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The Who’s 2022 tour is named The Who Hits Back! Tour and while it’s unclear whom The Who is hitting back, they are hitting back in a big way. On this tour, the legendary band is sharing the stage with orchestras from the US and Canada something started with their last tour, Moving On!

The October 28 show at the Honda Center in Anaheim featured a full orchestra from the Southern California area and Pete Townshend said they had been rehearsing all day. For many bands, using an orchestra brings a collective, “Huh?” response, but when it comes to The Who, it’s more like, “Of course.” After all, this is the band that invented the Rock Opera. To be even more precise, it’s the genius of Pete Townshend that bought forth conceptualism to the rock world and it’s his music and lyrics that we celebrate all these years later.

The opening act was Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs. It was a fairly short, seven-song set, featuring four Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers songs. So if there was a Tom Petty-ish vibe, it makes total sense since Campbell was the Heartbreakers guitarist for 50 years and co-wrote those tunes. It’s great to see Campbell with the band he put together as a side project and not be the sideman. Everyone knows what a great guitar player he is, but after his run with Fleetwood Mac, it could be the moment for him to take center stage full time.

Now on to The Who. In their heyday, they were possibly the most powerful band on the planet. (Perhaps even past their heyday. (Google their Concert For New York performance.) It’s never taken much to make Townshend seem invigorated, but the backing of those talented musicians seemed to put him in a very playful mood. How playful? He entered the stage running with a thin red wrap/shawl/blanket draped around his shoulders. (He exited the same way.)

They started with a set of songs from Tommy: “Overture”, “1921”, “Amazing Journey”, “Sparks”, “Pinball Wizard”, and “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. Then they exploded into “Who Are You.” Things slowed down just a touch with "Eminence Front” and featured a strong vocal from Townshend. Then just to remind us that they are not just a classic rock act, “Ball and Chain” was played from their most recent album, WHO.

With that, the orchestra left the stage and The Who did a band-only set comprised of “You Better You Bet,” “The Seeker,” “Naked Eye,” “Another Tricky Day,”and Won’t Get Fooled Again. Everyone knows what’s expected from Won’t Get Fooled Again. It’s an anthem. It’s a call to action. It’s power chords on top of synths. And it could be the most taxing song for the almost 80-year old Roger Daltrey. As the synths swirl and the unmistakable drums built to a crescendo, you could almost feel the entire audience holding their collective breadth in anticipation of what was to come next. Daltrey delivered. His legendary scream/howl caused any member of the audience who hadn’t already been on their feet to deliver a standing ovation even before the song’s end.

Next was “Behind Blue Eyes” with Townshend on acoustic guitar and a few orchestra members. It was a beautiful take on the moving tune.

The full orchestra reappeared for a set of Quadrophenia tunes: “The Real Me,” “I’m One,” “5:15,” “The Rock,” and "Love, Reign O’er Me.” Townshend told the audience that the Quadrophenia songs were demanding for him. This is a good place to mention the sound issues that plagued the band the entire night with Daltrey constantly fiddling with his in-ear monitor. At certain points during the show, it seemed like his vocals dropped noticeably. A semi-irritated Townsend shouted out, “There’s an f-ing echo in this f-ing place!” During “5:15" as Daltrey was scat-singing and touching his in-ear monitor, Townshend came over and touched him on the shoulder in what almost seemed to be a gesture of “enough.” Pete then proceeded to rip into a screaming, scorching solo followed by a succession of windmills that led to thunderous applause.

When introducing the band members, Townshend kept up the comments about the echo with: “Zak Starkey on DRUMS, DRUMS, DRUMS, drums, drums, drums…” Starkey is the son of Ringo Starr and his connection to The Who is a strong one. Keith Moon was his godfather and and former Who drummer Kenny Jones helped teach him to play and even gifted him one of Moon’s drum kits. Starkey is just what The Who needs, combining the passion of Moon with the technical ability to keep everything from going off the rails.

Rounding out the band was Simon Townshend (Pete’s brother) on guitar and backing vocals, keyboardist Loren Gold, second keyboardist Emily Marshall, bassist Jon Button, drummer Zak Starkey and backing vocals by Billy Nicholls, along with orchestra conductor Keith Levenson, principal violinist Katie Jacoby and principal cellist Audrey Snyder.

The final song, (there wasn’t an encore) was “Baba O’Riley” at the end of which, Katie Jacoby took center stage for a showcase of her violin prowess.

At the end of the evening, Townshend said that he and Daltrey had been playing together for 60 years. He mentioned once again the weird sound things that had been going on, but he also said, “Roger has been singing so great these days.” There was a sweetness in his voice when he said it. Townshend and Daltrey are more than just bandmates. They are survivors. The quartet that was once The Who are now two. The band whose slogan was Maximum R&B is still delivering maximum music, just in a different form than in years past. Which makes them worth seeing every time they tour.

Daniel Gray

Photojournalist - Los Angeles

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