The Who’s Tommy

• Fifty years of that deaf, dumb and blind kid

• And I thought I felt old at the 20th anniversary celebration

• Hope I don’t die before the 60th

I can’t say that “It could have been 1989 in Madison Square Garden the other night.” Because, clearly, it wasn’t. This was September 1, 2019. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend were onstage, yes, just like they were when I covered their reunion and revival of Tommy for ABC Radio News 30 years ago. But the other night, at one of the MSG stops of the Moving On tour, there was no mistaking the effects of aging on the two, but only outwardly.  

The Who “Moving On” – MSG, 9/1/2019

Backed by a symphonic orchestra, The Who, which now includes Townshend’s brother Simon on rhythm guitar and Ringo Starr’s son, Zak Starkey, on drums, turned in a 2-hour-ten-minute set which included, at the top, a Tommy medley of “Overture,” “1921,” “Amazing Journey,” “Sparks,” “Pinball Wizard” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

My quick take: Daltrey’s voice is holding up marvelously and you can hear where he “economizes” to avoid blowing it out for good. It works. He’s starting to look, to me, like a cross between Dean Martin and Tony Bennett . . . and I mean that in a good way.

To Townshend, I owe an apology. His playing is so familiar, so often heard, that I think I’ve come to take it for granted. And I have not seen him play live often enough or recent enough. I have, as a result, undervalued him. When bar buddies play the “list the top 10 greatest guitar players” game, I tend to give him short shrift. A big mistake. At 74, he can still shred!  Absolutely show-stopping shit!

About an hour and a half into the concert, he held up a bloody finger on his windmilling hand and revealed the nail had been sacrificed to the rock gods. Don’t worry, he said, he won’t feel it and it won’t affect the rest of the show. But, when he goes to bed, he said, it’ll throb all night.

Reminded me of the time WMET’s promotions director extraordinaire, Jim Corboy, finagled an interview for me with Pete, backstage at Chicago’s Rosemont Horizon. As you can read here, his bloody hand was hanging by his side.

Corbs

I have no picture of that unforgettable “get” (that shot of Pete and me up top is from the ‘90’s when I did a CNN interview with him.) But I do have one of Corbs, as we call Jim. He was an amazing radio promotions guy.


So, in 1989, the Who reunited – not for the first time, nor for the last – to perform Tommy at Madison Square Garden, and here’s how I described it for ABC Radio News 30 years ago:

Tommy, MSG, 1989

According to Wikipedia, “They revived Tommy as a whole for its twentieth anniversary during their 1989 reunion tour, reinstating the previously overlooked “Cousin Kevin” and “Sensation” but still omitting “Underture” and “Welcome”. Recordings from this tour can be found on the Join Together live album and the Tommy and Quadrophenia Live DVD.”

I buried the lead. The Reporter on the Road was scooped this week. My beloved Barbara Neibart sat next to me during the MSG show and, while I was taking mediocre photos and shaky, sub-par video, she simply nailed the final 4:28 of the closing number, “Baba O’Riley.” Watch (and learn, Mark):

“Baba O’Riley” – MSG, 9/1/19 (Wait for the violinist at 3:05!)

-30-

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