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Review San Francisco, CA, Sun, 13 August 2017

The Who deliver blistering show in a fog at OutsideLands

USA Today, 14-08-2017

SAN FRANCISCO — It's hard when the odds are seemingly stacked against you.

Headlining the final night of a three-day music festival in a steady mist, enshrouded in fog and gusty winds. Late Sunday night, when booze and other substances had taken their collective tool on a once-hearty crowd. An indifferent audience of 80,000 — mostly millennials — vaguely familiar with the headliner's work, save for TV car jingles and theme songs from the CSI franchise.

And yet The Who packed a powerful, two-hour punch of arena rock that jostled the OutsideLands gathering out of its numbed state at Golden Gate Park last night.

A deep catalog of rock anthems, punctuated by power chords, windmills, introspective ballads, booming vocals and a couple of strategic scissor kicks did the trick.

Pete Townshend, the band's lead guitarist, songwriter and master showman, has never shied from strutting and proselytizing onstage. At a spry 72, he's entered an interesting stage in his love-hate relationship with touring: He now openly embraces the rigors of the road, offering history lessons introducing songs and then delivering blistering performances of them.

Townshend singularly owned the night, weaving in stories about the Summer of Love in 1967 and his mid-life crisis in the early 1980s with top-shelf renderings of I Can't Explain, The Seeker, Behind Blue Eyes, Bargain and The Rock.

Still, lead singer Roger Daltrey, who sacrificed his voice during the group's 53-year history to emotionally project the anguish and exhilaration of Townshend's deeply personal lyrics, hit the high note of the night, as he has on The Who's latest tour. His spine-chilling delivery of Quadrophenia's Love Reign o'er Me is one of those moments during a show that demands the attention of the most jaded characters. The song, about teenage alienation and redemption, may have resonated with some in the youthful gathering.

The band has integrated younger musicians to fill the yawning chasm left by the deaths of bassist John Entwistle and, decades ago, of drummer Keith Moon. The Who is a different band, to be sure, but one with a richer, more-fluid sound than the blitzkrieg of sound and fury during its salad days in the 1960s and '70s.

A mini-suite from Tommy illustrated that moment last night brilliantly. The medley of Amazing Journey-Pinball Wizard-See Me, Feel Me nicely stitched the skills of Townshend's flamenco-style playing and fills; the always professional Daltrey's knack for turning a song into an emotive anthem; and the frenetic, propulsive playing of Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr's son), who has come as close to Moon as any of the band's myriad drummers.

Baba O'Riley and Won't Get Fooled Again brought OutsideLands to the rousing conclusion of its 10th year. The Who, like its musical peers (Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Elton John), before them, had successfully weathered a vintage foggy, soggy night at the festival to deliver a bravura performance.

The eclectic quilt of bands, fans and stages give OSL a quirky vibe that is uniquely San Francisco. While Townshend & Co. bashed away at the main stage, another British group, Above & Beyond, was delivering hypnotic sounds and rhythms, taking its faithful fans to an ethereal world on a secondary stage.

The trance trio — Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness and Paavo Siljamäki — resemble business executives in black suits and glasses but create progressive music that evokes deep-rooted emotions bordering on euphoria and spiritual healing.

In a different setting, and with a wholly different sound, they delivered too.


Jon Swartz