SetlistI Can't Explain
Anyway Anyhow Anywhere
Who Are You
Another Tricky Day
Sea And Sand
Love Reign O'er Me
Behind Blue Eyes
You Better You Bet
The Kids Are Alright
Won't Get Fooled Again
See Me Feel Me
Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey Prove There Is Still Plenty of Life Left in The Who Sacramento Valley Amphitheatre July 4, 2002
"So you're 'free,' are you? Well, we want you back!"
That was how rock legend Pete Townshend greeted us on the 4th of July, our Independence Day. With all the incessant flag-waving and tiresome talk of fighting in the name of "freedom" we've had to endure this past year, it was refreshing to hear someone lampoon the issue. And who better to do it than a sarcastic, self-absorbed Englishman who had drawn his own personal fortune from the fat wallets of the American music-buying masses!
This was the fourth time I'd seen The Who, and in the wake of John Entwistle's untimely death just days before, I certainly didn't expect it to be the most memorable. But oh how it was!
To put it bluntly, the show was unreal. The mature but spirited Sacramento crowd was simply blown away by how well the band played, and how much passion Pete and Roger imbued in the songs. The performance seemed to offer an opportunity of cathartic release for these two stalwart survivors of rock, as well as for Ringo's boy, Zak Starkey, who had succeeded in knitting a tight rhythm tapestry with The Ox over the past couple years of touring.
The Who's energy on this night was clearly driven by grief, and perhaps a desire to prove the band was still vital, still relevant, and, ultimately, correct to carry on.
"If those firemen in New York City had given up, New York would still be a mess," explained Daltrey halfway through the gig. "We ain't givin' up, either."
"Life goes on," Pete added. The two had been criticized, understandably, by some fans and others in the music biz for their decision to continue, especially so soon after Entwistle's passing. But on this magical night in Sacramento, there was not a soul in attendance who wished the band had hung it up.
The set list was comprised mostly of favorites, but there were also some nice surprises. "Sea and Sand" from Quadrophenia was the crowning jewel (especially when Roger sang the lines, "I'm wet and I'm cold, but thank God I ain't old!"). That tune alone was worth the price of admission for me. Other treats included Face Dances' "Another Tricky Day" and Tommy's "Amazing Journey" and "Sparks."
The driving force, as always, was Pete. He was more focused on his playing than at any other time I saw him. While his penchant for frenetic, long-winded solos was still evident, he also improvised some interesting sonic moodscapes that were vaguely reminiscent of The Edge of U2. The old boy doesn't do much jumping around these days, but his trademark windmill strumming repeatedly whipped the audience into a frenzy.
Roger's voice, meanwhile, was exceptional. Though he sang well two years ago when I'd seen The Who at this same venue, I was shocked that he actually sounded BETTER now, at the ripe old age of 58! I only noticed his voice fail once, for which he later chastised himself with a comical self-deprecating remark. And during songs like "Love Reign O'er Me" and "Won't Get Fooled Again," he reached down deep to extract those shrill high notes and screams.
Entwistle's replacement (or should we say "substitute"?), Pino Palladino did an admirable job, making sure not to overplay his lines. After all, excessive fretboard flamboyance would risk drawing the ire of fans who might see such behavior as a sign of disrespect. As always, long-time Who keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick effectively filled the melodic and atmospheric gaps, especially during the more complex songs culled from "Quadrophenia" and "Who's Next."
The band played 21 songs in its two-hour set, which culminated with a three-song "Tommy" suite. The post-show holiday fireworks were decidedly anti-climactic, paling in comparison to The Who's explosive performance.
"Long Live Rock, Be It Dead or Alive!"