May 20, 2016

The Who, The End?

The Who
Moda Center, Portland
May 17, 2016
"The sun came out today," noted Pete Townshend at the Moda Center, adding, "Life is good." It was a welcome bit of optimism from a serious rock and roll curmudgeon, a 71-year-old Brit on his umpteenth tour playing the bloody hits yet again. Townshend's words were atypical, but then again, something different was in the air at this event, as opposed to, say, that Who concert you saw back in 2004, or maybe in 1989 or the '70s. This felt like goodbye. For real this time.

While this "The Who Hits 50" extravaganza isn't billed as such, the band is definitely guilty of pioneering the "farewell tour" as it exists as a rock and roll construct. After Townshend went off the rails with substance abuse in the early '80s, the group heeded the cautionary tale of the late Keith Moon, leaving the road (if not the recording studio) after one last big jaunt, even appearing on the cover of a 1982 issue of Rolling Stone with the headline "The Who The End." Of course, many a rock act has embraced this folly, only to renege. It's become such a cliche that a certain L.A. glam-metal band, upon recently announcing a farewell tour, actually signed a contract beforehand that they wouldn't merely hit the road again when money got tight or they got bored. Hilarious.
This is the end: The Who (photo by Mary Layton)
Of course, the book of the Who was not fully written. In 1989, they returned with their "The Kids are Alright" tour to celebrate their 25th anniversary. And then, after the most protracted period of inactivity in their history, they resumed touring in 1996, and basically haven't stopped since. Diminishing returns? Depends on your perspective. Consider their 2000 tour specifically, when bassist John Entwistle was still alive. There was some truly fiery, dynamic instrumental interplay (even some jams!) and it proved that Roger Daltrey, Townshend, Entwistle and hired-gun drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo's son) could still really bring it. In 2002, Entwistle died in Las Vegas on a Thursday, and the band resumed touring the following Monday, playing the Hollywood Bowl in a defiant (some might say cold) demonstration of "the show must go on" imperative that brought bassist Pino Palladino into the fold. 

But let's jump ahead to 2016 and Portland, a continuation of the fifth Who tour since Entwistle passed. It's technically their 50th anniversary tour, but is now stretched to 52 years beyond their 1964 London formation, as this gig (and others) were postponed after Daltrey contracted viral meningitis in 2015. Originally slated for last September with opening act Joan Jett (not retained in favor of young Warrington, England group the Slydigs), the show finally took place, even if it was evident many folks opted for refunds, as dark scrims covered portions of the 300 level at the back. 

How was it? Well, perhaps it's easier to define a Who show in 2016 by what it is not, rather than what it is. In the context of "classic rock" giants that still stalk our arenas, this is not the high-energy, 35-song rock and roll revival that Bruce Springsteen can summon in his sleep on a Wednesday. This is not the mind-melting, illuminated trip through the cosmos that was David Gilmour's triumphant recent tour. This is not one of Paul McCartney's mega-impressive, tear-inducing bonanzas. No, this was a nostalgia ceremony and a valediction—Pete and Roger, slightly worse for the wear, but graciously honoring their touring commitments with sufficient fuel in the tank to remind fans why they loved this raucous, guitar-smashing band of London misfits in the first place.

Happy to be anywhere: Pete and Roger
There is clearly some unfinished business in the minds of Townshend/Daltrey (a better name for these proceedings, probably, but that imprimatur might not sell as many tickets). Capping a legacy/self-deification may be part of it. On a huge video screen behind them at one point, the side of a dramatically tall seaside cliff was emblazoned with classic, youthful images of Roger, Pete, John, and Keith, which suggested a Mount Rushmore of sorts. On this night, we got two of those guys, backed by Palladino, Starkey, guitarist Simon Townshend (Pete's brother), and curiously, three keyboardists (Loren Gold, John Corey, Frank Simes), none of whom were longtime adjunct Who member John "Rabbit" Bundrick. It was six hired guns behind two rock icons still engaging in their signature stage moves: one still windmilling and leaning energetically into his axe, the other doing microphone twirls, albeit with the tentativeness of a stiffer 72-year-old.

Nevertheless, it was a fist-pumping good time, even if the tea mug-toting Roger needed to take a whole song off to work himself into the climactic note of "Love, Reign o'er Me." And to Daltrey and Townshend's credit, they were gracious, coming off as bemused elder statesmen who are as surprised as you are that they're still touring. "I'm happy to be here," said Daltrey early on. "I'm happy to be anywhere!" Unusually conversational from the stage, Pete and Roger kicked things off with "Who Are You" and churned through a 21-song set that touched on key milestones in their tremendous songbook, from 1967's soaring "I Can See for Miles" (an apt notion from one of their earliest singles) to the trifle "Squeeze Box" to 1982's percolating, barbed wealth meditation "Eminence Front." A welcome deep cut emerged with the powerful Quadrophenia instrumental "The Rock," a terrific choice that nodded to their best album, its performance adorned by interspersed video images of global calamity and Who history. Their legacy was being put in perspective, and put to bed.

And what a legacy. At the risk of deploying a tired Who cliche, they didn't die before they got old, and so, loyal fan, they're up there playing for you one last time, and maybe for your kids that you brought along. Townshend summed it up best, dryly stating at the end of the show, "If this is your first time seeing us, tell your friends.... they've missed us!"

