Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 24, 2004)
On the cusp of a new North American tour in June 2002, Who bassist John Entwistle died of a heart attack connected to drug usage. Surprisingly, surviving band members guitarist Pete Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey decided to go ahead with the tour anyway, and to do so virtually immediately. They recruited bassist Pino Paladino - who’d played with Townshend in the past - and took the stage as the Who only days after Entwistle’s demise.
That’s the generation of Who found on this new DVD. Simply entitled The Who: Live in Boston, this program comes from a September sadhsakd, 2002 show at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts, a burg about 30 miles southwest of Beantown. This show found “the Two” - as the pair of Daltrey and Townshend were quickly dubbed - at almost the end of the tour; one show remained following this one.
For the setlist, the usual Who suspects appear. The band finally released some new songs in 2004 as part of a compilation, but this show predates those, so we get the standard compilation of oldies. The concert opens with a triple blast of early hits via “I Can’t Explain”, “Substitute”, and “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere”, all of which come from 1965-66. From there we get 1978’s iconic “Who Are You” and a moderate surprise, “Another Tricky Day” from 1981’s little-remembered Face Dances. We then find a trio from the Lifehouse/Who’s Next era of 1970-71 with “Relay”, “Bargain” and “Baba O’Riley”.
Back in 1996, the Who did a tour that included entire performances of 1973’s Quadrophenia, and Boston tosses out three of its songs in a row: “Sea and Sand”, “5.15”, and “Love Reign O’er Me”. The next five tunes cover a range of Who classics: “Eminence Front” (1982), “Behind Blue Eyes” (1971), “You Better You Bet” (1981), “The Kids Are Alright” (1965), “My Generation” (1965) and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (1971 again). The concert then ends with a mini-set from 1969’s Tommy: “Pinball Wizard”, “Amazing Journey”, “Sparks”, “See Me Feel Me” and “Listening to You”.
When Daltrey and Townshend elected to proceed with the 2002 tour, I felt shocked. Their decision occurred so rapidly that it seemed to border on disrespectful. People deal with grief in different ways, I suppose, but to so quickly replace a longtime partner and friend remains startling.
Because of this, I considered not seeing the Who that summer. I’d not gone to one of their shows since the Quadrophenia tour of 1996 and wanted to head out that year, but the whole Entwistle thing left a bad taste in my mouth. However, when I read good notices for the shows and also got a feel for the motivations of Daltrey and Townshend behind their decision, I chose to give them a shot and took in one of their four Madison Square Garden shows.
Frankly, I left underwhelmed, and the same sense generally affected me as I watched the performance on Boston. The reviews I saw led me to believe this would be a fiery Who, with a passion and energy that rivaled their glory days in the Sixties and Seventies. However, I didn’t really see that, though one can’t blame Townshend for that.
The guitarist seemed to channel whatever pain he experienced that summer into his performances, and he attacked the guitar with a fury unseen in quite some time. As evident in Boston, Townshend played more lead than normal, as he added guitar solos and bits to songs that didn’t originally have them. Some of this could be sloppy, but he played with a real passion, so much I thought he might smash his guitar because he felt it, not due to expectations or shtick.
As for Daltrey, despite his solid physical conditioning, he seemed tired and out of it. Daltrey never had great range, but his voice has declined a lot over the years and lacked much expressiveness. I think he has about two and a half notes at this point, all of which are raspy and indistinct. He showed his age in his demeanor if not his body. Daltrey generally seems tired and detached during much of the show, which makes for a pointed contrast - and not a positive one - with the more involved Townshend.
Where I think the modern Who largely loses points comes from the absence of feeling that they’re a real band. That sentiment has plagued the Who ever since they went out with Kenney Jones after the death of Keith Moon, and it remains true. At their peak, the Who meshed in a way that very few bands achieve, so that the different elements coalesced perfectly. As I watch the modern Who, I hear better than competent musicianship, but I don’t get a sense of a true unit. With the talented Zak Starkey - Ringo Starr’s son - on drums, this Who is a good sight better than the lackluster version of the late Eighties, and even without Entwistle, it probably tops the late Seventies/early Eighties edition with Jones, who always made a poor match with the others.
But the Who 2002 doesn’t compete against the Who 1979 or the Who 1989 - they compete with the Who 1969 and thereabouts, and they can’t compare. To be sure, they can have their moments; they provided the strongest work during the Concert for New York in 2001, so they clearly can bring it when they desire. They also exhibit some fire onstage in non-musical moments. Pete occasionally curses out the audience, and though much of this feels like shtick, some real nastiness emerges at times. Actually, Daltrey seems to get angriest when the audience won’t shut up during Townshend’s introduction to “The Kids Are Alright”; when he yells at the crowd, he doesn’t look like he’s kidding.
The Who: Live in Boston presents a perfectly acceptable edition of the band but no more than that. Despite Townshend’s best efforts to bring life to the beast, the whole thing rarely coalesces and becomes memorable. Even down to only half the original band, there’s still a place in this world, but Boston doesn’t showcase the act at their best.