with Dan Bern
FedExForum • Memphis, Tennessee • May 13, 2022
by Joe Frietze
Multiple generations, from Boomers to Zoomers, joined together with the band to sing and scream in Memphis ,and it was a blast. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, along with their normal touring band, were joined by local orchestral musicians on stage for a two-hour show, bringing a range of classic songs to the expectant masses.
The Who has set off on their “The Who Hits Back” tour after COVID delays, and are bringing in a different opening act for each show. Tonight they had TBA … Ok, after a single dude with an acoustic guitar came out and started singing, I looked up some of the lyrics he was singing. Turns out this was Dan Bern, a folk singer with a delightfully twisted sense of humor. He played for about 25 minutes, singing about how Elvis dying when he did was a blessing, and if Marilyn Monroe had married Henry Miller, she might still be alive today. A talented individual to be sure, somewhere between Robert Earl Keen and Todd Snider, but this crowd grew tired of his act relatively quickly. Such is the lot of the opening act.
After a twenty-minute intermission, the lights dropped and the band took the stage. First the orchestra players, then the touring band members, and finally Daltrey and Townshend entered as the opening notes of “Overture” from Tommy filled the Forum. The crowd erupted and the magic was palpable. The orchestra joined the band for a selection of songs from Tommy, including a rollicking version of “Pinball Wizard,” and some wonderful between-song banter from Pete and Roger. Then the orchestra sat back while the band played a selection of singles, classic hits, and even a song from their most recent album WHO, showing fine form and keeping the audience electrified.
Daltrey joined in on rhythm guitar for a few songs, but was really in his element swinging the microphone around the stage like a daredevil. Pete switched often between electric and acoustic guitars, as did his brother Simon, a testament to the excellent guitar techs on either side of the stage. Zak Starkey on drums rode that line between the barely controlled chaos of Keith Moon and the more evolved rhythms of Kenny Jones. Meanwhile, Jon Button held the bassline down with a skill that would make Entwhistle smile.
After blowing the roof off of the arena with “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (and I have never seen an artist hold an audience in the palm of his hand like Daltrey teasing that scream), Katie Jacoby (violin) and Audrey Snyder (cello) joined in for a moving rendition of “Behind Blue Eyes.” Then the rest of the orchestra rejoined for a selection of songs from Quadrophenia before ending the night with everyone cheering/singing/shouting along to “Baba O’Riley.”
If I have any qualms about the show, they are minor and would be the building and the setlist. Basketball arenas are not ideal for concerts. The acoustics suck, and unless you have floor seats, you are twisting either your head or your body one direction all night to see the stage. As long as you understand that going in, you can definitely enjoy yourself. While not a concert hall or even a blues club, the music sounded good and most of the vocals sounded fine. The energy of the crowd made up for any poor acoustics. As for the setlist, it was amazing to hear parts of both rock operas with an orchestra backing them. But when it came to the hits, I was disappointed that the band didn’t play any of their singles from before Tommy. While I didn’t expect “Boris The Spider” and I imagine the humor is gone from playing “My Generation” at their ages, I would have loved to sing along with “Substitute” or “The Kids Are Alright.”
Those are minor quibbles that did not mar an amazing night. If you ever wondered what seeing The Who would be like in the 21st Century, if they had lost a step or if it wasn’t worth it with half of the band gone, don’t let that stop you. I have wanted to see them live since their 1989 reunion, but kept missing them, and after Entwistle passed, I was afraid I had missed my chance. No, it’s not the same. But it is an unforgettable night with a like-minded crowd, enjoying some of the most iconic music of the 20th Century. The Who is currently on tour.