The Who Still Bringing The Heat In Concert

thewhonbc34 years ago, on December 17, 1982, the Who performed what they claimed was their final concert of their Farewell Tour, at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Since that time, they have performed on international tours in 1989, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2012. The band is currently completing a tour of North America that was cut short last fall when Roger Daltrey fell ill with viral meningitis. They are claiming that this is really, truly the final tour they will ever do.

It has got to be the longest goodbye in the history of show business.

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As much as I love the music of the Who, and as much as I respect the critical importance they hold in the history of Rock, I have been mighty skeptical about their dogged insistence to play out the string as long as they have. Playing without arguably the greatest Rock drummer of all time was bad enough, but continuing on without the most powerful live performer on the bass guitar seemed almost sacrilegious.

When Led Zeppelin lost drummer John Bonham, they formally announced that the band would come to an end without him. They believed that Bonham was such a distinctive part of the band’s sound that they couldn’t carry on without him in good conscience. Now that’s what I call integrity.

So what’s the difference between The Who and Led Zeppelin? Why would one band fold the tent after one member dies, and the other carry on after losing two important members? Someone might make an argument that Bonham was more important to Zep’s sound than Moon was to the Who’s sound, but that borders on splitting hairs.

Here’s another angle to consider. Maybe the surviving members of The Who are more committed to their band’s legacy than the surviving members of Zeppelin are. And maybe Daltrey and Townshend are doing more for the legacy of their fallen comrades by continuing to perform the old classics again and again, instead of consigning them to the dustheap of collective memory.

These thoughts occurred to me as I watched The Who perform on Jimmy Fallon last week. I was amazed at how good it was, and at the power these guys can still bring. Far from just going through the motions, Roger and Pete might have even raised their game a bit, as far as their septuagenarian bodies will allow. Over the years Roger has brought all kinds of nuance to his tool bag, while Pete’s dexterity and ultra-crisp chording remain as impressive as ever.

With Zak Starkey on drums and the peerless Pino Palladino on bass, they’ve got supporting members who can at least come close to the lambent genius of Moon and Entwistle. And the video screens at all Who shows make it clear that the two fallen greats are always to be considered present in spirit.

So I’ve changed my mind about the Who’s three-decade-long farewell. I think there’s a lesson in it for all of us. One time long ago, the Who taught us to take risks and smash established conventions. Today, perhaps the message is this: If you’ve got something of lasting value for the world, keep it going as well as you can, for as long as you can. Long Live The Who.



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