Irvine Verizon Wireless Meadows Amphitheater
Wednesday, Aug. 16
We don't want to make reviewing non-club shows a habit, but a stomach-flipping car wreck like this simply can't go unremarked upon. Start with the fact that it's strictly about the money this time around—not about "preserving musical legacies," not about giving "the fans" a chance to see them once more (and it could be the last! We mean it! No, really! Come, come! MasterCard and Visa accepted!). It's about sterile cash: according to a May Los Angeles Times article, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle badgered Pete Townshend into going on the road again because, well, they wanted the dough.
And they got it, too. Everyone who attended this not-quite-sold-out show happily played into the con job, doling out as much as $146.50 per ticket (a bargain compared to their Hollywood Bowl gig, which pimped high-end ducats for $253 each; was it only 16 years ago that people got all riled up over the Jacksons charging a then-extravagant $30 a pop for their Victory tour?).
The Who—what's left of them—are so shameless that you almost expect them to sell advertising space on their rapidly spreading foreheads. The souvenir stands reeked of history-whoring: overpriced T-shirts emblazoned with images from quarter-century and older album covers like Who's Next, Odds and Sods and—apparently with no sense of irony—The Who Sell Out. The program's cover art was lifted from Live at Leeds, but worse was the ad inside pushing a "limited edition" photo book for a whopping $298. Practically all their swag was adorned with pictures of Keith Moon—you know, the dead one—which must have made current drummer Zack Starkey feel about as welcome as Kenney Jones.
As for the show itself, it felt more like a classic-rock equivalent of "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln," only with the spontaneous parts left out. "Okay, here's where Townshend does the windmill thing with his arm. And here's where Daltrey twirls his microphone around in the air by its cord. And here's where Daltrey exposes his pudgy torso for all the crowd to see, even though his tan looks mysteriously like it's the rub-on variety. And here's where Townshend tries showing us how 'nonconformist' and 'rebellious' he is by saying 'fuck' in his grizzled Brit accent—'Fahk, fahk, fahk!'—as the crowd yelps it up. Yeah, Pete, you tell 'em!"
The band clearly weren't into anything more than self-caricature, which naturally brought down all those great old songs as well. It's not that we expected much else. There were also loads of tech gaffes—sound cutouts, jumpy video—which nobody onstage seemed to care much about. Correcting them, after all, would've meant taking the band that much longer to pick up their paychecks. What's the use? Through endless regroupings, the Who have so diluted the power they once truly had that seeing them live now is nothing less than a humiliation for the band (no matter how they spin in it during interviews) and an embarrassment for the suckers who pay perfectly good money to watch them humiliate themselves. The 2000 Who experience is like going for a walk at the mall with your grandpa when he suddenly takes off his clothes, bolts for the escalator and slides backward down the railing. The 2000 Who experience is like finding out that your loving, saintly, Bible-quoting mother has been selling herself for $10 blowjobs in the public-restroom stalls down by the beach. No, the 2000 Who experience is not a good one, though there is this: every time we think about how great it would be to see the Clash get back together, all we have to do is think of the Who, and the good feeling goes away.
The Who are a cover band now, which means that their next OC gig will probably be at the Orange County Fair, with Daltrey introducing "Won't Get Fooled Again" by saying, "You might recognize this one from the SUV commercial with all the polo players riding around on the clifftops." Before that happens, before they go off and do something really desperate (Face Dances: The Rock Opera, anyone?), they ought to respect their legacy and their fans' memories enough to pack it in for good —and mean it.
For those of us who once considered the Who the Best Band Ever—even better than the Stones and the Beatles—this nostalgic "greatest hits" museum piece was too much. We walked out somewhere around "The Real Me," lest our cherished memories of some of the greatest rock & roll songs ever be raped any further by this abominable masquerade. We handed our stubs to somebody up on the lawn who looked like they could use them more and headed home.
"Hope I die before I get old," indeed. What'll it take to have a real Who reunion? Three more prescription-medication overdoses.
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