A full 48-piece orchestra filled the Fenway Park stage on September 13 to back up and showcase a long list of Who tunes, many of which were from the band’s two great blockbuster albums – Quadrophenia and Tommy. The latter helped coin the term “rock opera.” The Who celebrated its 50th anniversary in May of this year. This evening, they paid tribute to Eddie Money who died that day at age 70 after he had been diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer. The show was dedicated to Eddie.
One can only imagine this show must be the vision that Townshend had for these albums over four decades ago as the pieces that would push The Who beyond its previous pop-rock limitations and into an area far more radical, which features the 74-year-old artist windmill-strumming his six-string surrounded by violins, french horns, bassoon, and timpani.
This huge 31-date tour has been labeled the “Moving On!” tour and promotes the band’s eponymous new album that has a release date in November of this year simply titled Who, its first since 2006. But this two-hour set was a celebration of the band’s past penchant for an over the top performance, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for enduring fans to witness the songs performed as they were meant to be showcased. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey deserve much respect for constantly finding new ways to extend this final tour, allowing fans to continue to want to see them and not see the same old show.
The thought of a full symphony orchestra and a rock band duking it out to be heard would be tough at even the most acoustically perfect venues. And Fenway Park is not known for the best acoustics, however, congratulations to the sound team on this one. The rock band was sharp and crystal clear, and conductor Keith Levenson’s orchestra cut through with precision rarely heard in situations like this.
As with a standard symphonic piece, the concert was sectioned into three movements: first, a Tommy-centered medley with the orchestra at full strength; then a cluster of early-career odds and ends without the symphonic outfit; and finally a Quadrophenia-focused segment that concluded as most Who shows have in recent memory, with the grandiose “Baba O’Riley.”
The Tommy block ran through seven of the albums 24 tracks, from the elaborate “Overture” to “Sparks,” which allowed Townshend to shred with a blur of arms and fingers, proving at 74 that he is still one of rock’s most virtuosic guitar men. The favorites “Who Are You” and “Eminence Front” were also placed in this section and boomed raucously.
The orchestra left the stage after almost an hour of music and the core band — now merely a seven-piece — ran through a handful of “golden oldies, just like we are,” as Daltrey put it.
Here fans heard an animated “I Can See For Miles” —the band’s only Top 10 single in the U.S. — and a folksy rendition of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” featuring only the duo of Daltrey and Townshend.
A cellist and a violinist soon returned to the stage to add background to “Behind Blue Eyes,” a song whose exceeding vocal demands Daltrey continues to manage. At 75, Daltrey is among the most seasoned singers left performing at the arena level, and considering he underwent throat surgery earlier this decade his vocal abilities have held up amazingly well. He was unbeatable during the third act’s larger-than-life rendition of “Love, Reign O’er Me,” which began with a piano interlude and reached its peak during Daltrey’s wails. While the rest of the performance was exciting and bright, these moments brought on the emotions and made the fans feel goosebumps.
Daltrey has suggested this tour could feasibly be the band’s last. “I’m just being realistic about going through the 75th year of my life,” he told Rolling Stone in January. If that were to happen, and The Who never get to showcase whatever new material is coming, this would be a fantastic send-off: tracks from its most respected projects, revamped by a magnificent orchestra and unleashed in a way that showcases one of the greatest bands to ever rock.
September 13, 2019, Fenway Park, Massachusetts
“Overture”, “1921”, “Amazing Journey”, “Sparks”, “Pinball Wizard”, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, “Who Are You”, “Eminence Front”, “Imagine a Man”, “Hero Ground Zero”
“Substitute”, “I Can See For Miles”, “You Better You Bet”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”(acoustic), “Behind Blue Eyes” (with orchestra string section accompaniment)
“Ball and Chain”, “The Real Me”, “I’m One”, “5:15”, “The Rock”, “Love, Reign O’er Me”, Baba O’Riley