The Who Play On

In the wake of its bassist's death, the band's emotional tour kicks off in L.A.

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Nearly as shocking as the news of Who bassist John Entwistle's death on June 27th was the band's announcement the following day that it would carry on with its U.S. tour. But when the Who came onstage July 1st at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles – with British session player Pino Palladino substituting for Entwistle on bass – they brilliantly rose to the somber occasion with a show that was by turns nervy, hilarious and uplifting. For two emotional hours, the legendary British rock outfit offered a rousing and frequently moving public wake for its longtime bandmate often known as the Quiet One.

Entwistle died suddenly in his room at Las Vegas' Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on June 27th, the day before the tour was set to launch. (The tour's first two dates were postponed.) Although autopsy results were not available at press time, Entwistle, 57, was, reportedly under a physician's care for high blood pressure. His girlfriend, Lisa Pritchard-Johnson, told reporters that Entwistle's doctor had warned him against the strain of another Who tour. Pritchard-Johnson's claims coincided with the emergence of a photo of Entwistle at the Hard Rock hotel bar with friends the night before his death. The twenty-three-city tour, with tickets priced from $30 to $350, is mostly sold out and could gross more than $21 million.

1oo Greatest Artists of All Time: the Who

At the Bowl, a capacity crowd of 18,000 seemed thrilled with the band's ability to play on. Many bought bootleg Entwistle T-shirts for ten dollars. "At first, I thought, ‘Shouldn't they bury him first?’ " said one fan, Pat Swain, 44. "But under the circumstances, we'd all like to share in the wake." "I'd just like to say that tonight we play for John Entwistle," Roger Daltrey declared after the band kicked things off with explosive versions of "I Can't Explain," "Substitute" and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere."

Later, the Who played "Baba O'Riley," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Won't Get Fooled Again" and a punky "My Generation," along with a few lesser-known gems such as "The Relay" and Quadrophenia's "Sea and Sand." Highlights included a powerful, almost prayerlike version of "Love, Reign O'er Me" and a couple of later Who songs, such as "Another Tricky Day," that had added weight under the show's sad circumstances. (The band did not attempt to reprise Entwistle's best-loved song, "Boris the Spider.")

"We're not pretending nothing has happened," Townshend said before "Bargain." "This is going to be difficult." And while Palladino filled in ably, the musical standout was drummer Zak Starkey, the son of Ringo Starr, who displayed the power of the late, great Keith Moon as well as the rock-steady charm of his father.

Daltrey and Townshend returned to England to attend the funeral on July 10th in Stow-on-the-Wold. A public memorial is being planned for later in the year. The Entwistle family has requested that donations in his memory be made to the Teenage Cancer Trust and the British Heart Foundation.

This story is from the August 8th, 2002 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 902: August 8, 2002
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