Monday, February 18, 2013

The Who in Louisville

Pardon me while a gush a bit.  When I found out last fall that the rock band The Who would be touring this winter AND would be playing my favorite album, Quadrophenia, from top to bottom, I ordered, for the first time in my life, tickets to a concert online.  Louisville was the closest venue to home and there was a date on a Saturday just a few days after my birthday.  Even the ticket price wasn't too bad and so I bought two in the middle section with no clue who I'd ask to go with me.  The concert was was screaming at me from my bucket-list and I was going to see it come youknowwhat.
Now let's go back to the spring of 1980; my freshman year in high school.  I had come of musical age during grade school and the disco era.  My favorite DJ was Mark Sebastian at Q102, who every afternoon told us listeners that he wanted to see us "totally, and I mean totally, N-A-K-E-D."  We laughed and were loyal until "the Q" abandoned us guys for bubblegum pop and Top-40, and so we all migrated to WEBN.  I pleaded with mom to let me install an FM converter in our 1971 Plymouth. I spent $75 I saved from cutting grass to by a Fisher stereo (with 8-track) for my room, carefully placing the speakers to maximize the sound.  In freshman religion class, we were all told to bring in our favorite songs.  I didn't really have one, but the other classmate narrowed it to three: Freebird, Stairway to Heaven and Baba O'Riley.  That latter song was different...rough and gentle, bold and introspective.  I was searching for a new direction and The Who fell into my lap--unfortunately, just a few months after their Cincinnati concert tragedy and a year after Keith Moon died.  Timing hasn't always been my greatest thing (I "discovered" Stevie Ray, alas, only after buying his post-mortem Sky is Crying CD).
Throughout high school I gobbled up what I could find--Who albums, bootleg discs, books--I even joined a "fan club" (my first and only one.)  Then, during my senior year, the band decided to have a "final tour."  I had neither the financial means nor the parental consent to travel to their closest stop (Lexington, KY), so I convinced a friend with cable TV to invite my then-girlfriend and I to watch the final show, December 17, 1982 in Toronto, on pay-per-view (my tab) at his house and recorded the audio on my cassette deck.  And that was it.  The band broke up and I moved on to other bands, finding out that my musical tastes were actually much wider than I would have guessed.  In 1990s, there was a rash of "reunion tours" and The Who made appearances in fits and starts with small tours in '02 and '04.   In December '06, they came as close as Columbus but I just couldn't justify the trip.   I regretted it momentarily but age provides perspective.  Fortunately I got a second chance.
Roger Daltrey will be 69-years-old next month--Pete Townshend will be 68 in May.  I took a little ribbing from friends after their Super Bowl appearance a few years ago but didn't care.   In terms of this tour, any arrow even close to the target would satisfy's not about the music anymore...its about my youth and "the Q" and "making out" at my friend's house and freshman religion class and an ocean of other memories triggered instantaneously by the first few notes of a song tacked by iron spikes to the walls of the caverns of my innermost memories.  I felt a little sick to my stomach last week in the days before the upcoming show (for one, no one wanted to go with me and I thank my 17-year-old son for humoring his "old man"), not because I didn't think the show would live up to any musical expectations but instead because it would not fulfill up to some impossible personal mid-life vacuum.
However, I am happy to report, the concert was not just satisfactory--it was incredible.  The lighting, the video backdrop, the performances, the sound, the mixing of the present with wistful nostalgia.   Roger unbuttoned his shirt and swung his mic, Pete's windmill guitar swung almost exactly the way I saw it watching hours of Who concert videos and movies from the '60s and '70s.  It was better than I had hoped given our collective aging.   Zach Starkey and Simon Townshend were great added touches and the way they incorporated original Moon and John Entwistle video into the show (you just had to have seen it) gave me chills.  Even the parking, the venue (YUM Center) and my traveling me, a perfect night.  I can't describe here what it meant. 
Suffice it to gush, I had a great time.  I still have plenty of things on "the list" to do yet (helicopter anyone?), but this was one of those times where reality did exceed nervous expectations.