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The Who Prove They're More Than a "Tribute Band" in New Jersey

October 30, 2008 12:13 PM ET

It's hard not to be a little skeptical as you walk into a Who concert in 2008. Half the original line-up is dead, the two survivors are entering their mid 60s and Pete Townshend himself has repeatedly called the current incarnation a "tribute band." Yet when the lights go out and Townshend walks up to the microphone and screams out "Where they fuck are we?!" before banging out the opening notes of "I Can't Explain," it's hard not to feel a bolt of energy shoot through your body.

Photo Gallery: The Who Hit All the Feel Good Notes in New Jersey.

Two years ago the Who launched a massive world tour in support of Endless Wire, their first album of new material in 24 years. The band — which now consists of bassist Pino Palladino, drummer Zack Starkey, keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick and guitarist Simon Townshend in addition to Roger and Pete — were regularly playing over 75% of the new album. This only left room in the set for their very biggest hits, leading to a disjointed show that didn't please their casual or hardcore fans. On this brief tour they're down to just two new tracks, leaving room open for a few gems.

The first surprise of the night was "Sister Disco," from 1978's Who Are You? Prior to this tour they hadn't dusted it off in nearly 20 years. The performance was a little rocky, but two songs later they nailed the Who's Next chestnut "Getting In Tune." Prior to "Who Are You," Townshend addressed the economic meltdown. "Times are hard," he said. "Luckily not for me — but for you guys. We're going to brighten up your day." Before a killer "Eminence Front," Townshend explained how he wrote the song in the midst of the early 1980s recession, and put tremendous emphasis on the lines "The shares crash, hopes are dashed" as he sang it. The highlight of the night was the back-to-back Quadrophenia songs "5.15" and "Love Reign O'er Me." During the latter, Daltrey defied his age with a spine-tingling scream of "Reeeeeiiiiign." It was a bummer to look at setlists earlier in the tour, though, and see that they've recently played "Naked Eye," "Magic Bus," "Sea and Sand" and even The Who Sell Out rarity "Tattoo." C'mon guys, spread the love.

As expected, the main set ended with "Won't Get Fooled Again." Less than a week until the election, a song about the futility of leadership change has never been less timely, but it still brought the house down and had me screaming "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" regardless. After the inevitable Tommy medley, Peter and Roger stood alone in the center stage and played a beautiful acoustic rendition of "Tea and Theatre" from Endless Wire. The song is about two friends reflecting over tea in their old age. "Lean on my shoulder now/The story is done/It's getting colder now." It was a perfect way to end the night, and proof that no matter what Pete says, this is no tribute band.

Set list:
"I Can't Explain"
"The Seeker"
"Anyway Anyhow Anywhere"
"Fragments"
"Who Are You"
"Behind Blue Eyes"
"Real Good Looking Boy"
"Sister Disco"
"Baba O'Riley"
"Getting In Tune"
"Eminence Front"
"5.15"
"Love Reign O'er Me"
"My Generation"
"Cry If You Want"
"Won't Get Fooled Again"
"Pinball Wizard"
"Amazing Journey"
"Sparks"
"See Me Feel Me"
"Tea And Theatre"

Related Stories:
The Who Delay Covers Album, Townshend Working on New Songs
The Who Donate Detroit Concert Earnings to Charity
VH1 Rock Honors: The Who

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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