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The Who: Moving on! Live in Toronto

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It was hard not to compare The Who show at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto with the Queen + Adam Lambert one, since that was only a few weeks ago. I wasn’t a Very Important Person at The Who show, which made it cheaper. So I didn’t get any merchandise. I considered a T-shirt, but they didn’t seem to carry any women’s styles. (I need a waist in my clothes, damn it!) I was in the 35th row on the floor, not the 13th, and there was no catwalk. The Who were playing each show with a symphony orchestra, and likely in part due to the expense of that, the staging and lights were really pretty simple for a big arena rock show. Not in the Queen style at all.

On their last tour, celebrating 50 years of the band, The Who presented a crowd-pleasing set list of greatest hits. In this one, they really challenged themselves. And the audience. That, too, was unlike Queen.

To take advantage of the orchestral accompaniment, The Who dove deeper into their catalog. They started with a sampler from Tommy: Overture, 1921, Amazing Journey, Sparks, Pinball Wizard, and We’re Not Going to Take It. Given the popularity of that album, it might not seem such a risk, but a more casual fan will only know “Pinball Wizard” and the “See Me / Feel Me” chorus. They followed that sequence with the popular “Who Are You” and “Eminence Front”, but then: “Imagine a Man” from Who by Numbers! The first time the band has performed it live (though Roger Daltrey did tackle it in some solo shows). It was gorgeous, and I was thrilled to hear it.

Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend with orchestra
Photo by Andrei Chlytchkov. Jean wasn’t at the show (I went with my sister) and none of my photos turned out.

The orchestra gets a break partway through way (union), and the songs performed by the rock band alone were all well-known (though “I Can See for Miles” isn’t that often performed live), but not always presented in the familiar way. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was an acoustic version, which was great. “Behind Blue Eyes” was new arrangement with strings (two musicians got leave to start back early), and it sounded amazing.

When the full orchestra returned, they got into a set from Quadrophenia, without the backing visuals used on the last two tours, which helped to focus on the creative musical arrangements. When they got to the only song that more casual Who fans would know, “Love Reign O’er Me”, Roger Daltrey was clearly struggling with his voice. (I wondered if the pot smoke had anything to do with it. I could definitely smell it, and Roger is seriously allergic to it. His voice had been great up til then.) At one point he just stopped trying to sing the verse. He came back for another push at the chorus, to great cheers, but still couldn’t complete the whole thing. The final song was “Baba O’Riley”, and he mostly let the crowd sing it. Which we were all pleased to do. (And the final violin solo was great.)

There’s a risk to taking risks.

The Who have a new album coming out. Not mentioned yet is that they performed two songs from that, even though none of us would know those, of course. Another pretty gutsy move. By my watch, the show was 2 hours and 15 minutes.

And very much worth my time, vocal glitches and all. Pete Townshend did most of the talking, expressing how important Toronto has always been to the band, how much they love it and feel the love. “Also,” he said, “Canada is one of the only major countries that makes any sense these days. I got off the plane and thought, I should just stay.” And the crowd did seem appreciative. It skewed somewhat older than the Queen one (on average), and given the more mellow nature of the set list, they did more sitting–even those in the floor area. This was just as well for me, as there was a virtual giant two rows ahead of me, and whenever he stood up I had to do a jiggling dance from one side to the other to try to see around his head.

The Who now wisely avoid declaring any particular tour their last, but one has to think there can’t be too many more. The musical arrangements and song choices on this one were so cool and different, I’d love a recording of it.

Admittedly, of a night when Roger did get through “Love Reign O’er Me”.

Set list

With Orchestra

  1. Overture
  2. 1921
  3. Amazing Journey
  4. Sparks
  5. Pinball Wizard
  6. We’re Not Gonna Take It
  7. Who Are You
  8. Eminence Front
  9. Imagine a Man
  10. Hero Ground Zero

Band Only

  1. Substitute
  2. I Can See for Miles
  3. The Seeker
  4. Won’t Get Fooled Again (acoustic)
  5. Behind Blue Eyes (with strings)

With Orchestra

  1. Guantanamo
  2. The Real Me
  3. I’m One
  4. The Punk and the Godfather
  5. 5:15
  6. Drowned
  7. The Rock
  8. Love Reign O’er Me
  9. Baba O’Riley

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