May 5, 2016

In the Air This Year? 2017 Rock Hall Dark Horses

A real dice roll, predicting what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is going to do (you know, besides reliably tick people off). In any case, it's still pretty interesting to bat around some names, certain or otherwise, that might crop up as nominees each year. 

With the HBO broadcast of the 2016 induction ceremony now in reruns, why not start informally speculating on some of the dark horses that "could" surprisingly nab a nomination for the 2017 class (i.e., like Los Lobos this past year—did anyone see that coming?). These 10 acts aren't official predictions, aren't comprehensive, nor are they personal selections, necessarily. Sporadically mentioned in various quarters, it just feels like they're in the air around the Rock Hall conversation to some degree. Call them maybes. In other words, not Pearl Jam.

Black Flag - Formed in Hermosa Beach, CA, they were the pioneers of hardcore punk, blazing a screeching, take-no-prisoners trail across the U.S. They embodied the DIY ethic, self-releasing albums and touring in a van under such brutal conditions, they had to have wanted it. You want influence? It's remarkably widespread, with Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Pantera, Faith No More, Beastie Boys and Green Day just a smattering of names that owe them a huge debt.
Photo by Naomi Petersen
Black Flag

Phil Collins - Deluxe reissues of his solo work hitting the marketplace, and after a bizarre retirement phase where he collected a trove of Alamo artifacts (no, really), he's suddenly active again, playing live. So functionally and logistically, it's the right time, never mind that his fellow Genesis vocalist, Peter Gabriel, was enshrined solo in 2014. Collins bore the scarlet letter of "adult contemporary" as his solo career wore on, but his earlier efforts had some inventive edge ("In the Air Tonight," of course) and Top 10 cachet. Unless the Rock Hall nominators and voters just don't care anymore-oh-OH.  

Electric Light Orchestra - Musical mastermind Jeff Lynne was behind some innovative, catchy '70s hits with ELO, and he's lauded both as a producer and as a co-founder of the Traveling Wilburys. Lynne is the type of guy that could be inducted under Lifetime Achievement, or Musical Excellence, but ELO is an iconic name that wouldn't be out of place on the 2017 nominee list.

Eurythmics - One of the great duos of late-20th century popular music, the aesthetically-savvy new wave/synthpop act lit up the charts and MTV in the '80s starting with the haunting single "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and many more after. Alongside her guitar-playing foil Dave Stewart, powerhouse vocalist Annie Lennox summoned an ice and fire that danced atop both chilly synth soundscapes and power chords to striking effect. They have plenty of hits and respect, so who am I to disagree?

J. Geils Band - The type of classic, all-American rock and roll band that will probably get in eventually. With FM radio staples the Cars achieving nominee status, and similarly, Cheap Trick inducted, J. Geils Band's chances would seem to increase. Also, there's the "Friend of the Rock Hall" thing: loose-limbed frontman Peter Wolf is regarded by the Rock Hall brass enough to be invited twice as an induction speaker, so J. Geils Band could likely be funneled into the nominee holding pen.

Journey - In a recent interview with Den of Geek, Rock Hall CEO Joel Peresman was asked about bands he was surprised weren't in yet, and he mentioned Journey. Sure, they're massively successful overall, but in Rock Hall terms, still reside in that dark horse realm, as populist arena rock of this ilk has been given acutely short shrift by the institution (think Boston, Kansas, Foreigner, Styx). But don', count out Steve Perry and company. 

Kool & the Gang - Yeah, you never need to hear "Celebration" ever again. But if you go to a wedding reception or any New Year's Eve event, rest assured, my friend, you will. Kool the Gang have actually been at it since the '60s, when they started as a jazz unit, but broke big in the next two decades as they brought in the funk and had crossover pop/R&B success. Quentin Tarantino gave them a boost in the '90s, featuring "Jungle Boogie" in Pulp Fiction, a classic track by any standard. So there's serious career longevity here, if nothing else. And their catalog of hits is undeniable. But the Rock Hall, really, you might ask? Well, if their road manager is to be believed, they have been "in talks" per this article. Unless we're being misled.

Little Feat - The late Lowell George's versatile collective, which encompassed blues, funk, country, R&B, and more, is legendary and still touring. Additionally, they're beloved enough by fans to land at #2 on Rolling Stone's recent readers poll of who should be inducted in 2017. This unlikely high placement is a result that smacks of ballot-stuffing, but perhaps it means Little Feat is on the Rock Hall radar. 

Sonic Youth
Randy Rhoads - Per his social media posts, Tom Morello has Rhoads on his "Mt. Rushmore of Rock and Roll." Morello's on the Nomination Committee and his persuasive powers were sufficient enough to get KISS inducted, so the late, prodigiously talented Ozzy Osbourne/Quiet Riot guitarist might just shred his way into a Musical Excellence recognition slot. Crazy, but that's how it goes.

Sonic Youth - Repeatedly mentioned as prime Rock Hall candidates, Sonic Youth, those New York City-based arbiters of guitar experimentalism, punk noise, and left-field alt-rock hits ("Kool Thing," "100%") would seemingly have the credentials the Hall is looking for. They were impactful, dynamic, and resolute in their art-damaged mission until they effectively disbanded due to the marital breakup of their principals, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon.  For the musical performance of inductee Nirvana at the induction ceremony in 2014, Gordon was brilliant singing "Aneurysm," so there is definitely some Rock Hall association.