Long Live Rock – The Who Townshend and Toronto

The Who in Toronto.JPG

Submitted by Bill Delingat
Photo Credits: Tracey Savein

It has been 30 years since Rock lost the Shining star of John Lennon.

Everyone knows where they were that night and he will live on through his music for generations to come. Lennon was not the only one that was taken from us all too soon. Many had passed before him; Jim Morrison, Joplin, Hendrix, Dennis Wilson, Kurt Cobain. Crazy Horse Guitarist Danny Whitten as well as Neil’s personal roadie Bruce Berry was also lost at a young age and that tragedy became Neil’s first dark album and a song written called “Tonight’s the Night” as Neil lamented the loss of his friends.

The toll of being a creative artist sometimes included experimentation with drugs combined with the blatant abuse of alcohol as extreme wealth and popularity gives one the sense of Invulnerability. This was the unfortunate case of another popular British band “The Who”.  Keith Moon tragically died not from alcohol but actually from an overdose of Clomethiazole, which he was prescribed to help his withdrawals as he tried to straighten up. Another member, the lovable bassist John Entwhistle passed from an apparent cocaine overdose prior to gig at The Hard Rock, Las Vegas. A lot of bands, when losing a founding member give up and some try to continue with a substitute. Queen had a successful tour with Paul Rodgers (of Free and Bad Company fame) at the microphone and Crazy Horse is back on the road. Others like The Doors could never seem to get the shoes filled left empty by the death of troubled poet and songwriter Jim Morrison. The lists goes on, however the Who seem to have done it right.

It all started back for us on that hot and humid day in our Centennial Year of 1967, August 9th, when the British band, The Who, first hit the stage at Maple Leaf Gardens as the opening acts for pop sweethearts, Herman’s Hermits.  It was a 30 minute set of rock ‘n’ roll mayhem as teenage girls, waiting for their idol Peter Noone, gasped in awe as Townsend smashed his Fender Stratocaster and Moon the Loon demolished his drum kit.  Entwhistle stood like a statue and Daltry with his golden locks swung the microphone like a lasso out over the crowd and back again. This was the first of what would become just fewer than 100 stops in their favourite Canadian city, Toronto. The past Friday, November 23rd The Who were back at the Air Canada Centre to perform Quadrophenia (rock opera 1973) in its entirety, along with other fan favourites, as the city was hyped up with the 100th Anniversary of The Grey Cup.

This time around Townsend and Daltry were joined by Pino Palladino replacing John Entwhistle on bass, Simon Townsend (Pete’s brother) on rhythm guitar and the hardest spot to fill Zak Starkey (Ringo’s son) on drums replacing the incredible Keith Moon. Zak called Moon “Uncle Keith” as he would come by Ringo’s house often and became Zak’s drum mentor as he coached him onto the kit for the first time. Zak has replaced Kenny Jones of the Small Faces who has been sitting in since the loss of Moon.

Prior to the tour of Quadrophenia (a story that looked back on the Mod culture of London in the 60’s) Townsend said at a news conference “I can still remember that feeling of struggling to fit in, something that happened to me when I was even younger, around fourteen, and everyone around me seemed to have got their lives on track. This is such a universal experience for young people that it has stood the test of time,” reflecting back to his writing of the songs in 1972. This was well represented as the show started with a sold out crowd waiting to see the legends bring them back in time as the images of a Mod Era and early Who clips shone on the back screens. Townsend with a red Strat, went right into “Can you see the Real Me” and offered the cheering fans a few trade mark windmill motions as Daltry stepped up to his microphone. Although Quadrophenia is a young man’s album to sing, the 68-year-slightly stockier Adonis still gave it his best shot and a few half-hearted attempts of microphone swinging with the golden locks now showing shades of gray.

From the first notes of the instrumental “I am the Sea” to the last beat the classic “Love  Reign o’er Me”, Who fans of all ages were really seeing a Who Concert not an reenactment but a real Who Concert. Homage was paid to Entwhistle in a unique way of a booming bass solo during “5:15” and not to be forgotten Keith Moon in a similar way with “Bell Boy”. Townsend also on a book signing tour for “his autobiography “Who Am I” stole the limelight with his acoustic version of “I’m One” showing the odd smirks when lyrics of the past represented present times for the veteran rocker and his guitar.

Daltry and TowshendDaltry The band played it all and if they missed a song you got more as the encore ended up being a the greatest hits of, from the the anthem-concert of Who Are You, Behind Blues Eyes, Pinball Wizard, Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again all of these were for the fans  a lot of whom were from those “teenage wasteland” days that now look back as if it was yesterday.

After the dust settled and you were some of the lucky ones to meet Townsend at the Indigo Book store, you would have seen a different, almost shy and humorous man as opposed to the guitar smashing voice of a generation. This highly anticipated autobiography of a London Mod that wanted to be an artist or a journalist and call his band “the hair?” is a must for Rock ‘n’ Roll lovers and up there with Keith Richards own autobiography which by the way Townsend stole the windmill motion from Richards own stage antics. The 2 seem to have a lot of parallels plaguing the generations of musicians of those days with multiple near death experiences from alcohol to drug overdoses. Townsend and the band have been banned from Holiday Inns even in Montreal and Townsend has been embroiled in Tabloid scandals over the years and now has a chance to explain it all as, he tells his own story.

It is describe on the website as ‘a chronicle of a difficult childhood, ambition, controversy, relentless perfectionism, rock ‘n’ roll excess, emotional and spiritual turmoil, and ultimate redemption, this is not just a genuine rock classic but a testament to the integrity and stature of a true artist of our times.” The greatest rock story never told.

This is a great band and a man with a great story, Townsend, The Who and the fans of Toronto will be doing it all over again soon with added tour dates next year. Buy the CD’s and get the book as it is well worth reading or a gift to someone that could not be there to live the experience.