quickly passed it behind me to another friend. It worked! We ran towards the front section with glee when another security guy yelled at us.. We thought we were busted... but he was simply telling us not to run. The 3 of us squeezed into the row and since everyone was standing during the show no one complained.

"Too much, Magic Bus..."

However, despite those gloriously fun shows, I haven't seen The Who again. Even in 1996 when they performed Quadrophenia (my favorite Who album) in its entirety. I realize now that I should have seen them again at some point, especially now that Entwistle has passed away.

"Here by the sea and sand, nothing ever goes as planned.."

I've gone away and come back to The Who more times than with any other band. Yes, I'm fickle that way, but Music Geeks know what I mean. There are some bands you feel that you've outgrown, but years later you listen to them again and realize the band still resonates for you and your life. The Who are that way for Umlaut in a huge way.

There was a time when I couldn't listen to 'My Generation' because it was so overplayed (the same way some people are about 'Stairway To Heaven'). Plus, I never related to 'My Generation' for whatever reason; not in the same way I related to other Who songs. However, I've recently come to appreciate the song in a way I never have before... Because I really do hope I die before I get old. It's cool that after all these years a Who song I never appreciated before, and one that I've heard a bazillion times, can become an anthem for me as I ponder my 401K balance.

I've become jaded about so many other bands in my Music Geek career, but I can still lose myself in The Who's music. I can still listen to Quadrophenia or Tommy all the way through and come away with something different. Recently I've been fascinated with watching the Isle Of Wight DVD and being amazed how godlike the band's performance was on such a primitive stage at 2:00am on that day in 1970. Watch it and you'll see what I mean.

Several years ago I visited Brighton, England for the first time. As soon as I saw the rocky beaches, all I could think about was The Who and Quadrophenia. When we walked past The Grand Hotel where Bell Boy worked in the movie (and pictured in the original album's photo book) I almost had a Geek Meltdown. Almost. Well... I did grab some rocks from Brighton Beach and I'm actually looking at them as I type this. The Geeks shall inherit the Earth. Trivia: The front of The Grand Hotel was remodeled after the IRA bombed the hotel in 1984 in a failed attempt to assassinate Margaret Thatcher. Click HERE for the story.

"Bell Boy, I gotta get runnin' now.."

I know, it would be alot cooler if I could say my all-time favorite band was some Indie royalty like the Melvins or Sonic Youth... but I didn't listen to those bands during my impressionable formative years. I was already well on my way to becoming a jaded adult when those bands came around. Their impact on me, while important to my Music Geek career, wasn't as profound as The Who.

"There once was a note... listen.."

While I'm on this Music Geek Rant I might as well list my Top 3 Favorite Who songs:
  • The Kids Are Alright
  • A Quick One, While He's Away
  • Baba O'Riley
I'm shocked that no Nu Metal or Punk band has ever covered 'Tattoo' (as far as I know)... and every Music Geek should own a copy of the The Kids Are Alright DVD and the Deluxe Edition Live At Leeds CD. Seriously.

I wasn't old enough to see The Who in their prime. I've always said that if I had a time machine, the one band I'd go back and see would be The Who circa 1969-71. Since I can't go back in time (YET), The Who are a band that I still regard with the same innocent fandom that I had as that 16-year old kid entering the arena in Oakland a million years ago.

"Sickness will surely take the mind where minds can't usually go... Come on the amazing journey and learn all you should know.."