George Varga, Pop Music Critic
Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Pete Townshend, The Who, Daltrey Sings Townshend: A Celebration
NEW YORK -- Would they or wouldn't they?
That was the tantalizing musical question that drew many of the fans who attended Wednesday's and Thursday's all-star "Daltrey Sings Townshend: A Celebration" concerts at Carnegie Hall. The hope was of witnessing a reunion of The Who, the legendary English rock band.
Their anticipation, which inspired a giddy air of pre-concert excitement, was understandable. This was the first time The Who's three surviving members -- lead singer Roger Daltrey, singer-songwriter-guitarist Pete Townshend and bassist John Entwistle -- had agreed to appear on the same stage since the band's 25th anniversary reunion tour in 1989.
For those unable to attend the two sold-out concerts, for which the top official ticket price was $350, the answer to The Who reunion question can be seen and heard today. An edited version of the performances will be shown as a national pay-per-view TV special that airs in San Diego at 6 and 9 tonight on Cox, Southwestern, Dimension, Daniels, and American Cablevision.
But if it's a Who reunion you want, save your money. At both Wednesday and Thursday concerts, Daltrey (who staged the shows to celebrate his 50th birthday), Townshend, 48, and Entwistle, 49, only joined forces for the concert-closing finale of, appropriately, The Who's "Join Together," which also featured the 65-piece Juilliard Orchestra and most of the show's other guest artists.
Most memorable Vedder
But at the Thursday concert, the musical highlight didn't come with the short-lived and anti-climactic Who reunion. Neither did it come with Townshend's low-key, Daltrey-less readings of "And I Moved" and "Who Are You," or with the several songs for which Daltrey was joined by Entwistle.
Instead, it was Pearl Jam singer and former San Diegan Eddie Vedder who provided Thursday's most memorable moments. His four-song solo set, which opened the three-hour-plus concert's second half, was a tour de force of passion and emotional intensity.
When an audience member shouted a request for The Who's "Squeeze Box," Vedder playfully sang its chorus, then stopped to wild cheers. "You want it?" he asked the crowd, which roared its affirmative response.
When he completed his impromptu but charged version of "Squeeze Box" in its entirety, Vedder said, "I was thinking of something more obscure." He lived up to his word with a powerful rendition of the little-heard Townshend gem "Sheraton Gibson." He concluded with a galvanizing "My Generation," replete with a fine approximation of Daltrey's patented stutter and the oft-quoted line: Hope I die before I get old.
Vedder simultaneously paid tribute to, and transcended, these songs, making them his own in a way few of the concert's other artists did. And he, more than any of the other guests, best captured the spirit and tone of this still vital music about youthful angst and adolescent confusion and aspiration.
The Spin Doctors performed the early Who hits "I Can't Explain" and "Substitute" with bar band vigor but little vision. Alice Cooper delivered a pointless version of "I'm A Boy" that sounded inspired compared to the wretched, off-key singing by 4 Non Blondes' Linda Perry, who massacred "Dr. Jimmy" and "Acid Queen." ("I don't think she'll make the cut for the TV special," a sound engineer muttered during intermission.)
Enigmatic Lou Reed
The inclusion of Perry and Cooper was a mystery -- neither of them boast much box office appeal -- as was the enigmatic Lou Reed, who performed "Now And Then" from Townshend's recent "Psychoderelict" album as if it were a Velvet Underground blues-dirge set to a slow swing beat. Far more interesting was Reed's choice of accompanists, who included pop-funk saxophonist David Sanborn and the loudly booed Sinead O'Connor, who fared better when she later dueted with Daltrey and The Chieftains on "Baba O'Riley" and a touching "After The Fire."
Daltrey sounded strong on the concert's opening number, "You Better, You Bet," and the slow, soulful version of The Who chestnut "I Can See For Miles" that followed. But his voice began to crack soon thereafter, and he also had to contend with the movielike orchestrations of conductor Michael Kamen and a sound balance that was uneven and cluttered more often than not.
Perhaps inspired by the irate fan who yelled, "Rock `n' roll is dead and you just killed it!," Daltrey quickly acknowledged that, "This is not a rock `n' roll concert as such." He earned the greatest cheers for his six-song "Tommy" medley, which suffered from Townshend and Entwistle's absence.
The dour-looking Townshend appeared none too pleased to be on stage, and his interaction with Daltrey was almost nonexistent. But he did deliver Thursday's most memorable line at the end of the concert, when -- after gazing enviously at the bare-chested Daltrey's lean, lithe physique -- he said: "Roger, you're as young as you feel, and right now I feel very old."